Trendy restaurant offers plentiful starters that will satisfy taste buds

In the dimly lit interior of an intimately small restaurant, anything is possible.

Modern dining · The Next Iron Chef contestant Andrew Kirschner’s Santa Monica restaurant, Tar & Roses, offers the perfect setting for dinner parties or a quick bite. - Photo courtesy of James and James Productions

At Tar & Roses, what will hopefully take place for eaters is a unique dining experience. The fledgling restaurant opened its doors to a flurry of customers its first weekend Jan. 24.

Andrew Kirschner’s Santa Monica locale prides itself on rustic fine dining. Formerly a chef at Wilshire Restaurant and a contestant on The Next Iron Chef, Kirschner has had quite a bit to prove with his new brainchild.

Whether or not he does is in the eye of the beholder, although some successes and shortcomings are more obvious than others. To start, the interior makes it difficult for you to walk away, even if the wait for seating is a lengthy one. Low ceilings, artsy light fixtures, an array of wine bottles and shelves full of goods like honeycomb welcome you and keep your eyes roaming. And if that isn’t enough, the food on the tables nearby can keep any eater’s curiosity piqued.

Most tables contain a wine glass and a wooden board replete with an array of intriguing options to start your meal. The appetizers are broken up into three sections: bruschetta, charcuterie and cheese. Each section has a long list of choices, and you can choose to mix and match three, five or seven items.

Between two people, the three item option is a satisfying beginning to the larger meal ahead. Under the bruschetta menu, the duck rillettes, prune jam and almonds option proves quite tasty.

The duck rillettes are thin, Lunchables-like slices that melt in your mouth and contain the right amount of flavor to keep you wanting more. The prune jam is sweet without being cloyingly so, and the almonds are the right type of crispy. Moreover, an extraordinarily sweet piece of honeycomb is included for daring eaters.

The wild boar option under the charcuterie is satisfying as well; the stringy meat is mixed with almonds between two crunchy pieces of bread spread with a sweet jam. One bite reveals a nice mix of flavors with an especially memorable smoky aftertaste.

Under the cheese section is a gorgonzola that isn’t necessarily spectacular but nevertheless complements the smokiness and sweetness of the other items. Not all the items on the list are offered at all times — the shaded-in boxes near the item names reveal eaters’ choices that are available that day — but the variety impresses. The combo is the restaurant’s strongest suit because it allows eaters to try bits of everything and keeps the meal interesting. It’s worth coming into the restaurant to order this mix and a glass of wine if you can.

The remainder of Tar & Roses’ menu fluctuates between intriguing to slightly bland. The menu is divided into sections titled Snacks, Small and Large. For a single diner, the small portions might be enough if paired with choices from the bruschetta, charcuterie and cheese sections, although a hungry diner might be left craving more.

On the more adventurous side of the small menu is a wood-fired duck egg that has just the right amount of salty. The accompanying stuffing comes in a hot ceramic bowl complete with a lid. Nicely fluffy, the stuffing provides a good accompaniment to the slightly watery egg. No bite of the sunny side up egg was ever really the same.

Unfortunately, not all the items on the small menu were as tantalizing. The bucatini was a small dish of thick noodles that unfortunately didn’t amaze. The noodles were mostly bland, and compared to the other items on the menu, this choice was much less intriguing and ultimately disappointing.

Additionally, most diners top off meals with a nice glass of wine, but the restaurant also offers a variety of specialty, non-alcoholic drinks along with regular and Mexican soda.

Overall, the restaurant’s menu items vary in strength, but it’s the starting items that make it a unique experience. Paired with the rustic, intimate interior of the restaurant, it’s perhaps these starters that will most set the restaurant apart from other Santa Monica eateries.

The restaurant experience changes when you come with more than a couple of people — the large items are more expensive probably because they are so delectable — but if you find yourself with only a few people and a semi-large appetite, sitting down to a glass of wine and your choice of meat and cheese isn’t too bad.