Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gjelina: Spuds and eggs get a make-over

"She said 30 to 40 minutes," Ashley says to me when I arrive outside Gjelina restaurant in Venice after (expertly) parallel parking my car on Electric Avenue.

I can tell by her pained expression that she's a little unsure about the wait time and a knot of anxiety weaves through my rumbling stomach. I hope she doesn't suggest going elsewhere. I think. Hal's is fine, but...

"I'm just going to go to the bathroom!" I stammer quickly, stalling so that by the time I get back, there will only be 25 minutes left, and then I can make the argument that all good brunch places have at least a 20 minute wait on Sunday.

Smart, Diana, Smart. I commend myself and bolt away from Ashley before she can put up a protest.

The bathroom at the rear of the restaurant is an amusing space. While I am a bit annoyed at the effort it takes to not touch the (potentially) germ-infested chain flushing mechanism or the rod iron steering wheel handle above the sink, I like the overall effect. It's rather dungeonesque, except without the stench of rotting bones and flesh.

By the time I do get back to Ashley, we only have enough time to buy amusing birthday cards at Firefly down the street before the somewhat surly hostess seats us at one of the communal tables in the middle of the trendy Abbott Kinney restaurant.

I make a face at Ashley as we squeeze onto our tiny barstools. It's a good thing both of us run... a lot, I think. Of course, at this point, my stomach has reached full ready to rumble stage, and I would be happy eating out of a pig trough, so don't (much) mind that the girl next to me is practically in my lap. She actually seems pretty sweet. Plus, I really like the looks of her egg dish with its golden runny yolk oozing over spritely slivers of asparagus.

By the time our waiter comes by to take our drink order, I'm pretty determined to pull a "I'll have what she's having." Or at least I think I'm determined. I do still feel somewhat compelled to ask our hipsteresque server what he recommends lest I experience another mojoless ordering moment. He singles out the poached eggs with lentils, escarole and salsa verde ($11); albacore tune tartine with confit tomato, gruyere and cucumber green bean salad ($13); the Pei mussels with chorizo, garlic, confit tomato, white wine and grilled bread ($13); and the marinated beet salad with avocado, orange and hazelnuts ($9).

Again, Ashley and I make faces at each other.

"Nothing he recommended sounds good to me..." She whispers once he has departed to put in my request for green tea ($4).

"Me neither..." I whisper back, still making eyes at the poached eggs with maitake mushrooms, roasted asparagus and parmesan breadcrumbs.

When our server returns, Ashley orders the Anson Mills corn grits with poached eggs, cavola nero and crisp bacon ($13), and I opt for what my conjoined twin on the right is enjoying. We top things off with a small plate of the crispy fingerling potatoes with truffle oil, herbs and parmesan ($5), and then pass the (brief) waiting period discussing how Ashley wants to get married in a short wedding dress and how I want to have a gelato bar instead of a dried out multi-tier cake.

The fingerlings arrive first -- announcing themselves at our table with the intoxicating perfume of hot truffle oil. Potatoes don’t normally inspire greedy gobbler behavior for me, but I have to physically restrain myself from eating the entire plate before Ashley can get her share. Even after we try our entrees, which are, incidentally, delicious, we both can't get past the potatoes.
"These are the best thing we ordered." Ashley declares as she spears another crispy tater.

I nod and immediately stab my fork into a particularly girthy spud on my half of the plate.

Our egg dishes also prove to be successful -- particularly after we give them a salt shower. My first bite is a touch underwhelming, but as my tongue acclimates to the earthy flavors and savory broth, I find myself increasingly enamored by the lightness of the dish. I also very much enjoy using the buttery grilled bread served on the side to mop up the excess liquid. It’s not the most attractive behavior, but Ashley pretends not to notice my uncouth communal table manners. She is content to scrape up her plate of grits and greens – a dish she later describes as "comfort food."

The brunch proves to be pricier than my average midday nosh session (especially since most of my midday nosh sessions come courtesy of my own two hands), but when I sign my name on the dotted line, I don't feel as though I've wasted my money on something I could have made better at home. Gjelina's brunch offerings are unique in a way that makes the restaurant a worthy destination for someone who wants a little something more than plain old scrambled eggs and hash browns. Gjelina elevates the humble egg and lowly spud from ho-hum to gourmet. I can’t wait to go back for dinner to see the crazy stuff they do to pizza.

1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Venice, CA‎
Phone: (310) 450-1429‎


Ashley said...

ha. love the part about our convo.

Gastronomer said...

Those potatoes look and sound exquisite! I think I want XT Patisserie to design my wedding cake ;-)

weezermonkey said...

Mmm. I must get those fingerlings.

Esi said...

I'm not a potato person at all, but those sound pretty awesome. If I ever find myself in Venice (which is usually never), I will have to make a stop.

yutjangsah said...

you cheated on me. *shakes fist* you're just lucky it wasn't dinner!

Diana said...

Ashley - Me too. :) I think I want lasagna and gnocchi for my entrees.

Cathy - And provide macaron favors for potential guests too?!? ;)

Sharon - I think you must get them too!

Esi - It's a cool place - I really want to go back and try the other things on the menu -- even the non potato items!

Sook - Don't worry - dinner is all you! I can't take down all those pizza by myself!

Alessandra said...

I still can't believe you eat runny eggs.

PS - Inga would look so cute in a short wedding dress.

Anna A. said...

Good stuff! I've always wanted to come here. Does it make dinner do over status?

Jenn said...

Potatoes with truffle oil?! Give me some of that.

The Blonde Duck said...

1) Must say I LOVE yesterday's black bean burgers.
2) I can picture ya'll staring longingly at the other's plates!
3) I'm so glad you have not disowned me after seeing my tacky dress. I can't help it. I'm from Texas. I'm born 30 % tacky.

Diana said...

Ali - I know, it's hard for me to believe it too! As long as the white is cooked, I have no problem with the yellow rivered yolk.

Anna - Totally makes dinner do over status! I am dying to go back for their pizza and more of their yum small plates!

Jenn - Truffle oil is so very wonderful.

Miranda - I'm seconds away from stealing the tacky dress out of your closet!