It didn’t start on the best foot. “I would like to make a reservation…”
“I am afraid we are fully booked”
“But you haven’t even heard when I am planning to come! Oh, just put me through to the kitchen”.
My friend, who has a long-standing business relationship with Gjelina on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice, used it to her advantage to get a table on a Saturday night. And yes, it’s fairly hard to get a reservation at night and certainly the rude staff that answers the phone is no help.
No matter, on Saturday, right in the middle of the worst rush, with people lined up against the wall, our table is indeed ready. I had only been to Gjelina for lunch when it’s not a problem to get in and the atmosphere is much more relaxed. During the daylight, it’s also nice to be able to appreciate the rustic but chic room, the patio in the back while at night everything is so dark that to read the small print and vast menu becomes a real challenge. The pretty glass globes hanging from the ceiling are not really meant to shed light on the beautiful and the trendy.
We start with a couple of pizzas – they come out quickly and the thin and charred crust is perfect. The topping of mushrooms and goat cheese would benefit from the absence of truffle oil, an ingredient I abhor. If I want truffles, let me eat truffles and not some distant relative infusion. But the Margherita with prosciutto is perfect so I shut up.
We then forgo salads and individual orders and opt for small plates to share. The long list of vegetable dishes is a vegetarian dream and the Wood Roasted Cauliflower with Garlic, Chili and Vinegar is delicious leaving the astringency of the vinegar to linger on in the mouth. The Baby Shitaki with Shallots, Garlic, Thyme and Madeira is equally good but I am starting to wonder why such garlic largesse. The raw ingredients the restaurant uses are of outstanding quality so why not let them shine instead of weighing them down with so much garlic and salt?
My favourite dish was the Crispy Spanish Mackerel with Peperonata but the Lamb Chops get a repeat order and the Ricotta Gnocchi Pomodoro are simple but tasty. The butterscotch pot de creme the server recommended is indeed silky but a bit too heavy for my taste while the Strawberry and Rhubarb Crisp hits the right notes although it leaves me wondering if the rhubarb is frozen as its season is long over.
Service was extremely attentive but the music – oh my god the music! It’s as loud as in any club at 3 am making conversation across the table fairly impossible and, after two hours, giving me a monster headache. But maybe that is the point – they don’t want people to linger for two hours on a Saturday night. Or else it’s a marketing ploy well past my sell by date.
1429 Abbot Kinney Boulevard
Venice – 310 450 1429