Rustic Canyon Wine Bar: A Little Whine With Your Wine?

— by Caroline on Crack

I kept hearing about Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen which recently opened up in Santa Monica (yes, another wine bar) so naturally I had to check it out with my own palate. Reviews say this wine bar/restaurant was created to evoke lazy evenings spent with friends shooting the shit and drinking wine, or something like that. Sounds swell, unpretentious, relaxing. What better way to pass post-must-see Thursday?

My vino-loving friend Scott and I walked down there after dinner for a glass of wine. I wasn’t interested in the restaurant part at all, since 1) Scott, who’s had dinner there before, said it’s very pricey and 2) we didn’t have a reservation — a must at a busy joint like this.

And last night was no exception. At a quarter to 9 on a Thursday night, the wine bar, which took up a little corner of the restaurant behind the hostess stand, was jam-packed with would-be diners standing shoulder-to-shoulder waiting for their reserved seats to be available. And what little seating they offered was already taken up by groups of friends snacking on appetizers. Instantly I hated the place. You can enjoy cocktails standing up in a crowded bar, sure, but wine? Wine is meant to be enjoyed sitting down, lounging even. Especially since wine glasses are so annoying to hold. They need more seating areas. Perhaps another area where people waiting for seats can hog up.

It didn’t help that the air in Rustic was kinda humid. I thought I was going to faint as I stood wedged in this crowd, waiting to order a glass of wine. “I. Can’t. Breathe.” I swayed a bit and had to step away from the herd to get a few gulps of air.

The guy in front of me was ordering a mojito (who orders mojitos in a wine bar?) and then a Pomegranate Pleassure cocktail and then a Belgium ale. Taking for-ever! And then when he finally got his order, he wouldn’t move out of the way to let someone else, me, have access to the bartender. So, annoyed, I said, “‘Scuse me!” and brushed past him, giving the bartender a big smile. The bartender returned it, unphased by the constant barrage of customers, no trace of attitude. I ordered a glass of 2002 Sydney Lane Syrah ($10) while Scott got the 2005 Morgan Cotes du Crow ($12).

After Scott and I debated a bit about which wine tasted better (mine did), a couple of seats finally opened up along the wall. Yay! I pounced on them just in case anyone else was jockeying for them. With our backs to the window and facing the bar, we were able to finally get a good look at our surroundings.

After watching the party of four next to us pick at their apps, Scott said he was suddenly craving asiago cheese. But considering that the artisan cheese plate (with warm raisin bread and accompaniments) was $12, we decided against it.

“Everyone here is so ollld!” I suddenly noticed. “Yeah, I think I’m the youngest one here,” Scott guessed (he’s 34). Looking around at this swanky crowd of grownups, most of whom were dressed in black, I think he was right. CitySearch had said we’d find a “bright young Santa Monica crowd” here. Uh, I don’t think sooo.

Another thing I couldn’t help but observe? I was only one of two minority types here. Sometimes I play this little game with myself whenever I go anywhere remotely vanilla called “Hey! Am I the only Asian here?” Not that it bothers me, just sayin’. But yeah, the clientele consisted of people in their late 30s and 40s. I know, I’m pushing that age myself but I feel more at home in Bodega Winebar, also in Santa Monica, which seems, by comparison, the younger person’s wine bar. Plus Bodega has wine glasses without stems and plenty of comfy seats!

Scott made the very astute observation that Rustic Canyon seems to be where those who graduate from Father’s Office go once they wanna move past the microbrew to vino. And after experiencing the same hard-to-find-a-seat frustration and too-noisy-to-converse atmosphere, I’d say he was right.

1119 Wilshire Boulevard
Santa Monica, California 90401
(310) 393-7050