Exotic food lovers in Santa Monica have something to be excited about with the opening of Cassia, a South Asian brasserie at7th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.
The restaurant is one of several new eateries to open recently and diners can expect traditional Southeast Asian staples with an added French flare.
“The idea behind it is that it has a brasserie feel, a big bustling space but also feels very cozy,” said owner Josh Loeb. “There is a lot of crossover in Vietnam with France and a lot of that impacted the food industry there.”
Loeb and his wife Zoe Nathan are also owners of Huckleberry, Rustic Canyon, Milo and Olive and Sweet Rose Creamery and partnered with chef Bryant and co-owner Kim Ng to create Cassia. The Ngs previously owned Spice Table, a Southeast Asian restaurant in Little Tokyo for which Bryant won the 2012 Food & Wine Best New Chef award for. In 2013, however, the City of Los Angeles forced the couple to close the restaurant to make room for a train station. Collaborating with Loeb and Nathan was seemed only natural, as they approach running a restaurants in the same way.
“Me, Josh, Zoe and Kim are kind of like kindred spirits. We have very similar personalities, our aesthetics are very similar and what we care about is very much the same,” Bryant Ng said. “Working with them has been really easy because it is like working with a better version of yourself.”
Both the couples see the restaurant as an opportunity to bring something new to the Santa Monica dining scene.
“I don’t think anyone is doing what we are doing in Santa Monica right now, which is Southeast Asian food heavily influenced by the Vietnam and Singapore,” Ng said. “Hopefully this will broaden pallets of people.”
“We really didn’t feel that there was any great Asian food using really top quality ingredients on the Westside,” Loeb said. “We try to open places that we feel like are missing here.”
Loeb and Nathan, who own four other restaurants in Santa Monica, were not looking to open another restaurant, but when told about the location, an old art deco building that houses theVerizon switching station, they changed their mind.
“The building was too special to turn away,” Loeb said. “In Santa Monica, so much of the new development is so mundane and cookie cutter, and here was a really gorgeous old building that had the potential to be a special restaurant.”
The restaurant was slated to open last year but Loeb and Nathan came up against red tape with Santa Monica’s new seismic retrofitting measures. This delayed the process cost the couple time and money since they had already hired a staff.
“Our process stopped, Santa Monica decided to stop. We were the first building to go through the new seismic process and it was a long, difficult process,” Loeb said.
Now that the restaurant is open, Loeb is looking forward to taking some time off and regrouping. With five restaurants and a third child on the way, he thinks he is done expanding. Rather, he wants to focus on making sure all of his places continue producing good food.
“Something that is really important to us in all of our places is great quality food done without any pretense. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, we just want to bring really good food and we just want to make food that we are happy to eat,” he said.
Photo: Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan, who own several restaurants in Santa Monica, have opened Cassia at 7th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard.(courtesy Emily Hart Roth)