What happens when you marry the breeziness of the South Bay to the cuisine of Coastal France, a spike of Spanish influence, and the creative culinary instincts born of a California soul? The Gabriele Family (Love & Salt) deliver on an answer that is a deliciously diverse treat for the taste buds, a boundary blurring bounty of European influence, salted air, saffron, citrus, and a scintillating spectrum of flavor and fare. All being plated. At Gabi James.
There’s a reason the menu is electrically eclectic, the gastronomic pedigree behind this place reads like a who’s who in climbing the culinary ladder to the heavens. Between Jorge Torres and his two decades dedicated to the Gabriele family, Chef Chris Feldmeier (Mozza, Moruno), an outrageous cocktail program compliments of Vincenzo Marianella (Copa d’Oro, Providence), what we get to experience here is a superlative spread procured and produced by seasoned specialists in a field that is magnificently easy to digest.
Partners Adam and Sara (her dad was the brilliance behind Manhattan Beach’s legendary Café Pierre) have a presence that is both gracious and goofy. You leave knowing what it’d be like to get invited to a dinner party at their house.
Because Gabi James is just like that.
Let’s start with the gin selection. If you’re a G&T drinker, the selection happening here is unparalleled. I started with the Sun Also Rises (the botanist gin, aperol, grapefruit bitters, fever tree Mediterranean tonic), but sincerely, so much sounded so good. No regrets on my select. The elixir acumen is clearly at the top of its game here.
As most Mediterranean menus will read, a smorgasbord of small plates are offered as meal openers. In line with a seafaring culture, many are seafood-based choices, robustly flavoured and singing with texture and complexity. The potato croquettes (we had ours with salt cod) is also offered with chorizo, paired with the sautéed local dates (alongside manchego cheese and marcona almonds) makes for a spectacular sweet meets savory combo. And if the salted cod made your heart sing for Provence the way it did mine, order the brandade gratin. That grilled bread with salt cod and potato purée is a staple on the Riviera and a really delectable way to explore it on the mainland. Or the Toast Provencal (from the medium plates). It’s incredible – this mountain of caramelized onion and garlic. The blistered shishito peppers, roasted mushrooms, or tuna crudo… all authentically prepared, presented, and memorable by both measures.
Moving on down the menu, selections heighten in variety in tandem with your delight in trying them. A great start to a meal will do that (see salt cod, manchego, and potato croquette talk above). Gambas al Ajillo, with the garlicy shrimp, so much lemon, olive oil and that grilled bread. If you don’t regularly order shrimp, this is the place to do it. The turkey meatballs, so savoury in that ancho chile sauce. This is roughly the part of the meal where you realize a return visit is in order. Unless you came with a big group and everyone is down with sharing, which they should be, the menu and the spirit are designed for such. But still. Even then.
Because you still haven’t reached the grande portion of the menu. Saffron Scallops, with the mascarpone potato purée, or the braised chicken. So much was being served that drew my eye – crispy pasta paella, Poisson Provencal, and if you’re into lamb chops, these will likely draw you in. I spotted pomegranates.
And that chocolate bread pudding. À la mode… that chocolate bread pudding…
There is so much happening in this small South Bay sanctuary of good food and good feels. At 6pm on a Saturday the place was packed, and around me I heard talk of brunch, which has very much raised my brow. And it sits on a street bustling with boutiques and cafés and is ripe with reason to round out the experience with a stroll or some seriously stellar shopping. To my friends who enjoy a sensory celebration of flavor, prepare to be charmed. To those on the timid side of taste, here’s your gateway to the greater gastronomic glory.