Everyone knows a restaurant that’s really great but isn’t a place they’d want to eat at every night. Gjelina,on Venice Beach’s ultra hip Abbot Kinney Boulevard, defies the norm with its extensive, diverse, and ever-changing menu. If the location and industrial chic interior aren’t enough to convince passersby that this place is worth a go, trying to get a reservation will. Reservations are available one month in advance, but can get pretty full around 3 weeks before your date. When I was leaving around 9pm there was still a wait that had walk-ins being told to come back past 10pm. Unlike many see-and-be-seen restaurants, Gjelina is also a place to eat, a lot.
The menu is overwhelming and exciting at the same time, so it’s best to go with a few other people and try a variety of Gjelina’s offerings, as the plates are also meant to be shared. My table started with lots of salads including one of burrata and heirloom tomatoes dressed simply with olive oil, balsamic, basil, and a touch of salt. It was probably the best Caprese-esque salad I’ve had outside of Italy; the ingredients were so fresh, and I could taste each aspect’s individual qualities even when eating them together. Then there was the avocado and beet salad with hazelnuts and a citrus and sherry vinaigrette. It seemed to be an odd combination at first, but everything worked very well together. The creaminess of the avocado cut the acidity of the beet and vinaigrette, and the nuts added more texture. I always love a kale salad and take any opportunity to have one. The one here was made with Tuscan kale, shaved fennel, bread crumbs, and ricotta salata. The cheese balanced the bitterness of the green, and the breadcrumbs made it similar to an earthier version of a Caesar, but with a lighter dressing. The last salad was a huge cloud-like heap of Coleman lettuce; simple light green leaves lightly dressed and very refreshing, whetting my appetite for the richer dishes to come.
For my main course I ordered the duck. It’s not that common to see duck on a menu, and many people are opposed to eating it, but I actually really like it, so I’m always excited, and inclined to order it, when I see in offered. Duck is often combined with sweet accent flavors; apple and cabbage in this case. It was crispy duck confit, and the best duck I’ve ever had; so tender and delicious that, hungry or not, it was irresistible, though I managed to save some for Heidi who probably has expert taste after all the leftovers she’s had from some of the best restaurants. Gjellina is well-known for their pizzas, so I had to try some of one. Ours came with maitake mushrooms, taleggio, carmelized onions, and beet greens with a mix of herbs, chili flakes, and parmesan to sprinkle on top. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. There are also a bunch of vegetable side dishes, like wood roasted cauliflower with garlic, chili, and vineagar, and grilled king oyster mushrooms with tarragon butter, lemon and sea salt, but we just ordered the okra which was fun because I don’t see them served often nor had I eaten them in a while. It was nice how they weren’t very slimy, because okra often get that way.
I was way too full for dessert, but the menu features the likes of housemade gelato and sorbet, Banana and Chocolate Bread Pudding, and Ricotta and Cardamom Fritters with Huckleberry Jam and Creme Anglais.
Gjellina is open all day everyday, well, from 11:30 on weekdays, and from 9 on weekends. There’s also GTA (Gjellina take-away) nextdoor, an upscale deli that I would frequent way too often if I lived nearby.
photo credit: thekitchn.com