M.B. Post superstar David LeFevre and chef-on-the-rise Michael Fiorelli explain the sea change-for-the-better in the sizzling-haute Manhattan Beach dining scene.
Chefs Michael Fiorelli of Love & Salt and M.B. Post’s David LeFevre toast the South Bay foodie renaissance.
At Playa Provisions, the world is one’s culinary oyster. Thanks to a unique four-in-one concept, patrons can gorge on everything from seasonal seafood to small-batch ice cream to rare whiskies. The restaurant is the brainchild of Top Chef runner-up Brooke Williamson and her husband, Nick Roberts, and today, chefs David LeFevre and Michael Fiorelli are feasting on their whimsical fare. “Was it Julia Child who said, ‘Everything in moderation, including moderation?’” asks LeFevre, surveying the A-to-Z eclectic spread that includes oysters, Connecticut crab rolls, coconut chia seed pudding, and a trio of salads.
But to review the recent pattern of expansion over the last several years for all four of these entrepreneurs, it’s easy to see that moderation isn’t on the proverbial menu. Williamson and Roberts now own three restaurants around the South Bay (Hudson House, The Tripel, and Playa Provisions); LeFevre is behind the buzzy M.B. Post and Fishing with Dynamite; and Fiorelli launched Love & Salt last November after leaving Terranea Resort in Palos Verdes.
It’s all part of a restaurant renaissance that’s lighting the South Bay dining scene on fire (GQ named Manhattan Beach its “Best Beach Town for Chowing Down” in 2014). But why is the city suddenly packing so much culinary heat? We sat down with LeFevre and Fiorelli to get the dish.
Morning becomes electric! Playa Provisions’ breakfast sandwich of turkey, bacon, Gruyère, vinegarcooked collards, avocado, and a fried egg is doused in house-pickled habanero sauce.
What first drew you both to the South Bay?
MICHAEL FIORELLI: When I first moved here, I came from the East Coast and was working in West Hollywood. I thought, This is LA? It wasn’t what I’d imagined at all. Then I took a day trip to Manhattan Beach, and the pier was exactly how I’d pictured California. Coming full circle eight years later and meeting my partners who had a space in Manhattan Beach, I remembered that initial feeling and knew it was the perfect spot. DAVID LEFEVRE: Four or five months into [my stint at] the Water Grill Downtown, a coworker invited me to watch a football game down in the South Bay. I remember hitting the PCH, seeing the ocean, and being like, “Oh my God, this is it.” I moved down to Hermosa two months later. But after I connected with my partners [Chris and Mike Simms], we noticed we were always driving to Venice and Hollywood whenever we went on dates. Finally we came together and said, “Let’s do something here.”
There’s a perception that the collective palate in the South Bay is shifting from more conservative to a “foodie” culture. DL: Manhattan Beach is the third-wealthiest neighborhood in LA right now—[the clientele] are very well-traveled, experienced diners. Many of them are high-level executives or business owners; however, they’re not necessarily more conventional. Will it ever be like Manhattan, New York? No. You don’t have the same amount of people. But percentage-wise, you have just as many adventurous [eaters] as you do in, say, Hollywood.
Which dishes have resonated most with your clientele?
DL: Our most popular menu items are the ones that have a story behind them. We have a biscuit at M.B. Post that sells like crazy, and it’s based on my mom’s biscuit recipe. The dish is a totally soulful connection to my childhood. As a chef, the great thing is you can take that biscuit and add some bacon and cheddar and serve it with maple butter—it’s about taking the copper and spinning it into gold. MF: His biscuits have their own Facebook page! [Laughs] At Love & Salt, we have everything from pizzas and pastas to lamb’s tongue and pig’s ears. You have to hit a home run with the basics—once [patrons] trust you with those, next time they may try the lamb’s tongue.
Chef Brooke Williamson and her husband, Nick Roberts, in the kitchen at Playa Provisions.
Are there any ambitious dishes or ingredients you’re hoping to introduce this year?
MF: It’s not so much about what the ingredient is, but how you’re using it. For instance, we’re trying to find new vegetables that people haven’t seen before and prepare them in unique ways. Rather than throw carrot tops away, we make a pesto out of them; we’re also making a very labor-intensive puree from cardoons, which are artichoke stems. I want people to eat vegetables and feel like they’re indulging.
How do you think the South Bay fits into the bigger LA dining picture?
MF: What I can tell you is people from LA—not only guests, but also chefs and restaurateurs—are coming to the South Bay to check out what we’re doing, which is very cool. It speaks to what’s happening in LA in general, with people coming from San Francisco and New York and other major restaurant scenes to see what’s cooking. We’re seeing that on a micro level in the South Bay now.
Where does that curiosity stem from?
MF: People opening great projects—M.B. Post and Fishing with Dynamite set it off, for sure. Before I had a restaurant in Manhattan Beach, I was driving down to eat here. DL: Is the goal to have the South Bay on people’s radar? No—the goal is to open a great neighborhood restaurant, and any [positive] spillage outside of that is great.
What might surprise people about South Bay cuisine?
DL: The South Bay has a ton of really great Asian restaurants—Torihei in Torrance and Shin-Sen-Gumi in Gardena are two of my favorites. MF: David hit it right on the head. It’s not just Asian food; it’s the style of dining. Take Sushi Chitose, a really unassuming place in Redondo Beach; you go inside and you feel like you’re in Tokyo. They serve real Japanese omakase with monkfish liver and geoduck clams, shucked tableside. There’s a whole culture down here that hasn’t really been discovered yet.
What food trends are you picking up on?
DL: It’s funny—on one end, you have an extremely healthy lifestyle, with surfing, beach volleyball, and exercise, and then you have the other end of things, which is this social-drinking atmosphere. We don’t sell a ton of desserts at any of our restaurants, but we sell a ton of vodka tonics.
What’s coming up for you in 2015?
DL: In May, I’m opening a new restaurant 45 seconds away from M.B. Post. [The concept] will be focused around beef, and it will have a wood-fire grill. People are calling it a steakhouse, but things get so categorized. To say it’s a steakhouse, [people picture] burgundy padded booths and dark [lighting], and it definitely won’t be that. MF: Love & Salt has only been open for a few months, so we’re still thinking about different ways to serve the community. We’ve certainly felt really embraced—when we opened, the chef from Little Sister sent an e-mail welcoming me to the neighborhood, and David [LeFevre] showed up with two 12-packs of beer. That feeling of community can be hard to find in LA—there are only certain pockets, and Manhattan Beach is one of them.