Gjelina Stays the Course

I can’t add much to the conversation about Gjelina in Venice, as it’s been well-reviewed and Yelped to death since it opened, what…two years ago? I’ve been maybe six times and have had lovely meals each time. Chef Travis Lett is a real craftsman, a hard-working chef devoted to making the basics exemplary. By basics I mean the bread, the produce, the seafood, the juices, etc. The foundation of great food is great produce, and Travis understands this simple tenet extremely well. He lives and thrives by it. His devotion to fresh market ingredients is obvious in every bite.

Travis, who I know fairly well and have a cordial, friendly relationship with, is an imaginative chef who also knows when to leave well enough alone. His food is simple, well-thought-out, and perfectly nuanced. His cuisine is unfussy, unpretentious, and balanced. Each dish is well constructed — you can almost taste the craft that went into it. It’s hardly surprising that Gjelina became such a big hit; in this recession price and glamor have taken a back seat to care, to casual complexity, to flavor. Gjelina has still got it.

Excellent appetizer of tender grilled squid with melon, celery, salsa verde, and a pinch of chili flake.
Regina loved her freshly squeezed blood orange juice.
Great salad of kale, fennel, radish, breadcrumbs, lemon, and ricotta salata.
Wood-roasted turnips and radishes are perfectly cooked but lacked seasoning.
A superb pizza with zucchini blossoms, orange cherry tomatoes, and burrata. Great crust, super-fresh ingreds.

Gjelina’s market-driven food is very fresh and mostly excellent. Both lunch and dinner are worth a trip. The decor is inviting, sort of urban farm-craft or something, and the service is pretty good although somewhat harried by the throng of clientele. It’s almost always extraordinarily busy so make reservations a week or more in advance or be prepared for a fairly long wait. Tables are fine, but I also like sitting at one of the communal counters next the charcuterie guy and watching him slice.

Keep in mind that Gjelina is one of the those places where menu modifications are not encouraged. In fact, they’re downright actively discouraged, so if you’ve got a whole raft of food allergies, you should call and ask for the most recent menu before going in and assuming that they’ll be able to accommodate your particular eating quirks.

1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 450-1429

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