It seemed to be a common question in food-lover circles over the last year and a half: Where is Bryant Ng?
After he and wife Kim were forced to close Spice Table — their much-loved, brick-lined Southeast Asian restaurant in Little Tokyo — in late 2013 (curse you, Metro!), there was buzz that the couple was planning a Westside spot with Rustic Canyon's Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan (aka Santa Monica's first family of food). But then, nothing.
Originally slated to open in summer of 2014, Cassia is finally open in Santa Monica after a yearlong delay due to some necessary seismic retrofitting on the 1937 Art Deco building in which it's housed.
The latest Santa Monica project from Loeb and Nathan (who also own Huckleberry, Sweet Rose Creamery and Milo & Olive), Cassia is the first of the duo's concepts to be developed in partnership with another chef. The result is an expansive, high-ceilinged space grouped into five distinct areas of service, which will operate like a bustling French brasserie — with the Ngs' Southeast-Asian twist.
There's the bar, where specialty cocktails can be sipped at high tables; the regular dining room lined with banquettes, where you can dine on Nathan's famous desserts; the wine area, where boutique bottles will be stacked to the ceiling; the low-slung raw bar where you can order Bryant's take on peel-and-eat shrimp (pregrilled and flavored with Fresno chilies and fish sauce); the private 20-seat dining room for special events; and the most recognizable part of the whole restaurant for Ng fans: a section casually referred to as "Baby Spice," where you can saddle up under the familiar wooden birdcages.
"This is not Spice Table 2.0," Ng assures. "We want it to have its own character, but of course it comes from us."
Most menu specifics are still under wraps, but French-Asian cooking will be at Cassia's core. Ng admits the unexpected year off gave him time to focus on perfecting Cassia's recipes, so in addition to Spice Table favorites such as kaya toast, he has developed some new dishes that give traditional French food a Vietnamese twist, along with traditional Vietnamese and Singaporean dishes adapted to work with French-style charcuterie.
"The way I see it, France and Vietnam have a circular relationship, for better or for worse," he says.
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This East-meets-West pairing has worked out better than the partners might have initially expected. "It's a collaboration in its best sense," Loeb says. "We're making a project that is greater than either of us could have done on our own."
Cassia, 1314 Seventh St., Santa Monica; (310) 393-6699; cassiala.com