[For larger images, with captions, in-line with the text, go to http://theoffalo.com/2013/11/gjelina-...]
Gjelina's been on my must-try list for quite some time, but stories of long waits and insensitive service have kept me away. However, the potential of a butterscotch dessert that could rival Pizzeria Mozza*'s budino was enough to entice me and my wife to finally give it a try on an early Sunday afternoon. And yes, we took our older daughter, last seen with me at Littlefork**, along with us.
Since the restaurant doesn't take reservations for brunch, for parties of our size at least, I dropped the wife and kid at the door and went to look for parking, which I somehow managed to score within 5-10 minutes on busy Abbot Kinney. However, the time for a table was significantly longer at ~45 minutes. As we had already perused the menu while we waited, we ordered quickly once we were seated.
1. Niman Ranch Lamb Burger, Harissa Aioli, Arugula, Roasted Tomato, $15: This was my daughter's dish, and she enjoyed it. The burger was prepared medium-rare, was tender and juicy, and had a mellow grassiness to it. The toppings were simple and complemented the burger well.
2. Open-Faced Turkey Tartine, Rapini, Tomato, Caramel Onion, Gryuere, Béchamel, Fried Egg, $16: This was my wife's choice, and ended up being a rather pedestrian dish. The turkey was thin-sliced and not too dry, but didn't have much going for it. The mélange of other ingredients all worked well together, but the best part was probably the rapini, which were properly bitter yet bright.
3. East Coast Fluke Crudo, Passion Fruit, Lime, Cilantro, Fresno Chiles, $15: The first of my two dishes, I was hoping for the king mackerel version that's on the brunch menu posted on their site, as I enjoy the richer flavor of that fish. That day, the crudo was done with fluke, which is a very mild fish. It had good texture, but not much flavor, and served more as a proteinous platform for the other, more piquant, ingredients.
4. Anchovy & Burrata Toasts, Pepperonata, Capers, Sherry, $15: The second of my selections, I liked this one much better than the first. The burrata was top notch, sweet and creamy, which contrasts perfectly with the salinity of the anchovy and capers.
5. Butterscotch Pot de Crème, Salted Caramel, Crème Fraîche, $8: The dessert comparison we had been waiting for, my wife enjoyed this quite a bit but still liked Mozza's budino better, which she said had more of the deeper, burnt sugar flavor that she prefers.
6. Yogurt Panna Cotta, Passion Fruit, $10: Panna Cotta is one of my favorite desserts, and Gjelina's did not disappoint. The yogurt base is an interesting choice, making the dish more tart than I'm used to, but it worked. It was still sweet, of course, and the passion fruit helped highlight that.
I did not post any pics of the drinks, but the Mint Iced Tea was good. The Limeade was even better! Lime, perhaps fresh squeezed, mint, maybe basil, some kind of sweetener, obviously, and a splash of club soda, I could drink it all day long!
Service was pleasant; when my wife asked if the egg on her tartine could be prepared any way other than sunny side up, her request was declined, but politely and without attitude. Service was also a bit slow, and uneven; our waiter said that my dishes would be prepared at the charcuterie "kitchen" (or "bar" or whatever) and would likely come out before the other dishes, but they ended up coming out quite a bit after the rest of the dishes, when my wife and daughter were both nearly done with their meals.
It's not quite at the same level as Tar & Roses*** for me, but the food at Gjelina is definitely worth a repeat visit. If only it weren't always so crowded--it took longer to get a table at Gjelina at 2:30 PM on a Sunday than it did to get in at T&R on a (different) Sunday at 6:30 PM without reservations--I would definitely go to Gjelina more often.
1429 Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Venice, CA 90291
*My review of Pizzeria Mozza: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/920671
**My review of Littlefork: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/921436
***My review of Tar & Roses: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/918734
Gjelina is perhaps my favorite of the newer (gosh, it has got to be 6 or 7 years old now, but I'm comparing it to places like Chionois) westside restaurants. For dinner, share a pizza -- very thin, blistered crust, I like the lamb sausage one, fairly light for a pizza), the pork belly with polenta, greens, and balsamic (great dish), a veggie or two, maybe the simplest gnocchi (I like the one with butter and garlic a lot better than those with meats and/or tomato sauce) or simple pasta, or better share one of the salads with curly greens. I disagree -- I like Gjelina's butterscotch pot de creme better than Mozza's budino.) Ask for a table on the back patio or the small rear private room, which they won't guarantee you. If you order this way and avoid the large plates, you can have more than enough great food at Gjelina and get out for a very reasonable bill.
Dirtywextraolives: the problem with many of the "off-peak" hours is that one is limited to ordering from the abbreviated charcuterie/pizza menu.
since i almost exclusively order vegetables and salads which are not on the abbreviated menu, i need to use a more refined approach. . . .