It’s a simple, if dramatic, presentation: A butterflied whole branzino is marinated with turmeric, garlic and spicy Thai chiles just long enough for the flavors to infuse, 30 minutes or so. The fish is then quickly grilled until the skin is burnished and blistered and the interior is barely cooked through, and plated under an assortment of fragrant fresh herb sprigs — mint, dill, laksa leaf — and lime wedges. You could butterfly the fish yourself, or simply have your fishmonger do this for you at the market so it’s ready to go.
Reader Patty Richardson still remembers the birthday dinner she had at Cassia, Bryant Ng’s Vietnamese French restaurant in Santa Monica, and currently No. 7 on Jonathan Gold’s 101 Best Restaurants list. The dish was “the very best birthday dinner ever,” she wrote.
“It’s a really simple recipe with few ingredients, and that’s the idea,” Ng told us in an email. Ng first had the fish in Vietnam, cooked by a chef friend. “He broiled the dish in the oven; however, we grill the fish at Cassia over wood and charcoal to give it a bit of that smoky flavor.” The drizzle of olive oil at the end adds fresh fruity, grassy notes, and the scattering of fresh herbs allows each bite to be a new experience. Ng was happy to share the recipe, and we wish you many more happy birthdays, Patty.