By Eileen Shield Apr 16, 2018
See the review on The Beach Reporter.
Riviera Village in Redondo Beach said goodbye to an old favorite when Zazou closed its doors last year, but the exciting arrival of Gabi James more than makes up for the loss.
Sara Gabriele, (Gabi) and spouse Adam Aro, (middle name James), learned a lot from watching Sara’s father Guy Gabriele transform Manhattan Beach’s beloved but musty Cafe Pierre into the wildly popular Love & Salt a few years back.
The couple even employed Ana Hinton, the designer of L&S to achieve Gabi James’ modern but friendly atmosphere, using enormous sliding windows to bring the outside in, and brightening up the dining room.
Gabriele grew up in the restaurant business; Aro ran Mediterraneo for several years, and before that was at Rock N Fish. The couple’s combined decades of restaurant experience bring a relaxed professionalism to this new venture.
I dined on a Tuesday, and the place was packed. Although they’d only been open a week or so, the service ran like clockwork. Both Gabriele and Aro were on the floor, greeting guests, expediting food, supporting their staff, and making sure the experience was seamless.
The cuisine at Gabi James is Spanish and ‘coastal French’—tapas style dishes meant to be shared, the menu divided into Pequenas (around $10.), Medias (around $14.) and Grandes, or entree size portions, which run $18 to $36.
Immediately upon being seated, guests are greeted with a tiny fry basket of housemade potato chips, whimsical and way more fun than the usual bread.
Vincenzo Marianella created the extensive list of house-crafted cocktails, many featuring gin, vermouth, sherry and amaro, keeping with the Spanish theme. I went with the Hop Velvet, a slightly sweet gin cocktail, with a delicate orange flavor and color from Aperol, and a lovely frothy top. My companion tried the jalapeno business vodka, bright flavors of pineapple juice and cilantro with a bite of heat at the finish.
The wine list, curated by Gabriele, who is a level 2 sommelier, leans French and Spanish with most bottles in $40-50 range. There is also a noteworthy assemblage of craft beers courtesy of Aro, a level 1 cicerone.
Our charming waitress, Masha, guided us to some of Gabi James’ signature dishes, starting with a couple of the Pequena plates. The anchovies matrimonio, a spin on Spanish anchovy toast will surprise and delight even diners who have a bad anchovy experience. The tiny fish are light and fresh and wonderfully salty, tossed with butter and chilies and tangy slivers of caper berries, served with a hunk of grilled bread the better for smearing.
We also had a slice of the Tortilla Espanola—probably the most common tapa in Spain. Not at all what Americans think of as a tortilla, the Espana is a large round omelet made from paper thin slivers of potato and onion stacked with just enough egg to bind it, sliced into thick wedges served at room temperature and topped with a sherry vinegar paprika aioli. I’ve been fortunate to travel to Spain several times, and both of these dishes were superior versions of these traditional Spanish street foods.
From the Media offerings I tried the chickpea fritter, which looks like a latke, but with the texture of a falafel, flavored with shrimp, smoked paprika, scallions and a dollop of yogurt. There was also a pile of shishito peppers topped with a frazzle of mojama flake—a salty dried tuna product, similar to bonito, lending the mild peppers some salt and umami.
The Grande plates run the gamut from lamb to chicken to fish and steak. We went with the Fideos with clams. Similar to paella, except rather than rice, Fideos is a short, fine, vermicelli-like noodle. The dish uses the classic Spanish combination of small plump clams and spicy chorizo sausage, adding a touch of dry cider for acidity.
The third spoke in the Gabi James wheel is Chef Chris Feldmeier. Born and raised in Torrance, Feldmeier cut his teeth at historic Campanile before moving on to the renowned Osteria Mozza where he was chef de cuisine, later opening Moruno, the highly acclaimed Spanish spot at The Original Farmer’s Market. The cuisine at Gabi James reflects Feldmeier’s passion for Southern Spain and the flavors of Andalusia, with North African influences found in spices like coriander, cumin and turmeric.
We finished our meal with a tasty crème Catalan, a light creamy dessert that falls somewhere between a flan and a brulee, topped with a crunchy sweet marcona almond brittle.
Gabi James, 1810 S. Catalina Ave., Redondo Beach. Visit GabiJamesLA.com. Open daily for dinner.