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THE GUIDE : RESTAURANTS: EARLY BIRD

Dig in and save the chat for later

August 25, 2008|S. Irene Virbila | Times Restaurant Critic

"IT'S ACROSS from Green House Smoke Shop," I yelled into my cellphone through the din at Gjelina, a new restaurant on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice. I'd invited my friend Dan and his houseguests, and with no sign out front (at least that night), I was worried they wouldn't find it. But a few minutes later the three of them showed up, having lucked into a parking space in back.

Inside, it's quite the scene, very Venice chic. The glamorous and the scruffy are seated side by side at two tall communal tables, beneath a whimsical chandelier made out of an old oval pot rack twined with mismatched lightbulbs. In a reverse of the usual, the floors are brick, the ceiling wood planks, though that doesn't seem to make a difference in the pounding, festive noise level.

Still, what a smart environment for Travis Lett's exuberant California cooking. (He's the chef who put NineThirty, the restaurant at the W Hotel in Westwood, on the map when it opened in 2005.) At tables lined up under a charcoal plaster wall inscribed with graceful swirls, hungry folks are digging into platters of cured meats and cheeses, salads of burrata cheese with heirloom tomatoes and arugula, or beautiful thin-crusted pizzas smothered in fontina cheese, bitter greens and tomato confit. The wood-burning oven also turns out baby artichokes with Parmigiano and half a dozen other pizzas.

For the truly ravenous, i.e. those who need more than a plate of vegetables or a salad, the kitchen offers grilled white prawns with romesco, pan-roasted wild striped bass with toasted farro, or a straightforward Niman Ranch flat iron steak with smoked tomato butter.

Do check out the sexy little back patio outfitted with sofas and fire pits, where it is a bit quieter for those who have conversation as well as eating in mind. Otherwise, tuck in and leave the talk for later.

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virbila@latimes.com

Gjelina, 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, (310) 450-1429. Prices: oysters and crudo, $10-$16; cured meats and cheeses, $10-$13; vegetables, $8; salads, $10; pizzas, $13-$15; plates, $9-$27. Full bar. Open for dinner nightly starting at 5:30.

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