Santa Monica has just lucked into a swell new wine bar, wine shop and market. Named Esters for the compounds in wine that hold much of the aromas, it's the latest project from the Rustic Canyon Group, which also opened Cassia next door.
Here's how it came about: Kathryn Weil Coker, wine director at Rustic Canyon and Milo & Olive, was training for the L.A. Marathon with her boss, Josh Loeb, and said to him, "Wouldn't it be great to have a place in Santa Monica where you could hang out, get a bite to eat and buy wine?"
The two, and their respective spouses, actor Tug Coker and baker extraordinaire Zoe Nathan Loeb, are good friends. A week later Josh Loeb called Kathryn and asked if she wanted to look at a space. It wasn't quite right, but afterward he told her he'd like to do this project with her sometime in the next five years.
Loeb called a week later with another space to check out. "And that was it," says Coker. "It's really special, a huge six-story 1937 Art Deco building in the middle of Santa Monica, a few blocks from the farmers market." Coker immediately called her husband to come and look at it.
"If this was going to be my life for the next 10 years, it was going to be his life too. And he was 100% percent on board," she says. "He's an actor and writer, but knows a lot about wine — probably from living with me."
Esters opened in early August. The design from Oonagh Ryan of the Los Angeles-based ORA is sophisticated and subtly glamorous. The large ball-shaped chandelier hanging over the communal table came from a hotel in Austria. Frilly glass shades hang over the white bar set with pretty stools upholstered in blue. There's an alcove with love seat and chairs just beside the temperature controlled wine room, and another long table with wooden stools.
But the real treasure is the patio out front with comfy little sofas and chairs and round cream and green mosaic tables. "The patio is the first place to fill up and the last to empty," says Coker.
Though she's created wine lists for Rustic Canyon, Milo & Olive and Cassia, outfitting a wine shop and bar from scratch is an entirely different exercise. "The focus, just as it is at the restaurants, is on smaller producers that take care in what they do and from winemakers whose story I know," says Coker.
The shop has about 250 selections, much of it French, but also wines from Italy, Germany, Austria, the U.S. and a little bit of everything else. She's pouring 18 wines by the glass, including a dry Furmint from Hungary that's a great cheese pairing wine. Guests can also pluck any bottle off the shelf and drink it for the retail price, plus $15 — a good deal, especially if you're picking one of the older and more rare wines.
Esters' food all comes from Rustic Canyon chef Jeremy Fox. Here, the idea was to do something true to a wine bar experience.
"Creating a menu of dishes that would pair with wine as opposed to creating a wine list to go with an existing menu was a totally different thing for me and for him." In planning it, the two sent a barrage of text messages back and forth. Fox: How spicy can it be? Coker: Not too much vinegar and not too spicy. Fox: Are curry spices OK? Coker: As long as they're not too hot.
"So he came up with curry cashews that have all these beautiful warming spices, without the heat," says Coker.
That's one of the snacks on the menu. But there are also beautiful cheeses and charcuterie from small artisanal producers picked by Fox, though he does make chicken liver in a jar and pork terrine. There's also a summer panzanella, melted raclette with Weiser potatoes and ham, a grilled cheese sandwich and baked ricotta with mushroom conserve served warm in a little cast iron pot.
Some of the charcuterie, cheeses and breads are sold in the small market area of the shop, along with sandwiches, Fox's chicken liver or smoked local sablefish in a jar — and the chef's schmaltz and the beef tallow. Of course, there is wine too, already chilled for a picnic.
Esters Wine Shop & Bar, 1314 7th St., Santa Monica (310) 899-6900, www.esterswineshop.com. Open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays and Sundays, and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. Snacks, $2 to $7, cheeses, $5 to $7, charcuterie, $7 to $11, plates, $12 to $16.
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