Cassia comes from the owners of Rustic Canyon and Bryant Ng, formerly of Spice Table. This French - Vietnamese spot has a seafood heavy menu served in a beautiful open, but loud room.
I love it when a good plan comes together. When chefs collaborate, I feel like I get the best of many worlds. Do I like Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan's Rustic Canyon and Huckleberry? Sure do (though I'd love it even more if I didn't have to pay $32 for scallops at Rustic Canyon, but I digress). Then there's Bryant Ng's Spice Table that I was so sad to see close, but there is good news. The Canyon crew have partnered with Bryant and his wife Kim to bring an Asian meets French menu to the west side. Asian and French? Another great partnership.
Cassia is light, bright, and LOUD. The uber high industrial ceilings allow light to come in from the outdoor patio, but it also allows all the noise from a 3 mile radius to reflect and bounce off the cement floor and walls.
There's a large separate bar in the front for dining and drinks, and there's also a nice seafood bar if you want to belly right up to some raw fish.
If the temperature ever dips below 60 in Los Angeles, there's a smaller bar still in the back, in front of the wood fired oven that's producing a range of flat breads. Bars abound.
The bar for drinking does have some fun specialty cocktails like a Banana Mule with Vietnamese spices that sounded intriguing, but ended up tasting like a basic Moscow Mule, albeit a tasty one. The more sophisticated Sunny Place is your adult drink with its tequila, mezcal and bitters. The wine list complements the seafood heavy menu with a range of whites from crisp and dry to fruity and aromatic. The recommended Gruner Veltliner nailed the crisp and dry category and paired well with everything we ate.
It was hard to stare at the raw bar and not to partake, but what to get? The small seafood platter is a best-of from their seafood bar going beyond just straight up oysters, though we did receive a few of those. You also get Vietnamese prawns with subtle hints of chilies and garlic. I might have liked a little less subtlety, but the prawns were big and juicy. A king crab leg in lemongrass fish sauce was a bit challenging to extract from its shell and also a little lackluster. The smoked salmon belly had the most going on with pickled shallots and horseradish, making for a good spread for the thick toasted bread slices.
Ng's kaya toast was a Spice Table fav and it doesn't disappoint here with soft coconut filled bread that is enhanced by the richness of the slow cooked egg and butter sauce. How can you go wrong with butter sauce?
On a subsequent visit I tried a new to Cassia, and new to me, jellyfish salad. I usually steer clear of jellyfish on the beach, but I've never seen it served on a plate. It provides an interesting chewy texture like a glass noodle that I really enjoyed. It's mixed with a well crafted Chinese chicken salad laced with crispy rice, organic chicken and bacon.
The laksa was my favorite dish because there was no subtlety with the spices. Spicy coconut seafood soup was filled with perfectly prepared homemade rice noodles with just the right chew. The Gruner Veltliner curbed the heat nicely in this fiery number.
If you want a pretty presentation, grab the whole grilled sea bass. Yup, you get the whole thing and it's delicately draped in a light turmeric, dill, lime sauce. Again, subtle and light, but fresh.
Also in the softer fish department is a lovely block cod in anchovy broth with Chinese romain and lychee relish.
On my second visit, I branched out from Cassia's seafood-centric selections to try some meat. The grilled pig's tail is under the appetizer section and is a hands-on dish. Our waiter offered to take the pork off the bone for us and then we were free to assemble with fresh herbs in bibb lettuce and a fish dipping sauce. There's some serious fat on those bones so it's rich, but balanced with the sweet sauce.
Less subtle is the Vietnamese Coffee Pudding. It's coffee laced chocolate mousse with a side of coconut cookies. As decadent and delicious as it sounds.
Cassia has just opened and it's been packed every night. Everyone wants to see what this new chef partnership is doing and some dishes don't disappoint, but be prepared to pay, and speak loudly to your dining companions. Cassia is using Rustic Canyon pricing and while I don't doubt they're using quality products, I'm not sure it's hit its stride yet. Time will tell. In the interim, if you can't get a reservation, grab a seat at one of the bars and take in the happening scene.
1314 7th St., Santa Monica