A short drive away from the sand in Santa Monica, Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen on Wilshire Boulevard feels like a wood cabin where you might share a countryside meal among friends. It was, in fact, the family tree house in Rustic Canyon— a woodland neighborhood in Santa Monica — that inspired founders Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan’s restaurant concept.
Interiors in this 70-seat dining room bear an earthy ambiance with muted tones, wooden accents, and the smoky scents of Syrah and roasting pork belly. More than anything, though, Rustic Canyon offers the essence of home: comfort and warmth with a neighborhood feel that carries over into its food. Waiters encourage patrons to order with sharing in mind as most plates are served family style with big spoons and small plates. The wine list presents a rotating 20 wines by the glass and more than 500 selections by the bottle, some by the half bottle, and staff can make suggestions to pair with your meal. Qupe, a collection of Rhone-style wines from Santa Maria, Calif., is a good representation of the restaurant’s values: it’s both biodynamic and organic.
While the locale may not have the same open-air, pastel qualities of the many beachfront establishments in the area, that doesn’t mean it is lacking in local culture. The menu is partially sourced from the Santa Monica Farmers Market: the revered mecca for organic produce lovers in Los Angeles. The restaurant’s commitment to farm-to-table fare means the menu changes daily to incorporate ingredients by season, and you might catch some odd ones you don’t recognize like purple sprouting broccoli. If not from the farmers market, food and other products come from local farmers, ranchers, and fishermen who practice sustainable agriculture. Items on the menu often reflect where they came from. It’s not just bread, it’s Milo & Olive baguettes, or it’s not just quinoa it’s Rancho Gordo quinoa. Even their plates and bowls are custom-made by a Los Angeles-based pottery and ceramics company, Luna Garcia.
Previously the Executive Chef at Michelin star restaurant Ubuntu in Napa (a vegetarian establishment once attached to a yoga studio), Jeremy Fox brings agrarian expertise to his cooking at Rustic Canyon.
“My goal at Rustic Canyon is to incorporate light, bright preparations of great produce and proteins,” Fox said. “These are clean, straight-forward flavors not disguised in heavy fats or modernist techniques. I want to give food the chance to speak for itself.”
The menu is broken down into snacks, small plates, big plates, and sides. Meal-time is a very savory affair comprised of rich and dynamic flavors. As far as big plates, signature dishes include roasted chicken, brined and served with skin-on and accompanied with seasonal vegetables like king trumpet mushrooms or charred cabbage. The restaurant is also known for its Branzino, a European sea bass with accouterments that rotate by season like rustic summer vegetable stew with caper salsa verde.
As for small plates, popular dishes you may find in-house this season include lamb and m’hamsa salad, which is tossed with fennel, pickled peppers, merguez spices, and yogurt. Also popular, savory ricotta dumplings are made with fresh shelling beans and sorrel and are served in a bowl with ‘cacio e pepe’ broth.
For a meal on the lighter side, ambrosia melon gazpacho with coconut milk, summer herbs, cucumber and almonds followed by persian and lemon cucumber salad and a scoop of sorbet for dessert might do the trick. More than anything, though, Rustic Canyon offers the essence of home: comfort and warmth with a neighborhood feel that carries over into its food.
At the end of a very hearty meal, make room for dessert. Their sweet selections are prepared in-house by pastry chef Laurel Almerinda who values French techniques and home-style fruit driven desserts. Selections, like the rest of the menu, rotate by season and many of them feature dairy products from Clover Organic Farms, a local producer of organic and non GMO milk from grass-fed cows. Recently, the menu offered creme fraiche panna cotta with roasted fig, orange blossom water, and salted pistachios as well as frog hollow pear upside down cake with caramel and vanilla bean ice cream. Their cheese plate also provides a broad selection of local fromage accompanied by milo & olive bread, fruit preserves, and pane forte.
Rustic Canyon is open only for dinner service from 5:30 pm onward, seven days a week. Prices range from $7 to $18 for small plates and $18 to $32 for big plates.
If you like Rustic Canyon, Loeb and Nathan also own Huckleberry Cafe & Bakery, Sweet Rose Creamery, and Milo & Olive.