Richard Foss

MB Post is post-cultural with American, Asian, Middle Eastern influences [RESTAURANT REVIEW]

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MB Post

MB Post’s austere exterior belies its complex cuisine. Photo courtesy of MB Post

Modern cooking is fractal -– as you delve into the nature of a dish, you discover complexities of flavors, ingredients, and preparations. This can make writing a menu devilishly hard. How do you describe intricate dishes to both inform and entice diners? Too terse, and you don’t express the balance of flavors – too wordy, and even straightforward items look complicated and pretentious.

MB Post errs on the side of terseness. But it’s hard to see how they could do otherwise given the food they are offering. If chef David LeFevre was a painter, he’d be doing baroque paintings with tiny details from corner to corner. Like a good painter’s work, the picture would still tell a story if you viewed it from across the room. You can imagine how many words might be needed to describe the culinary equivalent of that painting in the context of a menu.

We didn’t know any of this when we started ordering from the menu at MB Post, but we could still tell that some unusual things were going on here. The menu is post-cultural, with American, Asian, Middle Eastern, and other influences alongside dishes that are native only to the chef’s head. We decided to order some bread, cheese, and charcuterie to nibble while we pondered the rest of the meal, and decided on a homemade pretzel with “nuclear horseradish mustard,” salami from Creminelli of Utah, and a Vermont semisoft cheese from Weybridge. It seemed in the spirit of the place to order mixed drinks, so we picked a mojito with coriander honey added and whiskey punch with grilled peach and cinnamon.

While we waited for our food to arrive we surveyed the environment, a room with one stark concrete wall and three ornamented with minimalist wood and wall treatments. The hard surfaces led to the kind of loud, echoing room that is popular with the Hollywood crowd, and the youngish and stylishly dressed patrons all talked loudly over the background music. The fact that most tables are shared probably added to the noise, since not a seat was empty and the presence of one boisterous party at a table meant that everyone else had to boost their volumes to compensate. It wasn’t quite a din, though I noticed that we were not the only ones who had to repeat orders to our server. It’s not the loudest room in the South Bay by some margin, but it’s not one where I’d go to have an important conversation over dinner.

The pretzel and charcuterie board arrived without delay but with some surprises; no mention had been made of the apple slices, toasted almonds, homemade jam, and the slices of three different grilled breads. These made up for what had seemed to be high prices, and made for a nicely decorated plate besides. The whole wheat pretzel was dusted with fleur de sel, a mild, flaky sea salt, and was fine without the very hot horseradish mustard. We alternated between the pretzel and the other breads along with the chewy salami and mild, creamy cheese, which was similar to a mild brie. The cheese was good but not outstanding, while the salami was a winner, as good as anything I’ve had from Italy, with a concentrated meaty quality.

We had ordered a salad that was described only as “marinated cucumbers, kalamata olives, peppadew peppers, chick peas,” as our next course. We had been intrigued by our server Robert’s comment that the chickpeas were served three ways – fried, roasted, and as hummos. The description didn’t do justice to the layers of flavor and texture in this dish, which had Armenian cucumber, sweet and spicy peppadew, tomato, avocado, charred green chili peppers, and pickled onion among its components. It was an astonishing combination, cooling ingredients paired with the creamy hummos and tangy onion and pepper, and it was a sign that this meal was going to be a lot more interesting than we had anticipated. The portion was nicely calibrated as a salad for two – enough that we could savor the variety but not fill up. We wiped the plate with the last of our bread.

For main courses, we selected what was described as oak grilled squid with marinated gigante beans and lemon curd; and Moroccan BBQ lamb belly, creamy semolina, and cardamom carrots. The idea of pairing squid with lemon curd had intrigued me into ordering this, but as it turned out the lemon curd was the least of the delights here. The squid legs had been battered and fried, while the body was grilled – a nice touch that showed off the different textures you can get from this underappreciated meat. The body did have dots of curd that lightly accented the smoky meat, but the marinated vegetable mix beneath it was a much more important component of the flavor. The mélange of celery leaves, carrot, peppers, potato, and pickled grapes along with the big white Greek beans was an extraordinary combination. I could have eaten a plate of this without ever getting tired of the flavors.

The lamb was almost as successful, very tasty and so tender that it came to pieces beneath my fork. The belly had been slow cooked by the sous vide method so that the fat melted off, then finished on the grill to get a bit of smoke flavor and caramelize the sauce, and it was delicious. The cardamom carrots were a nice accompaniment and authentically Moroccan. And though a North African meal would have been served with couscous, the semolina was a good substitute. It was less startling than the squid or salad, but just as tasty.

For dessert we ordered a chocolate cherry pudding cake and a sweetcorn pudding with blueberries and cornmeal cookies. By this time, I had high standards for this kitchen. The cake was densely, darkly chocolate, the center topped with cherry ice and showed what a lava cake aspires to be but so often fails at. The sweet corn pudding was a true surprise, a faithful rendition of a Colonial American favorite, served in a traditional pickling jar and topped with the lightest, crispiest cookies I can remember having. Lots of chefs have a sense of the value of Asian and European traditions, but Chef LeFevre evidently remembers that ours have some recipes that are worth reexamining.

The bill for two with a pair of mixed drinks and a glass of wine was $106, a bargain for a meal of this caliber. (It would have been $6 more, but Robert comped one dessert as an apology for delivering it slowly. I hadn’t even noticed the delay. The service was good despite the fact that we were at a shared table, and it was a delightful experience. If you have considered going here and been put off by the wait, the loud room, or the fact that most tables are shared with strangers, let me tell you that for meals like this, it’s worth it. If there is adventure in your soul and palate, you need to try MB Post.

MB Post is at 1142 Manhattan Avenue — open daily at 5 p.m. for dinner only. Most dishes $9 to $15 each. Street parking or city lots, wheelchair access to only part of restaurant due to high tables. Full bar, corkage $15, reservations available for private tables but shared tables are walk-in only. (310) 545-5405. ER

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