Location: 1314 7th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401. (310) 393-6699
Date: July 7 & November 10, 2015, July 7, August 26, and October 3, 2016 and January 28, 2020
Cuisine: French Vietnamese Brasserie
Rating: really tasty
My friend Liz Lee of Sage Society organized this July excursion to the brand new French Vietnamese Bistro from Chef Bryant Ng and the group that brought us the excellent Sweet Rose, Rustic Canyon, and Milo & Olive.
Also, merged in, are photos from dishes we ordered at an impromptu Hedonist dinner in November.
Ng made himself famous the other year with Spice Table Downtown, now I’m happy to have him Westside.
The space is oddly located on 7th street (never been to a restaurant there before despite 21 years in Santa Monica) but its large, light and airy.
Check out those high ceilings.
A specialty cocktail. Mango Mezcal Fizz. Mango infused mezcal, Brovo dry vermouth, passionfruit, lime, egg white.
The creative menu. This is not your usual brasserie. I mean, it feels like one, but the dishes are so Vietnamese inspired. I ate my way through Vietnam last year, and the ingredients feel very authentic. The presentation is all new.
The menu January 2020 — a few dishes have changed.
Liz as usual orchestrated our wine brings, in this case Champy, Riesling and the like.
From my cellar: 1990 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut La Grande Dame. VM 96. Rich, multidimensional, highly aromatic nose of pear, red berries, apple, honey, toast and spice. Extremely rich and concentrated, with its medium to full body leavened by bright citrus notes and compelling minerality. Great inner-mouth aromas. Conveys an impression of powerful yet remarkably fine raw materials. The spicy finish offers exceptional persistence and richness.
agavin: our bottle was a bit oxidized and tired. sigh.
Kaya Toast. Coconut jam, butter, slow cooked egg. This is listed under appetizers, but really tasted like a dessert. It was pretty awesome though, with the flavors of sweet coconut French toast.
Jellyfish Salad. Shredded organic chicken, crispy rice, green leaf, sesame-bacon dressing. Delicious, with the jellyfish adding a nice crunch/chew.
2004 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon Rosé. VM 94+. Relative to many other recent vintages, the 2004 Dom Pérignon Rosé comes across as quite delicate, feminine and graceful. Floral notes are woven throughout, adding to a very appealing and attractive sense of lift. It will be interesting to see if the 2004 puts on weight in bottle. At the moment, the 2004 is a bit understated, but I will not be surprised if at some point it takes off given the extremely positive way in which the 2004 blanc has developed over the last few years.
agavin: This was not tired at all!
Cucumber Salad Watercress, grilled avocado, charred tomatoes, clay oven bread croutons. A fine salad, although not mind boggling.
Green Papaya Salad. Watercress, purslane, spiced walnuts. Not bad, but not as “Vietnamese” as we expected.
Masumoto Farms Nectarine Salad. Bibb lettuce, herbs.
Vietnamese Caesar Salad. Anchovy croutons, dried figs, herbs, red onion, white anchovies.
Raw spicy scallops. A very small dish, with a bit of corn, dried shrimp, ham, onion and mint for flavor and crunch. Tasty, and despite the white look, not too mayo-ish, but hard to get onto the spoon.
Grilled Chicken Wings. Cucumbers, sweet chile sauce. Not bad at all. Nice tangy salty spicy sauce. I actually liked the cucumbers soaked in it.
2013 Zardetto Prosecco Zeta. Pairs great with food. A very simple wine, but its simple fruit allows it to go with anything.
CHARCUTERIE PLATTER. Salted Pork with Grilled Bread, Sichuan Lamb Ham, Singaporean Grilled Candied Pork, Vietnamese Meatloaf, Smoked Red Sausage, Cabbage Relish.
The Singaporean Grilled Candied Pork had a substantial heat and was sweet and delicious. The Sichuan Lamb Ham was a bit like Spanish ham. The smoked sausage was great, and I particularly loved the rich meatiness of the “meatloaf” — not unlike dumpling filling. The cabbage relish added to the softer ones as well, plus the herbs. Mixing the herbs and pickles with the meat in the same bite was quiet lovely.
Smoked Salmon Dip. Pickled shallots, horseradish, grilled country bread. Nice kick from the horseradish and an interesting mix of textural elements between the soft spread and crunchy bread. I really liked this dish.
Chopped Escargot. Lemongrass butter, herbs.
Spread on the pizza-like bread this was staggeringly good. It might have been the dish of the night.
Vietnamese Pâté. Pickled chiles. A similar presentation. Looks a little like barf.
But it tasted great. Super rich and meaty. I’m a big pate fan and this didn’t disappoint. I liked the added crunch of the pickles.
Fried Cauliflower w/ fish sauce. So fried they were like fried shrimp.
Cold Sesame Noodles. Young soybeans, cucumbers, crushed walnuts. Spicy with blue crab. I had to try this because I make my own Dan Dan Mein. This had some spice, but none of the savory complexity of my version.
Spicy Wontons. Cod, shrimp, country ham, napa cabbage, roasted chile oil. These had some heat, not unlike Numb Taste Wontons, but with a bit of a fishy tone.
2001 Prager Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Trocken Zwerithaler. agavin 90. More oxidized than the 1997, this had an unusual cilantro/basil finish!
Chino Valley Egg Custard. Sea urchin roe, braised mushrooms. Very soft egg custard was extremely pleasant, although the sea urchin just didn’t stand out like one might hope.
2001 Hessische Staatsweingüter Kloster Eberbach Steinberger Riesling Kabinett Goldkapsel. agavin 91. Medium sweet. Quiet nice.
Cereal Scallops. Hazelnuts, chiles. These were super tender and reminded me of Eastern Shore fried scallops from my childhood.
