Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica has become quite the hot spot for new restaurant openings. First there was Brilliantshine serving up quality cocktails with small plates (review here), then came Cadet with their can't miss French Margarita and wood fired dishes (review). Tacoteca brought some Mexican flair with their tacos and Mezcal (review), and now we have more wood grilled action from newcomer, Aestus.
Aestus is in the bottom floor of a residential building and has a cool, industrial feel to it, but luckily your eye is drawn to the open kitchen in the back with beautiful marble framing. There's a large, full bar that runs the expanse of the restaurant and looks to be a good spot to pop in for a quality cocktail like their house made gin and tonic with maraschino and orange bitters, along with a few small plates. You may also find yourself tapping your toe to the 80s soundtrack that's playing everything from Erasure to soundtracks from Grease and Saturday Night Fever.
The service is extremely warm and friendly. When I was asking about some of the wine on their list, they were quick to bring me samples to try. I did find it interesting that the bottle list was quite reasonably priced with a nice variety of price points, while the glass menu seemed pricier with glasses going from the high teens to $20. They actually explained that they give a larger glass pour since most people in LA have to drive and may only want one glass. They're making sure your glass is a good one.
The menu is brief and changes daily with a cheese and charcuterie board, nodding to the French background of executive chef Alex Ageneau who last cooked at Patina and The Royce. You might find rillettes, cauliflower soup or seared foie gras on the small plates menu or scallops, pork belly, and flat iron steak under mains with most large plates running over $30.
That $30+ main mark often feels like it's heading into another territory - a territory where there should be white tablecloths and a stool for my purse. We ended up sticking with the small plates menu, which had prices between $10-18, but honestly I thought these plates looked more interesting, and I'm always up for trying a few things versus one big plate.
Tangy beef tartare sits under a blanket of thinly sliced beets with a softly cooked egg, waiting to be opened and throw in the mix. A toasted rustic bread is there for the scooping and we did not want to miss a bite of this dish - tangy, balanced and a good opener.
Carrots were roasted until nearly sweet and punctuated with crisp kumquats and a healthy dollop of goat cheese on top. I liked the play on textures and could have used more bread to get every last bit of these interesting flavors.
A little more subdued in taste was the quinoa bowl. I was looking for an acidic vinaigrette to make the flavors of persimmons and beets pop, but there was none. Instead, you have the nuttiness of the quinoa shining, with the sweeter fruit and crunchy almonds. Seemingly simple and pleasant - a different take on the ubiquitous quinoa side.
The grilled octopus salad offered more of a wow. The octopus was well cooked and actually sliced (why don't more people slice their grilled octopus?), making for easy scooping of the crisp fennel, radish and clementine. A solid plate that I'd order again.
Dessert was a rich, creamy chocolate ganache, lightened by sweet and candied orange. It's a nice play of textures and fitting end.
While the space isn't all that inviting, I do like the open kitchen, long bar, friendly service and unique plays on seasonal cooking.
507 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA