Tucked away in Gjelina’s rustic back patio, we enjoyed our afternoon lunch, at a table enveloped in jasmine and bathed in sunlight. Our waiter, Antoine, a tall Frenchman with intelligent features, introduced himself and asked if we would like something to drink to start. After glancing through the wine list, I chose something light to suit the sunny patio atmosphere.
“Pinot Grigio, please.” I decided.
Antoine seemed pleased by my choice.
“Ice tea,” my husband said jubilantly.
The ice tea is served in a simple glass carafe, its caramel color golden and sparkling in the sunlight. A smaller glass pitcher with honey is served along with it for sweetener.
The tea was remarkably perfect. Iced tea, true iced tea, well brewed. The cognac-colored hue shimmering in the drinking glass filled with ice, a squeeze of lemon from the lemon wedge, and you have a genuine glass of iced tea. This isn’t from a fountain spigot.
A chilled glass of Pinot Grigio, fruity, light. A bottle of water arrived to the table.
The menu had so many tempting choices that we had a difficult time deciding. We were hungry, and despite that, we would have ordered more than we did, because the offerings at Gjelina are unique and alluring. Everything looked good.
The few times I had been to Gjelina, I chose the chickpea stew. I loved the chickpea stew so much, I found a similar recipe and made it at home. I was obsessed with chickpea stew the way Gjelina made it— a hearty bowl filled with chickpeas and Israeli couscous, drizzled with harissa and yogurt. I made my homemade version in a clay pot. The Greek recipe I found was a simple one. I made my chickpeas with olive oil and broth, adding a few things to mine like thyme, bay leaf and lemon wedges, but trying all the same to make it just like Gjelina’s. I put it in the oven at a very low heat overnight—- 6 hours was what the recipe called for. Harissa was a key condiment. Gjelina serves theirs with a swirl of harissa and yogurt. The bright red harissa and the white creamy yogurt pops out, calling to your taste buds.
The couple with the little baby at the table next to ours had ordered the chickpea stew. I looked at it longingly. But I was going to try something new on Gjelina’s menu.
My husband ordered the half dozen assorted oysters to start. I ordered the marinated beet and avocado salad with citrus, sherry and hazelnuts, along with the squash blossom, zucchini, cherry tomato, garlic, burrata and green olive oil pizza for us to share. There are so many delicious combinations to tempt, that I was wavering between the squash blossom pizza (just described), and the gruyere, caramelized onion, fromage blanc and arugula pizza. Both sounded good, but I chose the squash blossom pizza.
The oysters arrived on a bed of ice with three little sauces and lemon slices. I watched my husband slurp each one up, exclaiming his pleasure in Japanese, his eyes shining and rolling back in delight. They looked so delicate in their pearly shells.
If I liked oysters I would definitely eat one or two from his plate, but memories of observing New Orleans oyster shuckers in oyster bars with the crushed shells of crawfish on the floor, and the smell of hurricane mixed drinks spilled on the pavement invades my senses, along with the memory of too many greyhound drinks and Mardi Gras decadence. I suppose for some that’s a good memory. I lived in New Orleans long enough to become immune to the stench of garbage in the sweltering heat, non-plussed by roaches and flying palmetto bugs, and victorious in the art of mosquito evasion. Nonetheless, when I see a platter of oysters on a fresh bed of ice, it reminds me of the French Quarter. It’s a mixture of repulsion and romantic reverie. Still, the slippery creatures haven’t made it into my mouth and down my throat, so I am happy to observe others take pleasure in the experience. An onlooker, a voyeur of oyster eaters. I assumed the usual: oysters are known aphrodisiacs. I smiled like the Cheshire Cat, watching my husband gulp them down. Not that he needs any assistance in summoning up desire.
I was nearly through with my glass of Pinot Grigio when I thought about another, but the ice tea was beckoning to me. Antoine asked if I’d like another glass of wine, like a good Frenchman. Instead, I ordered the iced tea. It arrived swiftly in its carafe long with a glass of ice.
The marinated beet and avocado salad was a remarkable combination with the orange slices and hazelnuts. The bright magenta color of the beets complimented the green of the avocado. It was not only wonderful in color, but in flavor, it surprised. The juicy orange slice combined with the velvet texture of the avocado, the soft bite of beets, and the crunch of hazelnut was a rainbow in one’s mouth.
The pizza came out on a platter fresh from the oven, and it couldn’t have been a more heavenly thing. Thin, crisp crust, Napoli style. The burrata melted in white pillowy mounds among the halved cherry tomatoes and squash blossom buds. A side plate of dried chili, shredded parmigiano cheese, and thyme for seasoning our pizza. This pizza was profoundly delicious.
The other thing about this pizza that was unlike any other pizza I’ve had was that it was not in the least bit greasy. So delicate and thin, it was light, almost floating off the plate. The burrata cheese melted in my mouth, the hot crust with its burnt, earthy flavor, fresh cherry tomatoes, zucchini, thyme, garlic, and little buds of squash blossoms. It tasted like sunlight baked it on a hot stone.
Dessert menus. Flourless chocolate cake with crème fraiche and hazelnut.
Yogurt & Mascarpone Panna Cotta with Fresh Cherries and Amaretti. Did I mention Mascarpone Panna Cotta? Fresh Cherries? Because if I didn’t, the photos may overwhelm you by their extreme juiciness and sensual decadence. Here it is— luscious creamy food porn:
Creamy Panna Cotta with fresh juicy summer cherries.
Here is a peek at Gjelina’s lunch menu offerings, but please go to their website GJELINA and take look at the full descriptions of LUNCH, BRUNCH and DINNER MENUS as well as the WINE LIST and DESSERTS.
GJELINA ~ 1429 ABBOTT KINNEY BOULEVARD, VENICE, CA 90291
The head chef of Gjelina, Travis Lett, interviewed by Los Angeles Times journalist Betty Hallock
A peek at the menu:
Arugula, shaved sweet corn, cherry tomato, pecorino and lemon
Escarole with sunchoke, smoked almond, lemon and parmesan
Plate of artisanal cheeses with membrillo, honeycomb, and toasts
Braised artichokes with burrata, mint-pistachio pesto & crispy shallots
Warm diesel turkey, green goddess dressing, arugula and pickled cucumber on brioche
A selection of grilled Nantucket squid, pan seared diver scallops, Australian lamb chops, braised pork meatballs, mussels with chorizo, crispy duck leg confit, roasted jidori chicken, grassfed “bistro” ribeye, and of course, the chickpea stew with greens, couscous, harissa and spiced yogurt.
Pizzas of many delectable choices— too many good combinations to mention!
And Vegetable sides— farm fresh, locavore loved, mouth-watering!