I was really surprised when I heard that CJ Jacobson, Top Chef-alum who helped catapult Studio City's Girasol to #35 on Jonathan Gold's famous 101 Best Restaurants list, was leaving his modernist California restaurant for the colder pastures of Chicago. The valley staple has become a go-to destination for upscale-yet-approaching cuisine, supporting local farmers with a seasonally inspired menu, attributes which have always been closely associated with Jacobson's name. But still, my interest was piqued when they unveiled a new chef and a new menu; as a proud supporter of Valley restaurants, I knew I had to check it out. The kitchen is now helmed by Executive Chef Justin Abram, who is bringing a slightly more avant-garde flare to the menu, while still grounding his food in familiar flavors and ingredients; considering how busy the restaurant was upon our arrival, the new dishes clearly haven't turned away the locals.
As usual, we all began the meal with a round (or two) of cocktails-- I settled on one that, if I can remember correctly, had my usual favorites of gin, St. Germain, and some other fruity elements that made this drink quite tasty, tangy, sweet, and citrus-y. Though wine is definitely more of their thing, the cocktails certainly didn't disappoint.
The menu boasts a sizable selection of shared plates in addition to the focused list of entrées, so our table of 4 also decided to share a bunch of appetizers and pass around our entrées, essentially sharing everything. We started with the House Ground Meatballs, which were tender, moist, flavorful, and tasty. They were definitely a classic presentation of meatballs, but nonetheles very satisfying and fun to split.
We also started out with bread sticks wrapped in grilled beef tenderloin-- the bread sticks were thick and crispy, while the tenderloin was juicy and meaty. It was especially nice when dipped in the wild herb sauce; definitely a great representation of the upscale-approachable cuisine.
Another tasty starter was the Hamachi, which was fresh and light with wild bay leaf oil and gazpacho broth.
The meal built nicely and really hit its stride during the entrée portion, which we began with the Grilled CA Sage Brush Venison. The meat was really tender and, thankfully, not gamey. The sunchoke chips were really delicious and added a nice crispy element, while the berry jam balanced out the meat with a bit of sweetness. Overall, a really satisfying and well-balanced dish.
The Grilled Seabass was next, a light and nicely prepared presentation of the fish. The combination of the mild fish with the slightly tangy apple puree, shredded apple, and umami-rich mushrooms felt healthy but still gratifying.
Definitely one of the highlights of the meal, the Braised Beef Cheek was a fall-off-the-bone tender and really rich beef, paired with a buttery roasted bone marrow, sweet fig puree, and a bit of acid from the pickled shallots. It was filling and really tasty-- exactly the hot, satiating dish you crave on a rainy winter night.
Finally, we also enjoyed the Mussels, which actually had a little kick to them from the Aguachile and were steeped in a rich sauce.
Overall, it seems that Girasol is doing as well as ever with the new Chef and menu. The meal was satisfying but well-balanced, and everything was nicely prepared. Perfect for a nice but laid-back date night (or double date!), the restaurant is definitely still a go-to spot for an approachable but higher-end meal in Studio City and the greater Valley. We're excited to see what else Chef Justin Abram has up his sleeve, and hope that Girasol continues to attract locals and non-Valley dwelling Angelenos alike.