I just got back from a big family event in Los Angeles. When I was there, my sibs and I went out one evening for dinner at Gjelina — a really boisterous, fun, Cal-Italian restaurant in Venice. (Thanks so much for the recommendation, Leslie. It was perfect!)
The restaurant definitely set off my, um, bouchedag radar at first — it was so loud in the front room around the centerpiece wood-burning oven, and the clientele was young and chic. But we ended up at great table in the lounge where conversation was easy. Our waiter may have looked like the pre-Twitter Ashton Kutcher, but he was thoughtful and hugely attentive.
The food — small plates mostly — was across-the-board great. Clean, fresh, interesting and lively. Highlights included a salad with Little Gem persimmon, pomegranate, shaved radish, garlic chips and Point Reyes blue cheese as well as thin-crusted pizza topped with shaved asparagus, shallot confit, truffled Sottocenere cheese and a farm egg. Then again, the Niman Ranch pork belly with grits, bitter greens and apple cider was pretty terrific, too.
But the dish that made everyone swoon was a plate of charred brussels sprouts with bacon, dates and vinegar. The waiter talked us into the first plate (thereby ensuring himself a spot in heaven) and didn’t act at all surprised when we ordered a second, and then a third.
Here is a recipe I devised that gets close to the original. By the way, I stole the brussels-sprout charring technique wholesale from the great food blog, 101 Cookbooks. Cooking the brussels sprouts through in a covered skillet, then turning up the heat to char the surface, ensures that amazing, neither-soft-nor-firm texture.
Gjelina-style Brussels Sprouts
- 1/4 pound slab bacon, cut into lardons
- 24 small brussels sprouts
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for rubbing
- salt and pepper
- 5 large Medjool dates, pitted and cut into thick slivers
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Fry the bacon lardons in a heavy-bottomed skillet — preferably cast iron — until crisp-chewy. Set aside. Remove the bacon fat and wipe out the pan. (Resist the temptation to use the bacon fat for frying.)
Wash the brussels sprouts well. Trim the stem ends and remove any outer leaves. Cut in half from stem to top and rub each half with olive oil, keeping it intact.
Follow the 101 Cookbooks technique: “Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet over medium heat. Don’t overheat the skillet, or the outsides of the brussels sprouts will cook too quickly. Place the brussels sprouts in the pan flat side down (single-layer), sprinkle with a couple pinches of salt, cover, and cook for roughly 5 minutes; the bottoms of the sprouts should only show a hint of browning. Cut into or taste one of the sprouts to gauge whether they’re tender throughout. If not, cover and cook for a few more minutes.”
Return the bacon to the pan and add the date slivers. Toss gently with the vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper. Eat like candy.