First Taste: Gjelina

Beneath an old pot rack twined with bare filament light bulbs, the bohemians of Venice, California, sip wine and nibble thin-crusted pizzas and salads of nectarine, Burrata, and speck. Gjelina (pronounced like Angelina without the “An”) brings out the kind of eclectic beach crowd that 72 Market or West Beach Cafe drew in the old days. With charcoal plaster walls, an old brick floor, and rough planks on the ceiling, Gjelina’s industrial look is warmed up with wood tables, mismatched vintage chairs, and a long banquette covered in elegant brocade. But unless it’s very late, the dining room, where two tall communal tables butt up against the bar, can be loud. Here’s a tip: The back patio is quiet enough for conversation, perfect really, furnished with a firepit, antique garden tables, and low sofas.

Gjelina’s chef is Travis Letts, who brought some excitement to the dining room at the W Westwood when it first opened. Here, his cooking is less fussy, more direct and earthy. His pizzas from a woodburning oven are wonderful, topped with Fontina cheese, bitter greens, bacon, and tomato confit or Taleggio, mushrooms, and pea tendrils, to name two. He also uses that oven to roast baby artichokes, which he serves with gremolata, and sunchokes (delicious with salsa verde). Miniature beets with their tops arrive with dollops of fresh ricotta and walnut oil.

Letts keeps the menu fresh by introducing a handful of new dishes every week, which could be something like Monterey Bay squid with chimichurri or a Niman Ranch skirt steak with arugula and shaved Parmigiano. He also turns out a killer duck leg confit. Dessert encompasses a pine nut and honey tart, butterscotch pot de crème, and an oddball chocolate date pudding.

At the moment, Gjelina is one restaurant in L.A. where it’s essential to reserve ahead. That said, it’s easier to get a table after 9:30 p.m. It’s quieter, too, and on a balmy Venice night, that patio is where you want to be.

Gjelina 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, CA (; 310-450-1429)

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