I've had a dining first. I didn't think it was possible. I dine out a lot. I've eaten a lot of things, in a lot of places, with a lot of people. I thought I had done it all. Until this weekend, when I paid my first visit to Esters Wine Bar in Santa Monica.
It started innocently enough. I was meeting my friend Aimee for a leisurely Labor Day weekend lunch. Sure, we knew there would be wine involved, a meal, a catch up. What we didn't know was how much wine would be involved and how many meals. Yes, for the first time, I stayed in a restaurant for two meals - both lunch and dinner.
To be fair, when we arrived at Esters, the new wine bar from The Rustic Canyon group, they were serving a limited menu in the afternoon. There were drool worthy snacks like kouign amann cheese twists (think cheesy, chewy croissant, wrapped up like a stick) and lavender almonds and corn nuts much better than you get in a vending machine.
Then there's interesting artisanal cheese like Kunik from Nettle Meadow, NY that uses both cow and goat's milk, and charcuterie that includes barely pronounceable, but utterly delicious nduja (think spreadable chorizo and many happy thoughts).
Sure those were all lovely, unique and delicious...for a starter, and accompaniment to champagne and some Rose, but we needed more. Specifically, I had seen a pork terrine and jarred chicken liver on Esters' menu online, and had been dreaming of it all day. The problem is that it's not served all day. More items like tartines, salads and grilled cheese are offered beginning at 4pm, when the "menu opens up," we were told.
Then there was the lure of our young, charming waiter who was very knowledgeable in wine and enjoyed recommending varietals based on the flavor profiles we most enjoy - quite a fun game as he was especially adept at it. There's an interesting by the glass list, or you can buy a bottle for the retail price, plus $15 corkage, which really isn't a bad deal. We went with the recommended white Bordeaux for just $18 retail - still setting us ahead price-wise.
The wines are all selected by Kathryn Coker, Rustic Canyon and Milo & Olive's wine director. She focuses on smaller producers with a lot of natural wines on the list like the sparkling rose from Domaine Serol. This gamay focused sparkler is full of expression and could have had me there through breakfast the next day.
The food menu plays to the wine instead of vice versa. You can buy wine to go, along with cheese, Milo & Olive bread, sandwiches, and unique spreads from places like Sqirl. Create your own picnic or enjoy one, or three, while you're there.
We did wait out the menu opening up and were happy for it. One bite into the pork terrine and chicken liver and I felt transported back to Paris, though these items are both made in house - much closer than Paris.
The vegetable panzanella salad was a nice acidic balance to all the meaty French fat with its cucumbers and liberal use of the not-used-enough herb, dill.
Esters is in the Art Deco building in Santa Monica, right next to Cassia. You can see their patio from Esters' patio, which is a lovely place to sit with cushioned sofas, green tiled tables and pull-up stools. Equally lovely is the large square bar inside with views of more food and wine. Perhaps if winter ever comes to Los Angeles, I might sit indoors.
Esters is the kind of place where you can pop in for a bite, drink, a couple picnic supplies or stay for the afternoon....and evening. It definitely was a fabulous place to spend a good chunk of a holiday weekend!
Esters Wine Bar & Shop
1314 Seventh Street, Santa Monica