Gjelina (Venice, CA)

1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291
Dining date: 7/20/11

I’ve wanted to visit Gjelina for some time now…though, not enough to drive all the way across town. Until now. Opened in 2008, Gjelina has been consistently popular during its lifetime. So popular, in fact, that when making a reservation two weeks in advance, only 6pm and 9pm were available on a random Wednesday night. Consider my interest piqued.

Grilled King Oyster Mushroom with Tarragon Butter, Lemon & Sea Salt

We started with these large mushrooms, grilled to a nice char. Smoky and earthy, they were really heightened by a touch of lemon.

Hamachi Crudo with Santa Rosa Plum, Serrano Chili, Cilantro & Lemon

I thought this dish was very ordinary. The fish was fine, but the accenting chili, cilantro and lemon were too subtle.

Grilled Nantucket Squid with Cavaillon Melon, Celery, Chili & Salsa Verde


I liked this dish – tender squid was paired with a little sweetness from the melon, while the chili and salsa verde brightened the dish up.

Braised Pork Meatballs with Tomato & Grilled Bread

These were solid meatballs in a hearty and rich tomato sauce.

Crispy Niman Ranch Pork Belly with Soft Polenta, Bitter Greens & Apple Cider

An excellent dish. The pork was crispy on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. I liked the addition of the polenta and greens, adding some earthy undertones while the cider helped to cut through the richness of the belly.

Grilled Asparagus, Frisee, Pancetta Vinaigrette & Crispy Fried Egg

This tasted pretty much as advertised, though I was missing some of the pancetta flavor in the vinaigrette.

Wood Roasted ‘Peel n Eat’ Prawns with Garlic, Chili, Parsley & Lemon

Possibly my favorite dish of the night, large prawns came out perfectly roasted. Slightly smoky and slightly spicy, the accompaniments accentuated the shrimp without overpowering.

Miatake Mushroom Toast with Creme Fraiche & Truffle Oil

Another hit, this mushroom toast was pretty delicious. The tender mushrooms went well with the tart crème fraiche and crusty bread.

Slow Roasted Leg of Lamb with Cous Cous, Red Pepper, Spiced Yogurt & Herb Salad

This was our only large plate (the kitchen closed this section of the menu without prior warning) and it was a disappointing one. The lamb was surprisingly dry and overcooked. Not sure what happened here.


This was a good pizza with a sweet tomato sauce and a soft, chewy crust. I might’ve preferred it to be a little more crispy on the bottom, though, as it seemed somewhat soggy in the middle. Good, but not particularly memorable.

Guanciale, Green Olive, Fresno Chili, Buffalo Mozzarella

This pizza definitely had a more dynamic flavor profile than the Margherita, with a tasty, meaty pork flavor complemented by heat from the chili and saltiness from the olives. Pretty nice.

Butterscotch Pot de Creme with Salted Caramel & Creme Fraiche


Seriously delicious. I thought it was rich (but not overly so) with a really nice depth of flavor. A little bit of salt and whipped creme fraiche were simple and integral accompaniments.

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

While I preferred the other dessert, this one held its own. Small chunks of banana filled the pie, which benefitted by being not overwhelmingly banana-y. The cream was pretty light with just the right amount of sweetness.

Gjelina met my expectations (which were pretty high). Most of the plates managed to be interesting and different while staying within familiar Italian flavor profiles. The place is definitely trendy but with proven staying power. I can’t say I’d make a special trip to Venice just to eat here, but it’d definitely be a strong option if I were in the area.

Cotogna – 1/8/11

490 Pacific St
San Francisco, CA 94133

Cotogna is Michelin-starred Quince’s sister restaurant next door, opened in November. Serving the same type of rustic Italian food, Cotogna is a much more accessible way to sample some of Michael Tusk’s food. The restaurant just started Saturday lunch service a couple of weeks ago; given that I was in town for the weekend, this would be a perfect opportunity to drop by. I’m a big fan of pastas in general, so our menu choices tended to lean towards these dishes.

Tagliolini with dungeness crab

This was the first pasta we tried. All of the pastas we sampled were cooked a perfect al dente, lending a nice chew with each bite. The sauce was richer than I anticipated; I could have used a little bit of acidity or lemon zest.  Still very good though. Large chunks of sweet crab meat were all over. An excellent pasta.

