Jonathan Gold Reviews MB Post
May we get this out of the way? Because whatever impression you take away from MB Post, whether you are there for the killer mojitos, the giant french fries or the waitresses who look as if they just got off the Beach Volleyball Tour, what you are going to come away thinking about are the bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuits, palm-size creatures that have the gravitational pull of the sun.
You may be a biscuit purist with a carefully maintained stash of White Lily flour and old-style Crisco, or the kind of malcontent who leans toward the more refined sectors of the pastry arts, but it is hard to deny these things: crackling crispness yielding to elastic striations of dough; an appealing saltiness that welcomes but does not require the sweetness of soft maple butter; and the smoky, animal pungency of bacon, lots of bacon, achieved without the slightest sensation of smokiness.
I am not in favor of the new trend of charging for bread, and in order to experience the bacon cheddar buttermilk biscuit you probably will be forgoing the earthy pleasures of the fleur de sel pretzel or the grilled flatbread with yogurt, but it is impossible to visit MB Post without wolfing down at least one order of these, and maybe getting another one for the road.
I am becoming increasingly less sure of what to call this year's small-plates phenomenon in Los Angeles, because it has clearly transcended the gastropub fad, the tapas craze or the modern izakaya, although it is related to all of those, as well as to the farm-to-table movement, the nose-to-tail thing and the American brasserie. Pretty much all the new places I've liked this year have had exquisitely curated beer selections, inexpensive yet weird-ass wines by the glass, well-crafted vintage cocktails and coffee rituals that feel as if they should be conducted in Latin. You probably put less thought into your college honors thesis than the restaurant did into the accompaniments it serves with cheese.
MB Post, a cavernous restaurant overseen by David LeFevre, best known for his long term as chef at downtown's Water Grill, is perfectly emblematic of the modern L.A. restaurant, open kitchen, cured-meat plates, Mort Subite on tap and all. There are forests of barstools populated by locals in for a drink and a bite, long communal tables for date night and a few actually reservable tables occupied by what look like the parents of the people at the bar. The music, which is loud, tends toward rock hits (you are not going to hear Skrillex or Elliott Smith here) and the walls are covered with post-office signs.
The recession may be on, and everyone is on a diet, but you'd never know it on a Monday night elbow to elbow with people tearing into soft hunks of braised hog jowl glazed with dark, fish sauce–infused caramel, crisp-skinned pork meatballs that explode with the flavor of aniseed, or slices of grilled skirt steak draped over a forest of grilled baby broccoli. Everything is portioned for sharing and served in Staub cast-iron cookware — lamb's-tongue salad, curried mussels, marinated cucumbers, everything — which makes sense for cheese-crusted roasted brussels sprouts with hazelnuts, which you might expect to be cooked in cast iron, but doesn't for something like bland slivers of raw hamachi draped over spoonsful of pureed avocado.
LeFevre can cook, and he has confidence in his palate. When he comes across sprouting broccoli, he has the courage to serve it simply, roasted with a squeeze of lemon and a little chile. And some of the best food in his restaurant is perhaps unexpected, like a mound of couscous with lavender, feta, almonds, pomegranate seeds and mint, which smells a bit like a sachet you'd slip into a dresser drawer to make your socks smell better, but has a complex, slightly tart suite of flavors that alludes nicely to Provence. A dish of sauteed green beans includes chile, crumbles of pork and a sweet-hot profile that calls out Sichuan, but without trying to duplicate its essence. Lamb belly is sous vide, and braised, and spiced into submission — it is not a tagine but it is wholly tagine-like, inspired by Morocco without including much that a Moroccan chef would recognize, and is not incidentally delicious. Grilled local sword squid with lemon curd? Why not: It works.
Desserts — the highlight is probably an odd concoction of bitter chocolate mousse, peanut butter mousse, bruleed banana slices and bits of candied bacon — are somewhat less accomplished than the rest of the menu. This is why there is cheese. Krummenschwiler with honeycomb? You've got the idea.
MB POST | 1142 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach | (310) 545-5405 | eatMBPost.com | Sun.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5-10:30 p.m. | AE, MC, V | Full bar | Vegetable courses $6-$10; seafood $11-$15; meat $11-$17; desserts $5-$7
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