Santa Monica’s newest neighborhood bar opens this week, and the whole situation is a little unexpected. Located blocks away from Santa Monica City College, Nostalgia is a split venture that operates mostly as a bar/lounge with a substantial menu on its own. The remainder of the space is dedicated to private cannabis dinners under the umbrella of the Herbal Chef.
Upon first glance, Nostalgia feels very much like a casual neighborhood spot. But here’s where chef Chris Sayegh combined the businesses to do very different things. Both upgrade favorite childhood dishes with an elegant spin, but the Nostalgia bar/lounge side is technically a non-cannabis establishment. Drawing from his time at Josiah Citrin’s upscale tasting menu restaurant Mélisse, Sayegh and co-chef Jared Ventura carefully construct dishes like branzino fish and chips, oysters with smoked furikake sabayon and pineapple habanero granita, poached lobster roll, and toast with a lightly seared kobe beef, microgreens, and marinated radish.
As for the cocktails, Sayegh recruited Bradley Fry to develop the list. Fry’s experience managing bar programs at Long Beach’s Michael’s Restaurant Group and the former Bernard’s Bar in Chicago came in handy, where he mixes cocktails with terpenes — aromatic compounds found in plants — to create a mood or enhance the tastebuds. Sometimes Fry utilizes a gravity bong — without cannabis — that releases dramatic and smoky vapors from ingredients like passionfruit, rosemary, or lemon. Mocktails can be infused with the non-psychoactive cannabis component CBD upon request. Some drinks can include CBD, but they cannot be mixed with alcohol or THC, which has psychoactive effects.
Fry does boozy and playful takes on Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink, or Dole Whip with rum, coconut liqueur, and pineapple. There’s even one inspired by frozen Otter Pops, but this adult version is made with vodka and raspberry and lemon terpenes. To amp up the childhood element of the experience, board games like Operation or Battleship are stationed nearby for guests to play.
For Sayegh, who used to operate his cannabis dinners out of private residences or industrial spaces in the past few years, landing in this venue feels like settling into a permanent home. For the Herbal Chef section of Nostalgia, he’ll host members-only private dinners averaging nine courses. His most recent meal included kampachi with caviar, koji, and chile; spot prawns with kombu peas and smoked sabayon; and a deconstructed strawberries and cream. There’s a strict protocol surrounding dosage before the meal begins. Dinners require pre-approval with an application, a $1,000 annual year fee, and an additional $295 per dinner.
If wondering how the Herbal Chef can operate here, state, county, and local city regulations keep Sayegh on his toes, as he’s constantly going back and forth with his legal team to make sure it’s operating within the law. While cannabis consumption is allowed at specific West Hollywood businesses, currently the Original Cannabis Cafe (which has yet to reopen) and the Artist Tree, which is scheduled to open on April 20, the remainder of Southern California cannot legally serve cannabis to the public in a food or beverage setting. The Herbal Chef/Nostalgia works around this by making the events private.
Nostalgia runs Wednesday through Sunday from 3 p.m. until 2 a.m., with daily happy hour from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.