If you walk past the Santa Monica Public Library on 7th street, past the row of sea-foam green tables that line the massive patio, past the 22-seat u-shaped bar that provides a tiny glimpse into a tinier kitchen, and past the thousands of bottles that blend into the background so fluidly you half-suspect it’s all part of a clever wallpapering job, you’ll find the “shop” section of Esters Wine Shop.
At first glance, it looks like your standard mixture of Williams Sonoma-esque food and wine paraphernalia. Julia Childs’ The Joy of French Cooking rests on a display case of Maldon sea salt, and there are jars of assorted fruit mostarda hanging out next to a stack of do-it-yourself charcuterie books. Because what’s homemade assiette de charcuterie without mostarda, am I right?
“We wanted everything in the shop to be related to wine, cheese, or charcuterie—but we wanted to keep it modern,” Kathryn Coker, Esters’ co-owner and explains. “It’s like ‘no old man stuff allowed!’ you know? That’s not what I mean. Everyone is encouraged to come, especially old men!” Coker laughs and pulls a bottle of chenin blanc from the wall, proving they’re real after all.
Take a closer look at the retail section and you notice a trend. The seeded baguettes next to the cash register are from Milo and Olive. The Huckleberry cookbook is undoubtedly the most vibrant on the shelf. Rustic Canyon’s Executive chef, Jeremy Fox, prepared the mason jars full of smoked sablefish and pickled ramps. Walk 50 feet to your right and you’re standing inside Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan’s latest meg-hit restaurant, Cassia.
Esters isn’t just a progressive wine bar with an unparalleled condiments selection—it’s also Rustic Canyon’s trophy case. And why shouldn’t it be? If you created a corporate culture that churns out hit after hit after hit in an industry that sees 90 percent of first-time restaurateurs fail within the first year, wouldn’t you want to show off a little bit?
Even Coker—though unequivocally knowledgeable and talented—is a product of the Rustic Canyon system herself. She started out as a server at the eponymous restaurant, but after developing a passion for wines, she was given the opportunity to craft Milo and Olive’s entire wine program. But, things work a little bit differently now that she’s running Esters. Rather than creating a wine list based around chef Fox’s food, chef Fox is creating a food list based around Coker’s wines.
“We had been planning out this menu for a long time, and we wanted the food to be complex, but also very wine-friendly—no too sour, not too spicy.” Coker said. “I would get texts with ideas from chef saying, “hey, do you think this would work?’ I’d say, ‘you know, I’m not sure.’ And then he’d go, ‘’, OK, OK, I’ll think of something else!’”
Though the menu was primarily developed by Fox, chef de cuisine Jun Tan, who also doubles as Rustic Canyon’s pastry chef, handles the day-to-day kitchen operations. On top of the classed up list of bar snacks like lavender almonds, corn nuts, and olives, Esters will also offer a list of wine-friendly salads, crostini, charcuterie, and cheese, focusing on products made both in and out of house.
Coker keeps her secret stash of high-end wines in a locked room full of bottles that easily clear the four-digit price range (her all-time favorites are from Burgundy, by the way). But most of the bottles tend to range in the $45 to $75 dollar range, and there is a whole section devoted to wines under $25 called “Tug’s Picks,” named for her husband.
//Esters Wine Shop and Bar, 1314 7th St., Santa Monica, CA 90401. Open Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-12 a.m.; closed Mondays.