Travis Lett, the chef at Gjelina in LA’s Venice, is an environmentally conscious talent from New Jersey. Lett proves that even without a professional chef’s training, being creative, hard working and food conscious can be a winning restaurant combo. Gjelina is still after a decade of hyper popularity crazy hard to get a dinner reservation at. Unless you are willing to wait hours for a table, standing in the cool, but crowded bar by the entrance, book weeks ahead.
Gjelina was one of the daring pioneers what was once a no sane man’s land. Still you may bump into a psychologically disturbed or psychedelic on the moon individuals in the side lanes, but now more technoratti and surfers who can afford the skyrocketing rents inhabit this beach end of Los Angeles. These days, the cluttered ultra-cool Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice is where your hip brand opens a unique boutique. The olde days recalling, there is no sign screaming GJELINA, blinking and tempting you inside. But once you find it, you will retrace its wooden facade and incognito entrance as if it were a blinking star.
Sharing the bounty grown in California Gjelina style
Little has changed since I came almost a decade ago for the first meal at Gjelina. The food is outstanding, wine list engaging, Staropramen (Pilsner) beer from the Czech Republic on the tap and the trendy crowd eating, chatting, standing or just observing the deliciously looking plates as they pass around in the waiter’s hands. The fragrant, charred, thin-crusted pizza from a wood-burning oven is a sin worth succumbing to. Like a bbq, at the back, dark yard, the pizza somehow tastes even better. On the top of the flattened, baked delicacy is not the common stuff one would expect on a slice of pizza. Where was the World pizza award committee? Asleep smwr after too much pizza in Europe, my guess. Vegetables from Santa Monica’s farmers market are part of the deal. From okra to kale, using the freshest produce is the key to his success. Sourcing great meat and cheese is his another strength and reveals the chef’s penchant for finding the right ingredients. You cannot cheat on the quality of raw fish. The quality blinks green on the raw Hawaiian Amber Jack crudo with Jalapeño Vinegar, Blood Orange, Cilantro & Sesame.
The chef’s bravure shows in the original fusion of ingredients that he fearlessly mixes up as Van Gogh once experimented with his colour palette. Vincent Van Gogh, the famous Dutch painter said: “I know for sure that I have an instinct for colour, and that it will come to me more and more, that painting is in the very marrow of my bones.” If you switch colour for ingredients then you find the chef Lett. Just ponder about this pizza topping made of Duck Sausage, Nameko Mushroom, Mozzarella & Garlic Oil or this one with Asparagus, Sottocenere, Garlic, Shallot & Sunny Egg or here you go – Hen of the Woods Mushrooms, Beet Greens & Taleggio (semi-hard cheese). Not salivating yet? I do just thinking about last time munching on it.
A salad from Tuscan Kale, Shaved Fennel, Radish, Lemon, Ricotta Salata & Breadcrumb is one of the tastiest salads I have ever tried and no wonder, it has stayed on the menu for a while. Even the no-ever ‘saladeers’ will appreciate this one. I would not call it a salad, let’s just say it is supper yummy. Also their take on the Caesar salad is innovative and fresh. Lighter than the often heavily sauced traditional plate.
Veggie-wise, another nourishing kale dish is worth trying – Grilled Russian Kale with Shallot Yogurt & Toasted Hazelnuts is crunchy and creamy at the same time. The iron and chlorophyl in kale, better absorbed with Vitamin C from a drizzle of lemon, add the hunger-taming high protein in nuts and digestion-aiding yoghurt, all together create a super-meal. The recipe is in the Gjelina cookbook (p.97) so make it at home when the season for kale is peaking.
The Grilled East Coast Squid with Lentils, Red Peppers & Salsa Verde plate was not just originally combined, but a great match. The Chickpea Stew with Greens, Cous Cous, Spiced Yogurt & Harissa is legendary, and has not disappointed many regulars who tried this Moroccan inspired plate repeatedly like I did. The spicy harrissa paste is mellowed by a thick yoghurt and grainy couscous. Ideal for vegetarians.
Plate of Artisanal Cheeses with Membrillo, Honeycomb & Toasts is perfect with some wine to share. The selection depends on what the chef finds interesting on the day of purchase and, unless aged, it is guaranteed that it is fresh. Spanish membrillo, a thick paste from this sweet yellow fruit grown in Spain is a great sweet match to stronger cheeses.
The AA members will enjoy the home-made iced tea, refreshing and you can sweeten it yourself so no extra calories with the decadent meal at Gjelina. The wine-by-the glass selection is global and niche so experiment and be surprised! I hope positively. I got a Grenache Blanc from Toppanga Vineyards (Arroyo Seco, California 2009). Grenache is not very typical for California and I gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised by its crisp, yet aromatic taste. The wines are not cheap. A glass starts at $13. The selection by the bottle spans some adventurous choices from Georgia, Greece and even from Uruguay. Not a fan of hazarding? Stay local, with France, Italy or Spain as there is plenty to choose from. The creative bar cocktails are tempting, if you try, let me know which one is good. Merci!
The only drawback is that you have to park yourself, an annoying task for the expats living in the LA valley culture.
Visits: April 2009 – 2017
Price: High, but sharing of a number of dishes is recommended and the bill fills your belly and conscience.
+1 310 450 1429
Mon-Fri: 11:30am – midnight; Weekends: 9am – midnight