C California Style

PHOTO: Emily Hart Roth.
PHOTO: Emily Hart Roth.
PHOTO: Emily Hart Roth.
PHOTO: Emily Hart Roth.
PHOTO: Cida Fukushima.
PHOTO: Emily Hart Roth.
PHOTO: Emily Hart Roth.
Salted Caramel Bar, Huckleberry. PHOTO: Emily Hart Roth.
PHOTO: Emily Hart Roth.
PHOTO: Emily Hart Roth.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Chronicle Books.
PHOTO: Emily Hart Roth.
PHOTO: Emily Hart Roth.
PHOTO: Emily Hart Roth.

West Side Story

by C California Style

The ever-charming Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan have carved a fresh culinary niche with the expanding Rustic Canyon family of restaurants.

On a recent morning at Huckleberry, Santa Monica’s answer to Meryl Streep’s bakery in It’s Complicated, husband-and-wife co-owners Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan—with the couple’s three-month-old daughter, Tallula, strapped to her chest—are making the rounds. One minute the Santa Monica natives are swapping child‑rearing tips with customers queuing for the blueberry cornmeal cake; the next minute, they’re kissing hellos with their neighborhood Ayurvedic doctor. The vibe is “Cheers”‑meets-morning piazza in the key of California, and it’s by design: “We want our places to feel warm,” says Loeb. “We don’t want it to feel like we’re trying to show you how cool we are, but rather like we’re taking you into our home.”

The growing empire now includes artisanal ice cream mini-chain Sweet Rose Creamery (a showcase for co-owner and Tartine Bakery alum Shiho Yoshikawa), pizzeria Milo & Olive (named for Nathan and Loeb’s 3-year-old son), and date night mainstay Rustic Canyon Wine Bar & Seasonal Kitchen. This is the restaurant that started it all. Loeb opened Rustic Canyon and soon hired a young pastry chef with experience well beyond her years (Lupa, Jardiniere, Tartine, BLD and Joe’s). Nathan would soon become his partner in business and in life. Eight years later, the restaurant has experienced a critical revival, thanks to Executive Chef Jeremy Fox.

Fox and the restaurateur duo prize ingredient-led cuisine. There’s Rustic Canyon’s transcendent beets and berries starter—a textured, roasted masterpiece finished with toothsome pistachios and avocado. Sweet Rose Creamery’s straight-from-the-herb-garden mint chip is a translation that begs for their house-made marshmallows. Those results, in turn, inspire cult-like devotion. Still, in broader terms, it’s the lively, unpretentious atmosphere—like Milo & Olive’s open kitchen, where guests can witness the rare pizza that doesn’t make the grade being comically thrown to the floor by Nathan—that sets them apart.

Come fall, the couple will translate this buzzy ambiance to their largest yet: a 5,000-square-foot space in an art deco building in downtown Santa Monica. They’ve partnered with Kim and Bryant Ng (a former Pizzeria Mozza protégé, of Spice Table fame) to open the 200-seat Cassia. Loeb describes it as a Southeast Asian take on Balthazar, complete with a raw bar, a wood-fired grill and house-cured charcuterie: “We want it to feel like there’s a lot going on, and like you can come in, have oysters and Champagne, and be happy,” he says. 

It’s one of several projects this year, including Nathan’s diary-styled breakfast cookbook, Huckleberry ($35, Chronicle Books), out in September and featuring recipes such as her sweetly smoky maple-bacon biscuits; the end-of-year expansion of Milo & Olive; and finally, Esters, run by sommelier Kathryn Coker and her husband, Tug. Across the hall from Cassia, the wine bar and shop will take inspiration from a charming neighborhood haunt Nathan and Loeb happened upon in Paris. “Bottles everywhere and utter chaos,” Nathan remembers. In other words: just the way they like it. rusticcanyonwinebar.com

By Melissa Goldstein.
Edited by Alison Clare Steingold.