Giddy Over Cassia In Santa Monica
SANTA MONICA — When my friend and talented cookbook author Andrea Nguyen raves about a place, I know I have to try it.
When Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold deems the food “brilliant,” I know I’m in for something extraordinary.
Indeed, that’s how superlative Cassia in Santa Monica is.
It’s housed in the old ornate telephone company building. There are actually two restaurants inside, which can be a little confusing. If you’re there for Cassia, head to the one on the right side of the foyer.
The dining room sports a shellfish bar, and a refrigerator case on display containing house-made Asian charcuterie. It’s also pretty loud, so if it’s a nice night and you want a quieter space, head outside to the tented patio, which is where we sat to dine a week ago. We paid our own tab, goo.
The eyebrow-raising named cocktail, “Rome With A Bloody View” ($14), gets its hue from blood orange syrup, and its light, tart, bracing flavor from lemongrass-pineapple infused dry vermouth, lime, and Leopold Aperitivo.
The French-Vietnamese-influenced food is all made for sharing. Do not pass up warm, charred naan-like bread served with a bowl of saucy chopped escargots ($18). That’s an order. Trust me on this. It’s so good, I’d come back for this alone. Imagine the briny sauce that goes on linguine with clams — only done with snails, plenty of herbs, lemongrass, garlic, butter and olive oil to spoon lustily over bread. I was dissecting it at the table because I so want to try recreating this at home to toss with pasta.
The charcuterie platter ($25 for a small) also is worth ordering. It’s a delightful array of Vietnamese meatloaf (like a rustic pate), Yunnan pork, Singaporean candied pork (like thick-cut bacon), smoked red sausage, smoked curried duck, salted pork, whipped lardo, and tangy pickled cabbage relish. It comes with thick slices of crusty bread to smear everything on.
Whole grilled sea bass seasoned with turmeric ($39) arrives on a plate, its skin charred crisp and blanketed with fronds of fresh dill and cilantro. Squeeze on some lime and use your chopsticks to go at the flavorful, flaky flesh.
Kon Loh Mee ($20) is a mound of thin egg noodles garnished with Chinese broccoli, ground pork and pork belly char siu slices. Mix it all up and happily slurp up every inch of the very long savory noodles.
As we sat outside on the patio, I couldn’t help but glance at the apartment buildings right across the street. How lucky those folks are to live merely steps from food like this.