So much of a chef’s focus is on moving forward—to the next job, the next skill, the next trend. But just as often, when he or she pauses to look back, something truly powerful emerges. At Cassia Bryant Ng mines his Chinese Singaporean heritage, honors his wife Kim’s Vietnamese background, and works in the wood-grilling technique he honed at Mozza. The result is the grand Southeast Asian brasserie that Ng—and Los Angeles—seemed destined for. On a Wednesday night the bar is packed with people dipping blistered naan into bowls of lemon-grass-bathed escargots. On the patio three guys hunker down at a table to devour the burnished pig tail with butter lettuce and fish sauce, a dish they may have first had at Ng’s now-shuttered downtown restaurant, the Spice Table. Beneath 15-foot ceilings, diners can sit at the raw bar for a dozen oysters with sambal cocktails or see pot-au-feu transformed into pho as red perilla and rau ram, a Vietnamese mint, perfume the broth of brisket and oxtail. Thai basil tempers ember-cooked lobster claws in pistachio butter, and uni lends a marine jolt to Chino Farm egg custard that cleaves to the touch. This is lush, serious cooking cleverly veiled by the low-key hospitality of Ng’s partners, Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan of Huckleberry and Rustic Canyon. Crowned with a tangy crème fraîche foam, Nathan’s version of Vietnamese coffee, whipped into a mousse, is served in a sky blue cappuccino cup. At least half the folks who order it pull out their phones, bestowing a silent “Bravo.”
The Vibe: Yes, this is a grand brasserie, but at the same time it’s Santa Monica, so you can belly up to the bar for some oysters and a drink or watch the cyclists ride by on the patio outside. Let’s call it West Coast casual—which means wear your “good” jeans.
The Crowd: A mix of Silicon Beach workers, regulars who live within walking distance, date night couples, and a few former Spice Table groupies who trek from the Eastside.
The Must-Have Dishes: That flatbread though… Also, the egg custard with uni, laksa, kaya toast, and the Vietnamese coffee dessert.
The Drinks: Cocktails spiked with lemongrass, sambal, and other Southeast Asian flavors (aside from booze), plus a pretty great craft beer list with some impressive bottles (Mikkeller passionfruit lambic, anyone?). The wine list is chock full of Asian-friendly bottles curated by Kathryn Coker, who also runs the shop next door, Esters.
Getting a Table: Another upside to the restaurant being so big: it’s not too hard to get a table. Book online through Opentable, or just call if you’re feeling old fashioned.
Insider Tip: Never had Southeast Asian charcuterie? The spread here is as fascinating as it is fantastic. If you care to bring your own wine, you can buy a bottle next door and bring it in for no corkage. – LBS
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