Quick-serve meets quality on Abbot Kinney

By Richard Foss

Greanleaf’s unique Chimichurri Vegetable Pasta infuses a mix of eggplant, artichoke, sun-dried tomato and goat cheese with garlic, olive oil and herbs

I had to laugh when I first saw the name Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop, because in my mind “chop shop” will always be slang for a place where stolen cars are dismantled for parts. No doubt there were such places in Venice 30 or 40 years ago, but I don’t think any could afford the rent there today. If so, they’d have to be gourmet chop shops — staffed by luxury auto specialists who wear designer coveralls and order takeout from upscale quick-serve places, such as the restaurant that started this meandering train of thought.

But there really is a cognitive dissonance when you enter Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop in that its stylish bar and seating area don’t seem to belong in a place where you’re ordering at a counter and taking a number. This style of service works best where people are choosing between familiar options — if it’s burger, taco or burrito, you decide quickly. Greenleaf’s menu, however, is large, varied and contains many original offerings.

There were only two people ahead of us in line, but we still waited almost 10 minutes while they decided on sides and options. Once we got to the counter, we were told the kitchen was out of two items we wanted, so we had to rethink our order.

After deciding on starters, entrees and a pair of interesting-sounding cocktails, we headed for a table on a covered patio that was pleasant even on a cool evening. We had asked for our starters to be delivered first, and after only a few minutes a bowl of creamless artichoke soup and a thin crust “pizza” arrived.

The “pizza” has quotes around it because the turkey sausage with romesco sauce, ricotta, arugula and shaved fennel was served over a crisped wheat tortilla. This was a really good idea, the topping elements in excellent balance and enhanced by both the crunch and flavor of the tortilla. It was sturdy enough to be eaten like a pizza, and something I’d happily have again.

The soup unfortunately was not its equal, because the creamless vegan broth was thin and one-dimensional, like artichoke-flavored water. The thyme-infused oil that glistened on top helped the flavor a little, but we had only a few spoonfuls before pushing it aside. When we expressed our dissatisfaction to a server, he mentioned they had been hearing that a lot and were considering taking it off the menu. This can’t happen soon enough.

Our entrees arrived after we had only had a few bites of the starters, another drawback of this way of ordering a meal. My wife had selected seared ahi tuna with sides of both farro risotto and a beet, yam  and walnut salad; I had chimichurri vegetable pasta with marinated skirt steak.

Chimichurri sauce is an olive oil, herb and garlic sauce usually used for meats in Argentina, and I was intrigued to see it offered as a vegetarian spaghetti topping. The sauce worked remarkably well with the mix of eggplant, artichoke, sun-dried tomato and goat cheese, and a dusting of sofrito (a South American toasted herb mix) completed the dish. This was a satisfying vegetarian dish that was enhanced by
slices of smoky steak but didn’t need them.

My wife’s ahi dish was one of the build-by-the numbers items in which you combine a protein and choice of sides. I don’t know whether we chose wisely or all the sides are this good, but it certainly was a winning combination. I had not previously tried a salad of beets, yams and walnuts, and this one was impressive. The earthy sweetness that the ingredients have in common ties the flavors together very well. The risotto and fish hit the spot too, but the salad was the standout recipe.

The cocktails were made with fresh ingredients and very good. We started with a Bee’s Knees (gin, honey, bee pollen and lavender) and a bourbon and fig jam concoction, and liked them so much that we went back for a nightcap of an “Old Fashioned Venetian” (bourbon, demerara, walnut and bitters). It was then that we discovered you can order cocktails at the bar without standing in line. They should really post this information, as it might encourage walk-ins who’d otherwise be discouraged by the line.

Another plus: Dinner at Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop is a bit less expensive than most other places of such caliber on Abbot Kinney Boulevard; two starters, two entrees and three drinks ran $84.

Everything but the domed artichoke soup was memorably good, and though the ordering process could use some tuning, the kitchen is sound.

This chop shop is legit, and it’s worth a visit.