If you want to take people to a place where every cliche that Los Angelenos are too damn beautiful for their own good comes true, take them to Gjelina.
If you want to take people to a place where you can eat only vegetables and not for a second bridle at the seemingly limiting fact that you're eating vegetarian, take them to Gjelina.
That's a really nice double whammy. It's been open for five years, which means just yesterday if you're visiting from Santa Barbara, and is an easy strike from LAX as it's on Abbot Kinney in Venice. (Easy to get to, less easy to park near, that is.) Yes, you're a bit in the heart of the heart of hipsterville, but they sure do clean up and dress nice. It's easy to imagine casting agents try to apply to work as the hostesses here, as it would make their job super easy--just sign up all the customers.
Luckily, as with real estate where you want to have the least expensive house in a ritzy neighborhood, I have no problem being the least good looking person amidst the beauty. None at all. And that's just the start, as you really need to go check out the Gjelina (it's named for the owner's mom and it's pronounced, of course, jewel-lina) menu and then nothing I write will matter. It's super clean, clear direct food made with topnotch ingredients, the kind of thing that's become bestselling cookbook porn thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi. Note there are 12 plates listed under vegetable for $8 a pop--three of us ordered 4 of those and had a perfectly pleasingly lunch sharing. Not that we wouldn't have eaten more--it all tasted so good--but we had a modicum of self-control.
Consider, for example, purple Peruvian potatoes, horseradish aioli, pickled red onions, and dill. That color is crucial, the violet potato almost adding flavor via sight, but they are sliced and cooked to just enough, cirspy on the outside, soft on the in, and then they get zipped three ways with the horseradish heat, the pickled onion acid, the dill's sharp floral lift. Simple and exquisite. It's just the same for crispy Brussels sprouts, jalapeno-lime, cilantro and walnut (the crunchy cabbage on their way to a border town if not quite Mexico, a clever unusual approach) and charred romanesco, Fresno chili, sofrito, anchovy, capers, and mint. Each dish allows its ingredients to sounds its own notes while adding to an exquisite multi-layered song.
And then there were the grilled king oyster mushroom, tarragon butter, lemon, and sea salt, the shrooms so meaty they had to be cut with a knife like some new exquisite cut of meat. You knew they came from the grill and the butter lemon and salt just enhanced their flavor more.
That's all we had, plus some beers, and it was everything we could want. Except for another visit, soon.