After a stint on Top Chef, C.J. Jacobson worked for a spell at Nordic forager king René Redzepi's Noma in Copenhagen. Now practicing his craft on a Studio City corner, he applies some of that sensibility to local produce. That's lovage butter you're spreading on warm bread. The wildness of a sweet clover reduction lingers in a brined pork chop. A neighborhood favorite, Girasol (“sunflower,” in Spanish) is as inviting as it is inventive, an excuse for people on the other side of the hill to visit a busy stretch of the Valley.
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Chef CJ Jacobson forages with the best of them, but the former pro volleyball player and Top Chef contestant practices a style of cooking so unadorned, it's almost a throwback. A simple appetizer of pork satay gets nudged out of the ordinary with a knife point of diced grilled lemon. Where others might gussy up braised leg of lamb au jus, Jacobson displays admirable reserve, serving slices with carrot puree. Battleship gray, with burled wood trim, the Studio City spot is comfortable, while the staff is welcoming and refreshingly uncool. Jacobson specializes in a precise form of layering in which steaming bowls of mushroom broth are lent a musky vapor with freshly shaved matsutakemushrooms. The pine-grilled sturgeon with sage-brushed celery root may sound a cowboy shy of being a country song. But the grilled pine needles coating the fish are few enough to create a complexity that's haunting.
The Valley has long struggled to find a middle ground between hole-in-the-wall and haute. Girasol—and its culinary director, CJ “the tall guy from Top Chef ” Jacobson—help fill the gap. Sure, the space-age metallic sunflower art (Girasol means “sunflower” en español) is a bit heavy-handed, but Jacobson's relaxed, produce-centric cuisine has more grace. Sliced stone fruit meets burrata and crispy lentils in an end-of-summer salad. Whipped lovage butter accompanies powdery house-baked bread. The arrival of a whole fried snapper with fried greens and fermented Fresno chile sauce had the neighboring diners taking pictures. It lived up to the hype.