Welcome to The Gatekeepers, a monthly feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite tough-to-get tables.
Elizabeth Daniels 1/12
Rustic Canyon Wine Bar is a tried and true Westside staple revered for chef Evan Funke's hyper seasonal farm-to-table plates and, most especially, his Rustic Canyon Burger. Arguably one of the top burgers in Los Angeles. Opened five years ago by Josh Loeb, the restaurant has maintained a steadfast clientele, and Loeb plus wife (and pastry chef) Zoe Nathan have since gone on to open a group of seasonally-inspired Santa Monica haunts: Huckleberry, Sweet Rose Creamery and, most recently, Milo & Olive. Here now, Kathryn Weil, Manager/Wine Director of both Rustic Canyon and Milo & Olive, on reservations, dining with a gorilla, and The Burger.
It's 8PM on a Saturday night. What's the wait for a table? We always recommend making a reservation, especially for Friday and Saturday. Those are our busiest nights - like any other restaurant in LA. However, we do have four tables in the bar, three outside, and one table on the floor that we save for walk-ins. At 8PM I'd hope to say 25-30 minutes and get you a Prosecco cocktail while you wait.
Any way to make my wait shorter? Make a reservation. Or try to come in before 6:30 or after 9:30PM. And be nice.
Tell us about some of your favorite customers. The list is long. Working at Rustic Canyon for over five years I know a lot of faces. One of our great regulars sent me a cookbook and I've been to dinner with others.
How about celebrities? Yes. We have a lot of them. And they shall remain nameless.
How do you deal with a VIP when there are no tables left to give? Be honest. Treat them like anyone else and tell them they have to wait. Then get them a glass of bubbly and some crispy stuffed squash blossoms.
What's the strangest request that you've accommodated? Two men with a life-size gorilla wanting a table for four. Apparently, it was a "chic magnet."
How frequently does chef Evan Funke change the menu? A little bit every day. A lot every month. It changes with the seasons and whatever is looking beautiful and fresh at the farmers market. Right now there are lots of beets, squash, celery root, and apples.
Do people ever try and order things they’ve had before that aren’t on the menu anymore? Yes. A lot. People start calling in March to ask if we have the sweet corn agnolotti - unquestionably, our most popular dish. Chef Funke only makes it when the corn is sweet and perfect - usually June through August. It also happens with Burger night. Every Monday we add two burgers to the menu, which change weekly. People are always making requests for their favorites - the BBQ burger, Chilaquiles Burger, Lobster Burger, etc.
Out of all the burgers, which is the most popular? That would be the Rustic Canyon Burger. We have it on the menu every night.
Are you a fan? What kind of question is that? It has RUINED all other burgers!!! I prefer medium rare, breakfast style - with bacon & egg.
Aside from burgers, what's the most popular dish right now? Our daily handmade pastas - my favorite as of late is gnocchi with duck ragu.
What's your most important gatekeeper tool? Being honest with people - if we can't accommodate your request I'm going to give you a straight answer, and explain why.
When you're not at Rustic Canyon, where are you eating these days? Milo & Olive, Huckleberry, and Sweet Rose Creamery - I like to keep it in the family.
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