Farm egg raviolo with brown butter

The filling of this ravioli was a creamy, cheesy mixture. The runny egg on top, in tandem with the nuttiness of the browned butter, made a rich and satisfying sauce.

Lamb pappardelle cooked in the wood oven

The first thing I noticed about this pasta was the meaty chunks of lamb dispersed throughout. Tender and flavorful, these were excellent. The pappardelle was good, but I was missing a little bit more of a ragu; this felt a little too much like meat and noodles, without the sauce to bring it together.

Pizza with wild nettle, egg & pecorino

The last savory item we tried was this pizza. I’ve been eating a lot of pizza in San Francisco over the last couple of months (probably too much). Compared to some of those, I thought this was just okay, but really it’s a pretty solid pizza. The wild nettle provided a strong vegetal quality to the pizza, while the egg added a really nice richness to it. I probably could’ve used two eggs on this pizza, as I thought this was the difference-maker.

Bonet with caramel & amaretti crumble

Lastly, here we had dessert. A bonet is kind of like a flan – a smooth custard. The almond flavor of the amaretti crumble, in combination with the caramel, was quite good. The amaretti crumble had a sort of macaron texture, providing a mild chew as well. Served cool, I thought this was a nice way to end the meal.

My meal at Cotogna was very satisfying – I’d say it met expectations. I was a little picky on the pastas, and that’s because Quince serves some of the best in the city. Cotogna isn’t quite at that level, but it presents a much more reasonably-priced way to try some of this hearty Italian fare. I would return, but not before returning to Flour+Water.

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana – 12/23/10

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana
1570 Stockton St
San Francisco, CA 94133

San Francisco has had a bit of a pizza revolution in the last couple of years, and Tony’s is probably one of the most popular of the new pizza restaurants to open up. Tony Gemignani is one of the more famous American pizzaiolo personalities, first for being a champion pizza-thrower. He’s also won numberous awards for his pizza, most notably in the 2007 World Pizza Cup in Naples – his Margherita won for Best Neapolitan Pizza.

A first glance at the menu will tell you this is a serious pizza place. The type of flour and even the oven used are based on the type of pizza: Neapolitan, classic American, Roman, coal-fired, Sicilian and classic Italian are all options. Four different ovens are used to bake these different styles; 900-degree wood fired and 1,000-degree coal fired are two of the most unique.

Italian Style Meatballs

We first tried these meatballs. They were served a little lukewarm, which was disappointing, but were very moist and full of flavor. They were smothered in a sweet, delicious tomato sauce. Quite good, except my dad felt sick after this meal, and this was the most likely culprit.

dough mixed by hand using san felice flour then proofed in neapolitan wood boxes, san marzano tomatoes d.o.p., sea salt, mozzarella fior di latte, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil

This is the famous pizza, created with the exact same oven and ingredients that were used in the 2007 World Pizza Cup-winning pizza. A limit of 73 of these are baked up each day. Expectations were high, and I’d say they were met. It’s a very good pizza, highlighted by probably the best crust I’ve had. Slightly soft on the edges, and with a nicely charred bottom, it was perfectly chewy. I probably would have preferred the mozzarella sliced a little thinner, but the cheese, tomatoes and basil were each very flavorful. Excellent pizza. I’d say I preferred this over Zero Zero and Flour+Water‘s renditions.

asiago, mozzarella, imported italian gorgonzola, sweet fig preserve from Croatia, prosciutto di parma, parmigiano, balsamic

We first went with the most traditional of pizzas; next, a more modern California-inspired pizza. This pizza won a Food Network Challenge, and I could see why. Three white cheeses, fig preserve (sweet), proscuitto (salty), and balsamic (tangy) combined for layers of flavor. I’d say I prefer my pizzas with meat and tomato sauce, but this was a nice change of pace.

Tony’s serves up some very good pizza. They were a bit on the pricey side (Margherita was $19 and Cal-Italia was $18) but I’d say it’s worth it. The consistent lines out the door justify it as well. There’s so many varieties to try, I’m sure I’ll be back at some point in the future.

