“LeFevre and his team are cooking seafood like they’re excited by its possibilities. At the same time they also invite diners to just savor it raw and natural.”
An unusual trend has started in the SouthBay. Clebrated chefs who reign over big restaurants are opening small ones where they serve a cuisine that is close to their heart. Two of these have opened almost across the street from each other – Chef Tin’s Little Sister and David LeFevre’s Fishing With Dynamite. (Chef Tin is interviewed elsewhere in this issue.)
Fishing With Dynamite is a passion project for LeFevre, who first became famous at the groundbreaking seafood specialist The Water Grill in Downtown LA. LeFevre made his name locally at the MB Post Restaurant, which has been packed since it opened in 2011. When the former Talia’s Restaurant on the same block became available he decided to go back to his roots with seafood. In the case of Fishing With Dynamite, this meant East Coast seafood alongside what he refers to as “New School” cooking – the Mediterranean and Asian fusion that is so popular at MB Post.
The small restaurant reflects the traditional feel with a raw bar that any seafood house might be proud of. The live shellfish are neatly arranged on beds of ice and diners can enjoy watching trained chefs shucking, deshelling, and preparing oysters, scallops, clams, shrimp, and the occasional sea urchin. The pros are fast and accurate. If you tried to do this half as quickly at home you might end up short a few fingers. We sat at the raw bar and were trying to decide what to have when LeFevre came over to man the station himself. So we seized the chance to ask for a recommendation. He suggested Peruvian scallops, which are served with a dash of horseradish and lemon with a single cilantro leaf for decoration. I tried one and was so entranced by the flavor that I asked for a second completely unadorned. It was the right thing to do, and I suggest it to those who really want to understand the flavor of raw seafood . The scallop was sweetly delicious on its own, and the judicious use of condiments made it even better.
The preferred method of dining here is to share several small plates. We ordered from both the “Old School” section and more modern items. Clam chowder was a must, as were squash rolls made from the chef’s mother’s recipe. The squash was pureed and added to the batter, adding a vegetable sweetness that was hard to pin down in the otherwise conventional dinner rolls; if I hadn’t known the secret ingredient, I’d have been hard pressed to guess what it was. They were served with rosemary butter that also showed restraint, the herb a mere hint of flavor, and went great together. Much of the menu changes, but a server told us these were always offered – a good choice, because Mama LeFevre’s recipe is a winner.
The chowder was a cut above, too. Something about the texture of the clams made me ask if they had been added shortly before serving. The person who brought the soup confirmed they were. The fresh shellfish added a dimension to the soup, which had a cooked-down richness of potato and bacon with a dash of pepper and chives. Manhattan Beach hosted chowder houses in the early 1900’s and now we have a world class local place, again.
We decided to have cocktails with dinner and went very old school – a Pisco sour, favorite drink of gold rush San Francisco and an “Original Gangster”, their version of a Boulevardier. The bartenders here make classic drinks very well, but their rebrandings on the menu causes confusion. Old standards are given cute names, with the real ones following. Fortunately, the restaurant is so small that it’s only a matter of a moment to get someone’s attention and clear it up.
The next item was a Maryland crabcake, an item near and dear to my heart. My family is from Maryland and I was happy to see a crabcake made with real Chesapeake crabmeat. Back east, the shredded meat is often heavily accented with peppery seasoning, but FWD’s version let much more of the flavor shine through. The cylinder of crab had been griddled so it had a crust on top and bottom, but was moist in the middle. It was served on a mild mustard remoulade that admirably showed off the natural meat. Housemade pickles added an extra tang, and while it wasn’t as old school as I expected, I’d have it again any time.
The new school items were next – seared diver scallops over white corn puree, and grilled octopus over a Mediterranean-style bean salad with olive tapenade. Scallops have a natural sweetness and over the corn with pickled peach they were almost like a dessert, with a delicate hint of Serrano chili and cilantro kept things in balance. My wife had been indulgent about my ordering this because she isn’t a big fan of scallops, Serrano, or cilantro, but she was delighted with this exquisite item. The squid was conventional by comparison, the staple of tapas restaurants given a soy-ginger twist, but it was also delicious. It was served with cranberry beans, date and tomato ragu, preserved lemon, and olive tapenade, a set of fruity, rich, and delicately pickled flavors that combined to taste a bit like a North African tagine.
We had just enough room for dessert, a tart-sized key lime pie that had an arresting presentation. The many tiny peaks in the meringue made it look like an antenna-studded alien spaceship about to take off. It was a fine end to a fantastic meal
We were slightly surprised that we only spent $136, with four drinks. The price was remarkable for such personal service and excellent food. LeFevre and his team are cooking seafood like they’re excited by its possibilities. At the same time
they invite diners to just savor it raw and natural. It’s a wise strategy, and when fans of his work at the Water Grill and MB Post stop if for a visit, they will be won over.
Fishing With Dynamite is at 1148 Manhattan Avenue in Manhattan Beach. Open daily at 11:30 a.m. – close 10 p.m. midweek, 10:30 Fr/Sa. Full bar, street parking only. Reservations recommended. Menu at eatfwd.com, phone 310-893-6299. B