Sunday 10 March, 2013

Gjelina: Go Early, And Often

Guanciale, green olive, Fresno chile, bufala pizza

It isn't any news that Gjelina is a must-do on the Westside of LA, and a cornerstone of the Abbot-Kinney food scene. If you love food and you want to experience the best of LA, this is on your list, period. But it struck me that for all the respect Gjelina enjoys, most of the chatter is about how you have to wait to eat here (no reservations unless you've got between 6-15 people) and how even "celebrities" (oh lala) line up to do that.

Well, they line up for catering on set, too, so big whoop. My personal feelings are that very little food is worth standing around waiting for, at least when there are many convenient options (Sunny Spot down the street certainly making the case here). But that doesn't mean you should boycott. Instead, go on off hours, say 4:30-6, and sit down at the communal table, rather than stand around for an hour vibing other people to finish and leave (believe me, the cheap machine shop stools are enough to get you out fast) I mean, it's good food, but it's not a vaccine.

Duck breast and liver terrine

Duck breast and liver terrine

Anyway, my main point was that for all the chatter about Gjelina, you rarely see much discussion of the actual food anymore. So I thought I'd just post a quick blog on a typical Gjelina meal.

The seasonal menu here is really long, and ranges from $8 vegetable platesĀ  (a veggie could could plunk down $60 bucks and have a feast) to a $40 New York steak, although "everyone knows" the pizzas are the main attraction. Napoli style, thin, chewy and charred, they're topped with a broad variety of artisanal ingredients the likes of which would have Princessa Margherita scratching her head. I'm taling about bottarga, guanciale, radicchio, lamb sausage, nettles. 16 combinations on the menu. Are you really going to ask for a substitution? Just go to Papa Johns.


We ordered guanciale, green olive, fresno chili and buffalo mozzerella. And nearly argued over the last piece (where did it go?)

You ought to augment your pie with something from their French-inspired charcuterie list (this is the duck breast and liver terrine with cranberry, pistachio, mustarda and toasts to augment) and one of their "plates" or "small plates" (I dont really love reductionist menu wording like this, but that's another topic). This is the smoked sturgeon, dense, woody but velvety with Castelvatrano aioli, shaved fennel, marinated red pepper--good enough to earn the respect of any Jewish deli man ;) Watch the prices though, because again they range from $11 to almost 4x that, which may be merited, but is dangerous in a dark room that basically looks like a Disney design of a steampunk 17th Century tavern. Shiver me timbers.

smoked sturgeon

smoked sturgeon

The wine list here is moderately sized and very Euro-centric, but not necessarily obvious. We tried some uncommon glassses: A Sicilian Nerello Mascalese by Calabretta (rich but restrained), a Piemontese Barbera by Camerano (good solid pizza paring) and a wild card Slovenian Ribolla Gialla by Kabaj (fat and tropical but still dry, very interesting and a good pair for the sturgeon).

If you're getting sparkling wine (e.g. with brunch), get the Sainte Anne Brut by Chartogne-Taillet. It's practically a bargain at $67 (nearly half of the Geoffroy), and if it's good enough for Raj Parr, it's good enough for you.

Beers are not boring, but a real hops-head won't see anything new. There are some wine and beer-based cocktails as well.

Butterscotch pot de creme, their signature dessert

Butterscotch pot de creme, their signature dessert

They serve until midnight, which is extremely rare for this quality of food anywhere in LA. There is also a walk up counter so you can avoid the nonsense and take your pizza back to your overpriced bungalow and eat in private with your own celebrity. Yes, folks, that's how everyone in LA lives.