Food & dining

Food & Travel

From hippie to hipster in Venice, Calif.

Tasty pastries at Jewish deli Gjusta.
kim diamond
Tasty pastries at Jewish deli Gjusta.

VENICE, Calif. — Blocks from the beach where surfers and skateboarders make their daily pilgrimage is mile-long Abbot Kinney Boulevard, in a neighborhood that has evolved from hippie to hipster.

This main drag welcomes tourists and locals (even famous ones) to embrace the eclecticism of the area. And while trendy coffee shops like Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia, and Toms (as in socially conscious shoes, which you can also find here) populate the street, more surprising are the sweet sidewalk jewelry pop-ups and stores such as Ruti, which sells womenswear by Israeli designers.

Step aside for the rollerskating woman swooping down the boulevard, and find a welcome respite from the people-watching at Gjelina. This rustic bistro, opened in 2008, has entertained an audience of artsy types and celebrities (Beyoncé, Victoria Beckham), who come for small plates and casual fare.

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Blame Beyoncé if a reservation is hard to come by. Despite calling months in advance of a visit, we took the only table left on a Saturday night, on a lovely patio (the noise level inside the restaurant was ridiculously high, so we were grateful).

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Natural wood on outdoor walls and overhangs is sophisticated rather than cabin-like, and a brick structure with plants set in the corner of the ceiling is lovely. On the small-plates menu is albacore crudo with ginger paste and scallions; braised pork meatballs with tomato, red wine, and Parmesan; cauliflower with garlic and chile; and okra with pine nuts and mint. You can split pizza or salads, though dandelions with anchovies is much too bitter. A slice of black-bottom banana cream pie thoughtfully arrives with enough spoons for everyone at the table.

Sister restaurant Gjelina is a rustic bistro famous for its artsy and celebrity clientele.
Sister restaurant Gjelina is a rustic bistro famous for its artsy and celebrity clientele.

Gjusta, off the boulevard, is Gjelina’s sister restaurant. The year-old Gjusta redefines a traditional Jewish deli for Southern California tastes. There is standard deli fare here such as pickled herring, salmon collar, and Reuben sandwiches, but you can also order a slice of tahini jam loaf, buckwheat and banana bread, and chocolate-avocado mousse.

Maybe it is just a typical weekend rush, or spillover from the annual Abbot Kinney Festival, but the Sunday brunch scene feels frenetic. The line to order is long and the restaurant air conditioning is either broken or not working well. Though scones and croissants are in ample supply, the place is out of breakfast biscuits. The gentleman behind the counter gives us the frustrating news that the restaurant is also out of avocado.

“Can you be out of avocado in California?” a friend wonders.

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There are only a few counter seats in the back. The patio with nearly a dozen tables (including several communal ones), is a better bet, but trying to order while securing seats is stressful, and the shade tarps do little to cool the midday heat.

The food, though, is worth the aggravation. Bagel topped with smoked salmon, 3-napkin BLT, and mushroom bowls with greens, fried egg, and brown rice are all delightful. Sparkling drinks like mint limeade and ginger lemonade go so fast we consider getting seconds. No one wants them badly enough to attempt the order line again.

GJELINA 1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, Calif. 310-450-1429, www.gjelina.com

GJUSTA 320 Sunset Ave., Venice, Calif. 310-314-0320, www.gjusta.com

Jill Radsken can be reached at jill.radsken@gmail.com.