Gjelina, a 2-1/2 year old establishment on a neighborly block in Venice, presents a particular hipster high-water mark in Los Angeles at the moment: West Coast meets Williamsburg.
Gjelina is part of a wave of gourmet establishments offering comfort cuisine with a vibe that is both upscale and casual. Style and pose aside, Gjelina’s thrives from a bustling kitchen producing a range of exquisite dishes that have given Gjelina a near cult-following.
Gjelina’s dining area is dominated by two high communal tables, set askew from the bar area. These are open-seating, which gives diners without reservations a chance to squeeze in. Reserved tables line a wall with a padded bench beneath what appears to be sleekly-polished, mud-dark concrete, impressed with tattoo-flourished garland patterns catching an indirect light on top. Warm, raw, distressed-looking wood panel many other surfaces, and paired with a random array of dim, bare bulbs, apocalyptic chandeliers and tabletop candlelight, the dining room is nearly nightclub-lit.
A glass paneled corridor leads up to the secluded patio area, which is an exquisite dining space, al fresco but confined, open and social, but cozy and hidden, with tables of various sizes, many arranged with ancient wooden folding chairs like something salvaged from Ebbett’s field. It is reportedly very difficult to book a table here, and its easy to see why.
The flawlessly hip, retro-ironic decor is at its most refined in the men’s room, with its pre-War lanolin powder dispenser installed over the metal-trough sink–perhaps the closest you can get to a 1920s YMCA, unless a Culver City studio is made over for a depression-era period drama.
Gjelina’s service is part of this non-performance, too: The lively crowd is attended by a friendly but sedate waitstaff. Whoever is around shows up to take your order, lazily rolling off the list of specials, sauntering off to get drinks. Whoever happens to see your order is up, brings out whatever plates happen to be ready, whenever they seem to show up. Not everyone loves this pace, for when it comes to service, Gjelina doesn’t stand on ceremony.
While the menu has refined-slacker vibe, too–boutique imported Pilsner offered next to $4 cans of Tecate–its the unquestionably gourmet fare that gentrifies Gjelina. There is an oyster list and Charcuterie above nearly twenty pizza options: from Marghertia to Duck Sausage to Gruyere. These choices are all spectacular, and this above the sections called “plates” —both small and large, and the further down from an extensive list of vegetable dishes. It is very difficult to make a choice for a single meal–Gjelina has the type of menu that makes a diner think: well, I’ll order this now, but I’ll have to come back another time to try that, and then another time to try that, etc.
Helpfully, Gjelina has a brunch menu, with many items, like the pizzas, on offer earlier in the day as well as dinner. But to get the full experience–from the communal seating to the sought-after patio nooks, from the many great pizzas to the whole other half of the menu, and still have room for such incredible desserts as the Strawberry Rhubarb Cornmeal Crispit–it would take several visits to Gjelina to enjoy it all.