Many Angelenos have anxiously awaited the return of chef Bryant Ng’s Southeast Asian-inspired cooking. They’ve been bereft since the closure of his much-loved Spice Table in Little Tokyo, back on New Year’s Eve of 2013. It’s hard to hate on the development of public transport in L.A., but it was indeed a shame that the space was shuttered due to the MTA building a subway station below.
Ng and his wife and co-owner Kim finally resurfaced, this time on the Westside in Santa Monica. They’ve teamed up with another dynamic husband-and-wife duo—Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan of Huckleberry, Rustic Canyon, Milo & Olive, and Sweet Rose Creamery—to come back for version 2.0. And it’s a stunner.
Their new restaurant Cassia, named after the oversize Chinese variety of cinnamon, is located on what’s becoming a hot block, right across the street from Cafe Primo and the soon-to-open Ester’s wine shop, whose kitchen will be helmed by chef Jeremy Fox, also of Rustic Canyon.
At Cassia, you’ll find a few of the greatest hits from Spice Table, including some of the best kaya toast (brioche, coconut jam, butter, and slow cooked egg) and the kind of laksa (rice noodles in a spicy coconut curry seafood soup) you’ll find at Southeast Asian street stalls.
But there are some new dishes of note, too. The Vietnamese-style pot au feu is a soul-hugging take on the French peasant dish, served in a rustic clay pot full of piping hot savory beef broth and a behemoth cut of bone marrow. Also not to be missed are the clay oven breads and spreads, namely the Vietnamese paté topped with vinegary pickled chiles that add a wonderful hit of acid, served alongside herbs and a naan-like flatbread, as well the Chinese broccoli painted with caramelized fish sauce cooked over an open flame.
The warmth of the hearth is another familiar touch brought over from the Spice Table space, as well as the cool vintage birdcages that adorned the former, noticeably smaller dining room. In terms of decor and design, Cassia is much more spacious, and takes on a decidedly cool, mid-century-mod-meets-California vibe. And like any respectable Santa Monica establishment, there’s a patio that practically begs for happy hour lingering, made possible by the addition of a full cocktail bar. This team is going to fit into their new digs just fine.
Krista Simmons is a culinary travel writer and native Angeleno; she covers the Southern California beat for Travel + Leisure. You can follow her adventures bite-by-bite on Instagram.