The first time I tried to eat at Gjelina, I figured it would be no big deal. It was one o’clock in the afternoon on a Wednesday, not exactly a busy hour for most restaurants. Then I saw the line of customers snaking out the door and realized I’d underestimated the anticipation that had been building up for the better part of a decade.
Barack Obama was still president and Prince Harry hadn’t yet gotten engaged to Meghan Markle when it was first revealed that Gjelina — the seminal SoCal destination for high-fashion veggies and produce-topped pizzas — would expand eastward with a Noho branch at 45 Bond Street. Plenty has changed in the ensuing years, both in the obvious ways and with the behind-the-scenes team at the restaurant (which had originally been slated to include, among others, the Spotted Pig’s Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield). For a while, the enterprise seemed destined to join the list of ambitious and appealing projects that nevertheless fizzled out before getting off the ground. Until, with almost no warning at all, Gjelina opened for business on the final day of 2022.
Within the narrow, sparsely decorated two-story space, all of the Cali-Italian necessities are accounted for: wood-fired pomodoro pizzas dotted with plops of burrata, jam-topped toast for brunch, pastas fashioned from the flour of ancient grains, lemony salads of kohlrabi batons tossed with celery and pear, seasonal eucalyptus drinks, an oversize bowl of citrus behind the bar, and perhaps the most elegant hippie sandwich in town.
The timing is fortuitous, since the New York Times just devoted about 1,000 words to the glory of this particular genre, priming even the most jaded anti-Cali New Yorker to try to find one for lunch. Given that the Gjelina New York dining room is currently only open during daytimes hours (dinner is slated to arrive at a later date), that sandwich might be the menu’s sleeper hit: avocado and not too many alfalfa sprouts are stacked with celery root, fennel, turnips, and tahini. Thick slices of grilled sourdough add some smoke to all the crunch, and a few small fingers of just-pickled carrots account for the garnish.
Since the restaurant has been in development so long, you’d think the owners would press to get the word out. Instead, reservations are not yet being accepted, a rep politely declined to answer any questions “until the spring,” and the entire Bond Street entrance is obscured by an unmarked wood-framed vestibule that is seemingly still under construction. It isn’t, of course, and the coy appearance is somewhat at odds with what’s happening inside, where I found the mood to be warm and welcoming and gracious. During an early lunch one recent weekday — I’d learned from my earlier hubris and showed up before noon — a couple walked in with smiles on their faces, excited to tell the hosts how much they love the L.A. original: “We are so happy you’re finally here,” they exclaimed before being shown to their seats.
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