“Really? You can seat us… now?” I ask, my voice hedged with skepticism.
She beams at me from behind the hostess stand, “Yep!”
I study her face, searching for signs that she is toying with my emotions, or, worse, that there is some unfortunate twist like that the seats in question are actually in the bathroom.
It would be murder getting a good photo in that lighting. I think.
But her smile doesn’t falter. Instead of jolting me back to reality with a well-timed “Gotcha!” she pulls out two menus and says, “Right this way.”
I gasp, grinding my fingernails into Sook from Yutjangsah’s arm – she has just arrived at the restaurant.
“They can seat us… right away!” I hiss.
Her eyes bulge out the same way they do when she eats something pleasing to her palate. (She usually accompanies said bulging with the words, “It’s delicious….”)
“Really?!” She screeches back.
“Yes!” I enthuse, practically giddy at our good fortune.
When Sook had asked me if I wanted to meet her for brunch at Gjelina, essentially the Westside’s version of the Mozzas in terms of accessibility, I was expecting us to brave many blocks of window shopping on Abbot Kinney before we’d actually be seated at a table. The last two times we’d try to make reservations for dinner (several days in advance), neither of us had been able to secure a time before 10 pm. I’d been to the hip space only once prior for a Sunday brunch, and my friend and I had to wait 40 minutes for two very precarious seats at a communal bar table. We spent the entire meal attempting to secure enough elbow space to eat our eggs, which incidentally required the assistance of additional salt.
But today, the slate is wiped clean. Already this Gjelina experience seems destined to be better than my first. The space seems lighter somehow, the servers seem less surly, and the restaurant seems temporarily devoid of the “I’m-better-than-thou-because-I-wear-sunglasses-inside” attitude that I detected on my first visit.
Caught up in the vibrant mood that is permeating the open-air restaurant, Sook and I both order glasses of the Fata Morgana Greco ($11). We play the game of, “I’ll order a drink if you do,” but it is clear that we both feel less wishy-washy about it than we are letting on. The occasion calls for libations, and we must savor the moment of being seated right away sans bribe or celebrity entourage.
As we take lady-like sips from our wine glasses and make un-lady-like conversation about the guy I’m stalking on Twitter, Gjelina casts a new spell on us. It drugs us with the intoxicating crispy fingerling potatoes with truffle oil, herbs and Parmesan ($5), essentially an upscale version of French fries that neither of us can stop eating.
It arrests us with an heirloom spinach salad with green olives, tomato, feta, and pinenuts ($9) that is impossibly flavorful for a salad of such minimal ingredients. The tangy lemon vinaigrette, earthy pinenuts and salty olives announce themselves on our tongues with authority – making a compelling case for the importance of using quality products.
And Gjelina goes in for the kill with the lamb sausage pizza with confit tomato, rapini, pecorino and asiago ($14). We have no choice but to surrender our senses to the thoughtfully topped thin-crust pizza that must be finished with oregano, red pepper flakes, and then eaten folded up like a NY-slice for optimal pleasure. Gjelina giggles somewhat maniacally in the background as Sook and I make eye bulges at each other.
“It’s delicious.” Sook says.
“It’s delicious.” I echo.
And then we retreat back into silence lest our verbal communication impede the process of devouring our share of the pie.
We stumble out of the restaurant in half-dazed stupors. It’s partially the wine, partially the food, and partially amazement that the partner that has abused us in the past has it in him to be so completely and utterly endearing.
“Oh Gjelina, I think I love you now.” I tweet, no longer concerned with where my Twitter crush is and what he’s tweeting about and what I can tweet back.
I only have thumbs for Gjelina. And it’s torturously good food.
1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd.
Phone: (310) 450-1429