Pizza and pudding in Venice Beach | WBEZ
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Pizza and pudding in Venice Beach

It's not that often I come across a menu where I literally want to eat everything on it.  There are interesting sections to menus, of course, or even a few daily specials that might have me doing a mental tug-of-war, but I rarely encounter a full menu where practically every line item is a conundrum for me.  This happened over the weekend, while I was in L.A. for the Rose Bowl.  I had dragged my friends to Gjelina, in Venice Beach, about 10 minutes North of LAX.  

The town is, of course, charming, in the way those quaint, California beach towns can be.  A mix of surfer bohemian with West Coast chic.  Gjelina's interior design also straddles that line between urban hipster and rustic Mediterranean farmhouse.  There are the requisite Edison bulbs hanging above the large front island, where cooks systematically slice prosciutto and prepare antipasti courses.  We sat outside, beneath those ubiquitous outdoor, portable heaters, and kicked back into a couch the size of a school bus.  My friend and I plotted our strategy: P.E.I. mussels of course, stuffed with chorizo; but also a pizza embedded with guanciale (pig cheek), green olives, Fresno chiles and fresh mozzarella (pictured, above).  We both decided a smoked trout sandwich with caper aioli and pickled red onions was a must; but wait - we also just HAD to try the grilled bartlett pears with grilled treviso (a variety of bitter radicchio), burrata (creamy mozz) and speck (a juniper-flavored Austrian ham):

Dessert was seriously a no-brainer.  My friends looked at me, puzzled.  Why wouldn't I consider an apple crumble with ice cream, or even something chocolate?  Because, I told them, whenever I see a butterscotch pot de créme/budino/pudding on a menu - especially one that also has salted caramel involved - I don't even hesitate:

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