Flour + Water – 11/28/10

Flour + Water
2401 Harrison St
San Francisco, CA 94110

Flour + Water opened last year and quickly became one of the hot restaurants in town for its homemade pizzas and pastas in a “neighborhood” setting. It has been awarded numerous accolades, including Best New Restaurant by SFWeekly and nominated as one of the best new restaurants in the country by James Beard. It’s still very popular, something I realized as I was trying to make a reservation during Thanksgiving weekend. It was booked solid, but we decided to just walk in and wait for a table…however long it took. About half of the restaurant’s seats are not reserved and are available for walk-ins only. Odds should be pretty good, right?

We walked in with a party of 2 and were told the wait would probably be an hour or so. Damn. It was literally almost freezing outside, so we decided to wait it out in the restaurant over a couple of drinks. Just as we were deciding to order, the hostess came up to notify us that someone was a no-show…and we were taking their table! Score!

margherita – tomato, basil, fior di latte, extra virgin olive oil

At a place called “Flour + Water,” a pizza was a must-try. Here we had the margherita. A crispy, thin crust was topped with a sweet tomato sauce and mozzarella. A very good pizza; though, I did prefer Zero Zero’s version, as I thought their flavors were a little more vibrant.

cocoa tajarin with brown butter braised giblets & butternut squash

Of course, some pastas were in order. This was a pretty interesting pasta, as it was made with cocoa. I did taste a subtle cocoa flavor in the pasta, but the deep, meaty ragu was much more pronounced. The corn added a nice sweetness and freshness to this rich dish.

rosemary pappardelle with braised hen, rabe leaves & meyer lemon

One of the best things I ate in 2010, no doubt. Now, I love myself a bowl of good pasta…which is exactly what we had here. First, we had pieces of rosemary speckled throughout the pasta – this gave the pasta a unique look and an interesting way to impart the herb’s flavor. Rosemary can often be overwhelming, but it wasn’t at all here. The hen was tender and succulent, and made for a fantastic bite with the al dente pasta. Finally, some meyer lemon zest added just a little bit of citrus to complete the dish. Amazing!

agnolotti dal plin

A meaty pork shoulder filled these agnolotti. The pasta was cooked a nice al dente, and really packed a lot of flavor with the pork. A light butter-based sauce was a welcome addition.

chocolate budino with espresso-caramel cream & sea salt

This has to be the restaurant’s most well-known dessert. The budino was rich, yet not too thick, with a good chocolate flavor. I especially liked the espresso-caramel cream with the chocolate, and the sea salt was a really nice way to bring out the flavors.

While we were only able to try a few dishes between the two of us, I thought it was a pretty good sample of what the restaurant had to offer. I’d have to say I was impressed. I’m a sucker for good pastas, and here I found them to be imaginative, well-executed and, of course, delicious. The menu is small and changes often, so I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to try the rosemary pappardelle again, but it’s something I will remember for a long time. A return visit is in order.

Zero Zero – 11/27/10

Zero Zero
826 Folsom St
San Francisco, CA 94107

Zero Zero opened up in July of this year, adding to what I think is a pretty strong San Francisco pizza scene.  While its most notable menu features are Neapolitan style pizzas and pastas using zero zero flour, it’s also become pretty well known for its fried chicken and customized soft serve sundaes (using Straus Dairy). This was meant to be a lighter meal for a brunch, so we just tried a couple of the pizzas.

Margherita Extra Tomato Sauce, Basil, Buffalo Mozzarella, Parmesan and De Padova Extra Virgin Olive Oil

When trying a new pizzeria, I always like ordering a Margherita pizza. It’s on everyone’s menu so it’s easy to compare across pizzerias.  It’s also a pretty simple pizza with primarily the crust, sauce and cheese, making it much easier to really judge the pizza’s individual components.

This Margherita was a little bit different in that it used buffalo mozzarella. I really liked the use of this mozzarella, and the sauce was a standout. Slightly sweet, slightly tangy, it was excellent in tandem with the thin, crispy crust. Definitely a very good pizza.

Brunch Pizza Escarole Pizza with Fennel, Bacon, Gremolata, Provolone Mozzarella, Poached Egg

It was brunch, so we decided to go ahead and try this pizza. I liked the idea of the pizza coming whole to the table – you get to cut your own slices with a pizza slicer. I thought the flavors of this pizza were fairly incoherent. To me, it was a little all over the place and the bacon wasn’t really evident. I liked the idea of the poached egg, but it turned out to be a bit of a mess in the center of the pizza. Similar to the Margherita, the crust was very good here too, but the components just didn’t meld too well for me.

