Thank You, Chef James Trees & Team | Esther’s Kitchen, Las Vegas, NV

By Sophie Gayot

What a lunch at Esther’s Kitchen!

Las Vegas, April 2023

Esther’s Kitchen is part of GAYOT’s 2023 Restaurant Awards, Memorable Dinners of 2023.

• GAYOT’s Rating14/20
• CuisineItalian
• Open: Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Dinner nightly 5 p.m.-11 p.m., Brunch Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
• Esther’s Kitchen is on GAYOT’s
Best Las Vegas Italian Restaurants
Best Las Vegas Pizza Restaurants
Best Las Vegas Brunch Restaurants
2018 Best New Restaurants in the U.S.

Esther’s Kitchen
View Map: 1130 S. Casino Center Blvd. at California Ave., Las Vegas, NV 89104
702-570-7864 | View Website

Esther, The Great-Aunt

The “About” section of Esther’s Kitchen’s website does not do justice to what chef/owner James Trees is achieving with his team. Yes, after paying homage to his great-aunt Esther, we can read where Trees is from (Las Vegas), went to school and under which chefs he worked with (2011 GAYOT’s Best Restaurateur in the USA Michael Mina, the highly-GAYOT-awarded Éric Ripert, a stage at The Fat Duck, to name a few). But, there are no words describing his true passion for cooking, which seems to be his one and only when you talk with him. He loves flavors, produce, and subtle combinations of ingredients so much that you won’t want to interrupt him, and tastes will come to your ears listening to him. You won’t read how he collaborates in concert with his team of chefs and sous-chefs (some have been at Esther’s Kitchen since it opened in 2018), how he supports the local farmers, how many times he tries a dish before putting it on the menu, or at what time the bakers arrive in the wee hours of the morning to make the breads.

Trees’ culinary concentration and focus result in tasteful dishes that he calls “simple.” Perhaps, but in order to be that good, they rely on the experience of behind being the stoves with very well-learned cooking lessons from him and his team. Hopefully, you will be able to grasp some of it in my exclusive video below, discussing the two pasta dishes that were brought to my table.

Let’s Go To Lunch

I started my lunch with the homemade sourdough bread with three spreads and cultured butter. The “Anchovy Butter” with capers and parsley is a perfect illustration of Trees’ motto. The “Yellowtail Crudo” was much more interesting than the salade Niçoise. Then, right into my palate the “Lamb Merguez Pizza” where the addition of a high-quality chorizo gives a punchy wake-up call — understand that the pizza is just fantastic (gaining the restaurant a spot on GAYOT’s Best Las Vegas Pizza Restaurants). And that was not knowing what was yet to come: the best sandwich ever, the “Braised Beef Cheek Melt.” The beef, cooked in Bordeaux wine, is layered with onion jam, melted mozzarella, seasoned with horseradish aïoli, and finished with the pleasant bitter taste of arugula, in between grilled slices of the homemade sourdough bread. The pastas I had are fully described in the video below. If you are a fan of anchovies, I recommend the “Chitarra Verde.

Turning to Sweet Mood

Chef Trees asked me if I wanted to try more dishes. I asked him if he had desserts on the menu. He replied yes, so I said, “Let’s move to the sweets.” Again, not knowing what was to follow… I am, now, happy that I did not continue with the savories. First, came a “Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta” decorated with kumquats, financiers and marmelade. Here, once more, the modesty of chef Trees shows. A “simple” dish? Before eating the kumquats, take one in your hand, turn it and you will see that it has been emptied of its flesh and stuffed with crème Chantilly. Under no challenge, I will try to do that at home. The “Butterscotch Budino” is made with real whiskey and topped with honeycomb. There I thought I had reached the sky. With the “Chocolate Crêpe Cake,” I arrived in heaven. This cake is a two-day process, and includes the best chocolate, Valrhona. It contradicts the celebrated saying “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” because I am taking the memory of the cake with me.

Sophie‘s Tip: If you are staying on The Strip, you should, with no hesitation, drive to the Arts District where the restaurant is located for either lunch, dinner or weekend brunch. Instead of saying “should,” I could rather write “have to.” Chef Trees and team’s cuisine is why and how the world gets better: hard work, dedication for elevated times around the table, yet with no complications, approachable by all.

The Location

Updated: December 2023

In the next few months, Esther’s Kitchen will move right next door to a more spacious space, with the same design ambiance. An identical menu will be served.

At the current location, chef Trees is building a new restaurant to be named Vignette. Through the tasting menu, you will be able to experience a more elevated cuisine from the jovial chef. I hope to get there soon.