Gabi James is an amazingly good restaurant, with a name that says nothing about what it serves or how good it is. It’s a Modernist Spanish restaurant, offering dishes that are unique to not just the South Bay, but to Southern California. The name could easily be Café Ferran Adria, or Casa Jose Andres. But the name instead comes from co-owner Sara Gabriele’s last name, and her husband Adam Aro’s middle name. Adding on “restaurante” wouldn’t have hurt. But I guess that would have made the very pretty logo not so very pretty.
Whatever the name, like Clutch and Coffee, Gabi James made me very happy. There’s an individual culinary vision here that’s found on the wildly eclectic drink menu — with its large collection of gins and sherries, vermouths and amaros, madeiras “and friends,” craft beers and cocktails made with ingredients that have to be researched on your smartphone. Chinato? Ramazzotti? Italicus Rosolio? Bourbon and kumquats? This is a bar from the other side of the looking glass.
The menu, which demands extra mouths, and heavy forks, is a mix of dishes familiar, dishes you think are familiar but aren’t, and dishes that have you asking the server (and very well informed they are too) wazzat? Consider, for instance, the “pequena” ish called “gildas” — described as “two anchovies & olive lollipops.” Which are certainly not lollipops in the classic sense; you’ll never be given one of these by your dentist for behaving well. In this case, they’re anchovies, olives and peppers on a skewer, very tasty, and very distinctive; they leave a memorable Spanish flavor in your mouth, that only grows through the meal.
You might also wonder about the fideua, described as “crispy pasta paella, clams, mussels, local squid, black aioli.” The “black aioli” would be enough of a puzzler for most adventurous eaters. But since paella is traditionally made with rice, the presence of pasta is a bit of culinary cognitive dissonance. But there it is, looking a bit like those hard crispy noodles found in old school Cantonese restaurants, the type you dipped in sweet and gooey duck sauce. This is, of course, anything but. Though it is crispy. And goes very nicely with the seafood.
In the same way that Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach have restaurants that are catnip for foodies (and “eaties”), Redondo Beach has Gabi James. The name may not say innovative. But every dish says it, loud and proud, in Spanish, English and Catalan.