Even while working at the pinnacle of fine dining, David LeFevre yearned to run a laid-back operation. When Starchefs.com asked him back in 2006 where he saw himself in five to 10 years, the then-executive chef at iconic Los Angeles seafood restaurant Water Grill replied that he had it all planned out. “I see myself in beautiful surroundings, in a less metropolitan and slightly smaller restaurant with a highly personalized cuisine,” he said.
Five years later, that's exactly where you'll find him. LeFevre is now chef/owner at M.B. Post, which opened in Manhattan Beach, CA, in April. ››
LeFevre got his wish for beautiful surroundings. Manhattan Beach, located just south of Los Angeles International Airport, is the archetypal Southern California beach town. It offers premier surfing, world-class beach volleyball and sunset strolls out onto the classic Manhattan Beach Pier. M.B. Post sits just steps away from all this activity. When snow-bound Northerners dream about California in the winter, this is the kind of setting they're fantasizing about.
And M.B. Post is certainly is less metropolitan than Water Grill or Charlie Trotter's, the noted Chicago restaurant where LeFevre cooked for 10 years before heading to L.A. It's smaller, too, a 3,200 sq.-ft. space with 90 seats, more than a third of which are at communal tables. The look and feel send the message that no one would bat an eye were board-shorts-clad customers to arrive on bikes.
But it's an artfully contrived sort of laid-back beach vibe. Stephen F. Jones of SF Jones Architects designed M.B. Post. His vast array of restaurant jobs ranges from such 1990s ground-breaking classics as Wolfgang Puck's Spago and Chinois up to both of the sleek new Obika Mozzarella Bars in L.A.
For M.B. Post, housed in a former U.S. Post Office branch, Jones sought to capture the relaxed tone that defines this oceanfront community. His design scheme features reclaimed wood, concrete walls, 20-foot-high ceilings and design touches that harken back to the building's days as a working post office. Jones, like LeFevre, lives in Manhattan Beach. No wonder this brand-new restaurant feels like it's been a part of the town forever.
Once LeFevre had site selection and facility design in hand, he got going on that highly personalized cuisine he's been longing to cook. The result is a moderately priced menu that uses a wide-ranging global tapas format to present dishes that are much different from LeFevre's previous high-end work. If you're designing a new menu or revamping an existing one, pay close attention to what he did here.
Guests can choose from six menu categories. Pass The Bread (bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits with maple butter, $5) and Cheese (four artisan selections, $8-$10) start it off, followed by a quartet of Cured Meat offerings (Jamon Serrano, 12-month aged, $11). Almost any restaurant could duplicate these offerings.
But you'd better have some serious technique if you want to emulate M.B. Post's “Eat Your Vegetables” lineup that is a dozen items strong. It's here where LeFevre shows off the skills he mastered at Charlie Trotter's, creating sophisticated vegetable offerings seldom seen at these price points. Standouts include yellow cauliflower with sultanas, mint and caper berries ($9) and spring artichoke barigoule with turnip puree and rosemary ($11).
One standout in the Seafood Eat Food section is the slow steamed Thai snapper with bok choy, lotus root and sudachi sauce ($15). At $13, the grilled king salmon with blood orange and Korean pear celeriac slaw almost seems underpriced.
Meat Me Later offers Moroccan BBQ lamb belly with creamy semolina and Weiser Farm tiny carrots ($13) and Vietnamese caramel pork with green papaya ($13). Guests who yearn for simple flavors can opt for the organic fried chicken ($12) or a Meyers Farm skirt steak. The latter, at $17, is the most expensive item on the menu.
Desserts range from $5-$7, handcrafted cocktails go for $11.50 apiece and there are five beers on draught. Coffee is $5 a cup.
Given the high level of talent LeFevre brings to these top-shelf ingredients, M.B. Post is such a bargain it almost seems too good to last. Chief among the worriers that it won't is Los Angeles Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila. She showed the place plenty of love in her recent review, declaring that M.B. Post can “hold its own against anything in Southern California.” Her major concern: “I keep wondering how LeFevre can turn out this food at these prices and whether he can keep it up. I hope every person there realizes what a bargain M.B. Post is for the quality.” When a new restaurant induces a sense of concern in a sophisticated critic, you know its chef/owner is doing something right.
It's not as if the locals couldn't afford to spend a bit more on their meals. Pockets in this town are plenty deep. The average list price of a Manhattan Beach home right now, according to website Trulia.com, is a whopping $2,125,060.
So give LeFevre credit. He knew enough to live out his dream in an area that has the sophistication to appreciate what he's doing with his tapas concept and the wherewithal to pay for it. Keep this strategy in mind when you're scouting locations for that dream restaurant of your own.