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Esther’s Kitchen reveals opening date for new downtown location

Updated January 17, 2024 - 6:46 pm

Offered for grazing: a bite-size restaurant riddle, a small kitchen conundrum on toast.

To wit: This year, after Esther’s Kitchen moves into its new 10,000-square-foot space in downtown Las Vegas, next door to its current 2,100-square-foot digs, the restaurant will only have a birthday every four years. How is that?

Because the new Esther’s is opening on Feb. 29, a leap year. The original Esther’s is closing after service on Feb. 21. Chef-owner James Trees shared the dates during a recent walk-through with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Last June, when the RJ received a first look at the buildout, it consisted mainly of framing, the pleated tin walls of the former Retro Vegas building and some patches of dirt.

The other day, however, a restaurant was clearly coming together, one characterized by more: more equipment, more room in the kitchen, more storage, more space for diners and folks at the bar.

More also includes the price. What was estimated to be a $6 million project — one of the most-watched Vegas restaurant debuts in years — has now grown to about $7 million.

“Instead of cooking these days,” Trees joked, “I do construction.”

A kitchen kitted out, and then some

Let’s start in the back of the house.

The walk-in refrigerators are installed, including a bread walk-in that is larger than the main walk-in at the original Esther’s. A five-deck bread oven has assumed the position; it can produce 120 loaves an hour. The prep kitchen “has the same amount of firepower as we do at Esther’s now,” Trees said.

The dessert, garde manger and butter stations are laid out. The hearth, ranges, and two passes (doubling the number) from the kitchen to the dining room are also in. A dozen storage racks are on the way; Esther’s has one rack now. Protective covers on surfaces in the dish pit will protect the restaurant’s handmade plates.

The pasta production area lies next to a hulking Acunto Forni wood-fire pizza oven from Italy. Broken tiles, left over from the floors of the original Esther’s, cover the dome. One idea is to organize a Sunday market outside featuring wood-fire pizza and free stalls for farmers.

And the new Esther’s will have coffee equipment, Trees gushed. “Finally, we can give people a cappuccino!”

A bar downstairs, a lounge upstairs

The bar at Esther’s is famously snug. The new bar, rendered in walnut, seats almost 30. Three cocktail stations created by Tobin Ellis, the poobah of bar design, anchor the mixology, arranging sinks, rinsers, three ice holds (for different kinds of ice) and other equipment so bartenders can move more efficiently. The stations cost $20,000 each.

“The simple fact of the matter is, I could not afford these for the first Esther’s,” the chef said.

Upstairs, a cocktail lounge features an oval bar, oxblood bar stools, and tufted chesterfield sofas in burgundy, green and black. The lounge seats about 30 to 40.

Back downstairs, a herringbone frieze in light oak is planned for the bar leading into the dining room, which is hung with metal chandeliers resembling miniature whirlwinds or giant twirls of pasta. Installation of wainscoting has begun. In the bathrooms? Copper sinks and marble-topped vanities and ceiling panels in faux pressed tin.

What happens to the old Esther’s?

Double doors at the new Esther’s lead from South Main Street into the restaurant. In the past few days, signs have gone up above the entrance and above the corner of Main and California Avenue. The script is Trees’ own handwriting; the baby artichoke nods to an early gig in which the chef had to turn (trim to identical size) two cases of baby artichokes daily.

A courtyard with an outdoor bathroom is accessed from the California side. Trees envisioned events there. “You can pull up a bus, unload and have wood-fire pizza.”

Trees took a seat at one of Esther’s sidewalk tables to enjoy the afternoon sun. Inside, late lunchers were finishing. In five weeks, this version of Esther’s, where the chef helped lead the renewal of downtown Vegas, would be closed (with plans to emerge later this year as a tasting menu restaurant whose details have not been released).

Trees looked back and ahead.

“Before, we were the underdogs. Now, we have the opportunity to show what success means to us and give back to the community. We’re in a really good place, getting ready to open a great restaurant. I’m really lucky.”

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JLWTaste on Instagram and @ItsJLW on X.

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