Santa Monica, California

December 2009                         

Walking into this wine bar on a not particularly pretty block of Wilshire Boulevard, my initial impression was “nice.”   There was a small but cozy bar area that looked comfortable enough to spend many hours on a bar stool and make your way through their very impressive wine list.  Sharing the space with the bar however is a not very design-inspired dining room (think 60’s living room furniture rather than “rustic” lodge décor). That coupled with the fact that our table had a view of a dry cleaner, a “NY style” pizza joint and a few other equally ugly store fronts made me want to run out and buy the restaurant some curtains or at least some funky shutters that would work with “rustic” and hide the “view.” 

Design issues aside, while the menu touts “farm market to table consciousness” with plenty of small plates and appetizers, handmade pastas and a variety of main dishes, I found some of the courses a tad oversalted while others had too much of one ingredient in many of the dishes.  Maybe they were simply buying vast quantities of produce from the farmers or trying to support the practice of sustainable agriculture a bit too much?  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Dinner that night started with a roasted beet and burrata appetizer that consisted of beautiful pink beets with  apples, walnuts and what seemed like nearly a cup of celery.  The dish redeemed itself however with a silky white molten blob of perhaps the best burrata I’ve tasted in a while.  Rachel, suddenly feeling a rush of jet lag (we had flown in from NY that morning), settled on a simple salad composed of at least three different kinds of lettuce and topped with fennel, pistachios and thin slices of tangerines.

Entrees consisted of a whole roasted trout plated with escarole that was oversalted and had way too much garlic. Despite this double whammy, the fish was moist and perfectly cooked.  Rachel ordered the pumpkin and burrata ravioli that was served with a brown butter and sage sauce with some toasted pumpkin seeds scattered on top.  The pasta was listed as an appetizer and when our server wanted to know if she wanted a double portion, Rachel, of course, nodded “yes.”  Unfortunately, the price doubled too.  Thirty dollars for a bowl of pasta?! 

For dessert, Rachel and I shared a plate of profiteroles and truth be told mine are better. Going into its fourth year, Rustic Canyon Wine Bar is obviously very popular with the neighbors since we were there on a Monday night and it was packed.  There are many interesting menu items to choose from and an outstanding wine list with lots of varietals at different price points.  Now, if they could only change the view (ugly), the décor (ditto) and bring the ingredient overload and overseasoning down a notch. 

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