1996 Domaine Touchais Coteaux du Layon Réserve de nos Vignobles. agavin 94. Super sweet and delicious.
Coconut lemongrass curry. I don’t remember what was in here, but it was an awesome creamy coconut and lemongrass curry with a bit of spicy heat. Pretty similar to the amazing snail curry I’ve had at Phong Dinh.
Pig tail. Special order. Looks at that disgusting thing and all the fat.
I tried carving off some of the meat and not much fat and wrapping it with the herbs. The first bite was piggy, but the finish was actually quiet nice. Erick gnawed on the bone!
1998 M. Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape Barbe Rac. Parker 94-96. Chapoutier’s 1998 Barbe Rac is close to full maturity. It exhibits an abundance of Provencal herbs intermixed with new saddle leather, kirsch, framboise, and spice box. The intoxicatingly heady, complex aromatics are followed by a full-bodied, lush, succulent style of wine with a relatively high alcohol/glycerin content and loads of fruit. This wine is drinking terrifically well after going through an awkward stage about two to three years ago. Drink it between now and 2020.
We had five people and it was a few too many to really split this. The broth was very nice, and quiet interesting when doped with the sauces — but I didn’t get much and it was hard to experiment.
Grilled Lobster. Shallots, Asian basil, pistachio butter (Half or Whole).
The meat itself had a wonderful grilled basil flavor. Hard to split five ways though.
Whole Singaporean. White Pepper Crab. Same splitting problem with the crab, and there wasn’t much meat on this Dungeness. But the sauce was great with a real potent white pepper kick. I love pepper crab. None beat the ones I had in Singapore.
Black Cod. Anchovy broth, Chinese romaine, lychee relish, herb salad.
Beef Rendang. Beef cheek curry, jasmine rice, sambal, kaffir lime, peanuts. This had some heat to it, but was a spectacularly delicious curry dish. That rich red/meat/nutty curry over rice and the interplay of soft and crunchy textures. Yum!
Caramelized fish sauce. Pretty good for straight up veggies.
Grilled Dwelley Farms Corn. Scallion-coriander butter. Sort of like Mexican street corn!
Charcuterie Fried Rice. Chinese bacon, lap cheong, salt pork, salted fish, lettuce. Really tasty fried rice. Loved the sweet Chinese sausage.
Grilled Pork Belly Vermicelli. Thin rice noodles, oysters, pickled kohlrabi & carrots, herbs, green leaf, peanuts.
Again a hard dish to split five ways as that little bowl of meat/broth didn’t stretch far enough. It was delicious and Pho-like with the noodles and herbs.
Jitlada. Still, I enjoyed it. It’s just been “toned down” for the Santa Monica crowd.
Wok-tossed Yard beans & avocado. Preserved turnips, ginger, chili oil. Interesting contrast between the crunchy yard beans and the soft avocado. Not bad at all for a string bean dish.
The dessert menu.
Chocolate Banana Tart. Banana chips, candied walnuts, vanilla whipped cream. The weakest of the five desserts. A little sweet and not enough chocolate flavor.
Blackberry, Cherry Napoleon. Green tea Bavarian cream. This was great and refreshing with bright berry flavors.
Deep fried Paris-Brest. Housemade lemongrass ice cream, candied lemon. That lemongrass ice cream was awesome. The whole vibe was key lime pie like. Really refreshing.
Summer Fruit Floating Islands. Passion fruit creme anglaise, poached peaches, Santa Rosa plums, Pudwill raspberries & fresh mint. And this was amazing with a rich creamy passionfruit flavor.
Vietnamese Coffee Pudding. Coconut shortbread. Plus I loved this “pudding,” which is more like a pot-a-creme. The coffee cream thing worked just as well as a dessert.
Coconut ice cream balls.
Overall, commenting after my first visit, I’m really psyched to see this new addition to the long subdued Santa Monica restaurant scene. I love Vietnamese food and while this isn’t strictly Vietnamese, but more like Vietnamese, Chinese, Singaporean fusion with a very modern brasserie sensibility. Fairly unique and really quiet fun and excellent. I hope they evolve and refine and aren’t forced to backpedal to pander to the local tastes. There is some tendency in Santa Monica toward just that. For example, all of the more interesting (and not really that bold) new mall places of a couple years ago have shuttered and been replaced by a Cheesecake Factory. Cry.
And readdressing my opinion a few months later in November, Cassia has continued to come on strong. It was mobbed on a cold Tuesday November night, the food was perhaps a touch more consistent, and service was good. It was extremely friendly, although pacing was a little uneven (but not enough to be a problem). Since it’s busy, the menu hasn’t backpedalled — because people seem to be responding well. Sure it’s a little “white-a-fied”, but it’s it’s still great to have it here on the Westside.
And reassessing again July of 2016, the food has tightened up even further. The menu may have changed a dish or two, but it’s still aggressive (a good thing), but the execution has tuned up even further. These dishes were on fire, offering some really serious and interesting flavor that hits its own unique spot between traditional and California Vietnamese.
Returning in January 2020, the food continued to be excellent. My favorite dishes were still great. I’m reminded that Cassia is still quite spicy — which I like — but surprisingly so for a mainstream restaurant. Service itself was pretty good but their wine service is a little wonky, or at least my unusual perception of wine service. They seem to have the dreaded (and totally inane) “two bottle limit” now. Sucks. Stupid. Counterproductive to making money and good customer service. I’ve ranted about it many times before like here. And they didn’t want me to open the wines myself, saying their ABC license didn’t allow it. That’s a new one, and I’m pretty sure totally false. Even if vaguely true, probably has never been enforced. I’ve certainly opened 1000s of bottles in restaurants.
Some wines from the 1/28/20 dinner: