Housemade Sourdough Bread – Cultured Butter and Good Olive Oil, Anchovy Garlic Butter, Burrata alla Panna with Basil Oil
Meat + Cheese – Our Pickles, Grilled Bread, Poached Figs, Poached Strawberries, Butter, Caesar’s Prosciutto, Bresaola, ‘Nduja, Fegatini, Mortadella, Chicken Liver Mousse, Umbriacone, Ricotta Salata, Tartufo, Taleggio, Camizole Dolce
Yellowtail Crudo – Charred Heirloom Tomatoes, Pickled Beans, Hazelnut
Polpette – Tomato Sugo, Basil Ricotta, Toasted Sourdough
Chopped Salad – Salami, Cheese, Chili + All the Things, Olive Vinaigrette
McGrath Beets – Ricotta Gnudi, Pistachio Pesto, Sorrel, Basil
Agnolotti – Sheep’s Milk Ricotta, Brown Butter, Summer Corn
Smoked Lasagnetta – Pork + Porcini Ragu, Sherry Vinegar
Chitarra – Cacio e Pepe, Pecorino, Tellicherry Peppercorn
Porchetta – Pepperonata, Black Garlic Jus
Mary’s Chicken – Summer Cornbread Panzanella, Chili Apricot Jus
Octopus – Charred Tomato Glaze, Black Aioli + Garbanzo Salad
Branzino – Farro Salad, Charred Lettuce, Colatura Vinaigrette
Mushrooms – House Ground Polenta, Truffle Butter, Sherry
Pasta Nero alla Puttanesca – Anchovy, Capers, Parsley, Chili, Olives
Sourdough Crust Pizza – Tomato, Greek Sausage + Salumi, Fennel, Charred Pepper, Orange
Sourdough Crust Pizza – Bacon, Caramelized Onion, Fontina, Quail Egg, Saba
Mint Panna Cotta – Watermelon Sorbet, Yuzu marinated Watermelon, Basil
Butterscotch Budino – Scotch Caramel, Whipped Cream, Honeycomb
Dark Chocolate Tart – Caramelized Nuts, Vanilla Ice Cream, Sea Salt
To call Esther’s Kitchen a smash hit at this point would undersell the Restaurant’s impact, native son James Trees’ return to Las Vegas providing gas to a smoldering fire of rejuvenation near downtown at 1130 South Casino Center Boulevard near Main Street.
Open now for over eight months and still packed on most nights, Chef Trees’ commitment to quality at an accessible price-point evident from day one and only improving with time, it was as a party of seven including six first timers that seats were taken in front of an open kitchen, the ‘theme’ of the night technically business but most of that accounted for quickly or taking place between bites of twenty menu items.
Not a fan of “tasting menus” per se, but happy to take and make recommendations for a large party based on budget, it was essentially with carte blanche to James and his Staff that nearly three hours of dining commenced at 6:40pm with all of Esther’s seats filled, a focus of Food instead of Wine or Spirits beginning with Iced Tea and Water kept full without request plus the first of two Loaves of Sourdough Bread served with condiments including briny Anchovy Butter plus creamy Burrata in Basil Oil that a speaker from California was particularly fond of.
Truly a mixed group, Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese and mixed Caucasian backgrounds all represented, it was next that two boards of Charcuterie and Cheese were sent out along with Pickles, stewed Fruit, Toast and Butter, the Chicken Liver Mousse and Prosciutto quickly gone while those who took a chance on bright orange ‘Nduja marveled at the balance of heat and spices in a form they’d previously not encountered.
Finding even more timid eaters surprisingly open to plates that often contain several ingredients, though a watchful eye did notice some carefully picking Tomatoes away from raw Tuna that was silky smooth and smartly paired to cracked Hazelnuts, suffice it to say that none were shy when devouring three plates of Meatballs that several concluded were the best they’d ever tasted, a bed of green Ricotta and simple Tomato Sauce showcasing rich flavor amongst the finely ground center.
Amused by “all the things” as part of Esther’s Kitchen’s Chop Salad, a bit of heat and undisclosed spots of sweetness creating complexity where no two bites are alike, it was with nearly half the table unsure about Beets that each carefully took a spoonful or Chef Trees’ oft-praised Gnudi, only one sticking to her guns that Beets taste “dirty” though even she was more than happy to take a second Ricotta-stuffed Dumpling when she was certain everyone else had their fill.
Technically already served a Pasta dish, though a resetting of share plates at this point officially signaled the start of course two, it was here that two new plates plus one old favorites would see diners in awe of just how creative Noodles can be, tiny Agolotti plated next to fresh Corn in tangy Brown Butter a reminder of Summers back home while Trees’ Cacio e Pepe remains every bit as simple and delicious as it should be.
At this point seeing those of smaller appetites sated, large portions of smoky Pasta topped in a Ragu of Pork and Mushrooms just as robust as they sound, it was in follow-up to this that another course began, the Porchetta now served with appropriate serviceware to crack through Skin remaining a worthy “signature” entrée although Organic Chicken from Mary’s Farm is also quite impressive with its current setup as a Panzanella Salad featuring fruity Sauce and Cornbread.
Not yet close to finished, even those committed to “saving room for Dessert” tempted by meaty Sea Bass atop softened Farro and warm Lettuce, it was admittedly a bit surprising when several stated they were not familiar with Polenta before scooping some onto their plate, comparisons to everything from Cream of Wheat “but way better” to “Heaven” both accurate though the best description should probably have something to do with the definition of Comfort Food that somehow eats just as well in Summer as it did in Winter.
At this point seeing an 8-top filled from edge-to-edge, a length of Octopus thankfully left with some chew quickly divided and devoured with all who partook praiseful of the smoky-sweet taste, it was with limited capacity that a choice was made to finish with Pizza over Spicy Squid Ink Pasta, a little time on the oven now yielding an even better char on Crust that marries well to toppings like Sausage and Fennel tinged with Citrus but even better to crispy Pork and runny Eggs plus the combined sweetness of cooked Onions and Saba.
Still not offering Coffee or Espresso with Dessert, though those seeking Italian Digestifs such as Amaro will find plenty to choose from, suffice it to say that a personal distaste for Mint left Esther’s only new Dessert for others after one bite while dinner and conversation both came to a finish with a Dark Chocolate Tart now slightly sweeter thanks to Ice Cream and Caramelized Nuts plus Chef Trees’ peerless Butterscotch Budino that he claims has been mellowed, though to fans of Scotch as well as typical teetotalers there still seems to be plenty of Booze to be found.
FIVE STARS: Simply put, and based on a not insignificant amount of travel, if Esther’s Kitchen were located in New York, Chicago or Washington DC it would be every bit as popular as here in Las Vegas and undoubtedly a Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient, the fact that dinners with “foodie” friends as well as those with little dining experience were equally successful a testament to Chef Trees understanding of what it takes run a successful Restaurant without straying from the passion and craft that makes his Food remarkable.
RECOMMENDED: Housemade Sourdough Bread, Polpette, McGrath Beets, Agnolotti, Smoked Lasagnetta, Porchetta, Octopus, Mushrooms, Bacon Pizza, Butterscotch Budino.
AVOID: Trying to walk in on Weekends unless you are willing to wait…and apparently trying to order an Espresso.
TIP: Happy Hour every day from 5-7pm and 9-11pm at the Bar – Buy any Beer, Wine or Cocktail and get half-off any Pasta on the menu.
WHAT THE STARS MEAN: 5 World Class, 4 Excellent, 3 Good, 2 Fair, 1 Poor.