We were a little pressed for time, so we didn’t have a chance to try the customizable Straus Dairy sundaes.  Although I didn’t care for the toppings of the brunch pizza, the pizzas were clearly well-executed. I would return to try some of the other pizzas, and definitely to try the sundaes and fried chicken.

Tartine, Pizzeria Delfina, Bi-Rite – 8/29/10

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero St
San Francisco, CA 94110

Pizzeria Delfina
3611 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110

Bi-Rite Creamery
3692 18th St
San Francisco, CA 94110

It’s hard for me to think of another city block that has such a diverse selection of good food than this San Francisco block of 18th Street, between Guerrero and Dolores. On one corner you have Tartine Bakery, one of the best bakeries in the city. A few doors down is Pizzeria Delfina, home to some of the best pizza in the city, and its sister restaurant, Delfina, which is notable for rustic, upscale Italian food. Just a few storefronts down is Bi-Rite Market, a neighborhood market home to fresh, organic produce from its own farms. And across the street from that is Bi-Rite Creamery, a nationally recognized ice cream shop, which happens to be my favorite. I’ve always said you could make a helluva day having breakfast at Tartine, grabbing lunch at Pizzeria Delfina, having dinner at Delfina, and enjoying dessert at Bi-Rite – without leaving the block.

I tested this hypothesis in a nutshell by turning this into a three-stop lunch.

Tartine Bakery

Tartine always seems to be packed, with a line reaching far out the door. I’ve heard people rave about all sorts of pastries at Tartine, from the bread pudding to the croissants to the cakes, but I come for one thing – the morning bun.

I like to describe this pastry as some sort of half-cinnamon roll, half-croissant hybrid. It can be one of the hardest things to get at Tartine, typically selling out long before noon (maybe what’s why they call it a morning bun?). Just my luck, I was able to get one around noon on this Sunday.

Best when fresh out of the oven (what isn’t), it’s flaky on the outside, with a really buttery, moist interior. Caramelized orange rind is dispersed throughout, giving the pastry a little bit of candied chew and fresh orange flavor. Remarkable.

Pizzeria Delfina

Maybe ten feet down is Pizzeria Delfina, where we had the bulk of our lunch. Created by Craig and Anne Stoll of Delfina, this place was set out to be a more casual restaurant serving pizzas and various Italian specialties.

Crazy Melon watermelon, feta cheese, olive oil, chili flake

I thought this was a pretty interesting dish and perfect for the summer. The watermelon was tasty and juicy, though I thought there were too many chili flakes. There was nothing to temper the heat, and it overwhelmed the more mild flavors of the melon.

Oxtails alla Pizzaiolo braised in red wine, crispy potatoes

The oxtail was quite tender and braised well, though I wouldn’t say it was particularly memorable. However, the potatoes were – half french fry, half potato chip, with a nice crispy exterior and just a little bit of a fluffy interior. Excellent.

Margherita Pizza tomato, fior di latte mozzarella, basil

The Margherita is something almost every pizzeria has, making it easy to compare one pizza at a number of places. At Pizzeria Delfina, it’s reliably good with a fantastic, chewy crust. The flavors of the tomato, mozzarella, and basil are individually distinctive, yet work well together.

Bi-Rite Creamery

I’ve been to Bi-Rite numerous times, and I have to say it’s probably my favorite ice cream shop. They have a number of creative, interesting flavors (though not quite as unusual as Humphry Slocombe) such as honey lavender, ginger, roasted banana, and balsamic strawberry. In addition, they have some “comfortable” favorites like vanilla, chocolate, mint chip and cookies & cream.

I opted for my go-to: honey lavender. It’s hard to describe. It’s not overwhelmingly sweet, nor overwhelmingly of lavender..you’ll just have to try it yourself. I had commented that Ludo’s honey lavender butter of LudoBites 4.0 was eerily similar in flavor, so if you’ve had that, you’re on the right track.

If you’re in San Francisco, I definitely recommend checking out some of the places on this block. There’s something for everyone, and I think you’ll be able to find something (or many things) to enjoy!