Gjelina in Venice has taken flak from some for being pretentious and overhyped, yet others claim that it's a fun favorite. We took full advantage of a lazy Saturday day trip to Venice to form our own opinions.
Located on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, the oddly-named brainchild (I believe it's a silent 'g', though the young lady who answered the phone led me to believe it was pronounced with a silent 'j'...) of owners Fran Camaj, Robert Swan and young chef-partner Travis Lett bears no sign, nor, apparently, does it need to. At any hour of the day, you'll find Gjelina packed elbow-to-elbow with diners. We came at four in the afternoon and were lucky enough to be sat at the lone empty table in the corner.
Gjelina manages to accomplish the rustic chic atmosphere for which it so desperately strives. We actually really liked the wood-and-stone heavy decor, which reminded us of an urban version of the space at I Flip For Food favorite Woodberry Kitchen.
After hours of strolling along boardwalk, we were in the mood for ocean fare and started out with half dozen small, plump and sweet Kumamoto oysters.
We also split a salad of roasted beets, burrata, arugula, toasted walnuts and a walnut oil vinaigrette. While there was nothing groundbreaking about the dish, all of the ingredients were really nice (can you say "burrata fiends"?) and worked well together, and the walnut oil vinaigrette was particularly tasty.
We then enjoyed a tasty selection of house-made charcuterie (salami, coppa, proscuitto, and duck/lamb terrine) with toast, two types of mustard, preserves and pickles (below). Everything on the board was solid, and the duck/lamb terrine was a flavor standout.
On to the "pizzas." Why the quotation marks? Well...because perhaps "pizza" is not the most apt descriptor. The discs that arrived at our table would more appropriately be called flatbreads. The crusts of our pizzas were thin and pratically brittle, almost cracker-like. It seems as though Gjelina was aiming for Neapolitan-style pizza, but that would require a soft, chewy and thicker crust.
While our expectations set us up for disappointment, we still found things about the pizza to enjoy. Our first choice came with duck sausage, black trumpet mushrooms, garlic and mozzarella (below) - all the ingredients were delicious and plentiful.
We also ordered a pizza with caramelized fennel, confit tomato, green onion, mozzarella, and spicy fennel salami (below). Again, a pretty satisfying combination of ingredients. We just wished they had been on a better executed crust. If we find ourselves at Gjelina again, it won't likely be for the "pizza."
At this point in the meal, we had enjoyed our dishes but nothing had been very memorable. That changed once the dessert hit our table. The butterscotch pot de crème with salted caramel and crème fraiche (below) was one of the most sinfully luscious desserts we've enjoyed in a long time. In fact, a slight spoon skirmish broke out when it came time to scrape the last of the butterscotch from the bottom of the cup.
Is Gjelina gonna knock your socks off? Probably not. But it was a very pleasant place to end our day trip to Venice. If you can manage your expectations and don't have to wait too long for a table, Gjelina offers pretty solid fare.