4/26/2013 03:08:00 PM

David LeFevre Talks Oysters, Not Really Fishing With Dynamite and More

LeFevre workin' some oysters at PBFW
David LeFevre is just about to open his second Manhattan Beach restaurant, Fishing With Dynamite, only a few doors away from his two-year-old and still super-hot MB Post. The chef made his stamp on the South Bay and LA scene with these fun, casual spots and food that blends influences from his life (Midwest and East Coast), career (starting with Charlie Trotter, and last at the helm of Water Grill) and travels (especially Europe and Southeast Asia), plus a dash of California cool.

When he opened MB Post, it was all about creating a space and menu that he himself would enjoy. It's the same with Fishing With Dynamite, which he describes as a place where "East Coast nostalgia meets West Coast vibe," a small, beach-cottage-style space with a great oyster bar and other seafood specialties on the menu. With just a few days left before the grand opening on April 30, LeFevre found a few minutes to chat about his love of the South Bay, finding his calling as a designer, not really fishing with dynamite and the seafood explosion (sorry) around LA.

Zagat: You’re deep in it right now, aren't you? What’s a day like for you, with one restaurant going full tilt and another ready to open?
David LeFevre: Right now. Ha. Well, it’s a lot of training right now. Our greatest asset is great people. We have 50-plus people hired, and the goal is to get them acquainted with our culture, what we believe in, to understand the food and that it’s all about making people’s lives better. I usually get up, look at my punch list of things I have to do, usually about 100 items that need to be finished that day, which is nowhere near how many we started with. We start training mid-morning. We’ve been doing about six to eight hours of training for the last week and a half. We started with raw bar training, then to the different parts of the menu. We’ve tasted all the food, the cooks have cooked it all, the servers tasted it all every day. We shucked oysters every day, so they really understand the culture of oysters.

Then we hit a point where I need to follow up with the health and building inspectors, and I spend about an hour a day paying bills. Since I’m the project manager for this, which is different than Post, where I just worked on the kitchen, the menu and design, I’m in charge of the designers, the architects, the electricians. It’s really a lot of stuff. And it’s exciting to learn it all.

Z: So tell us about Fishing With Dynamite.
DL: I spent my summers on the eastern shore of Virginia, and I loved trying to catch blue crab, and catching striped bass and sailing. And that really gave me - and I didn’t realize it until later in life - but it gave me a foundation. Out here, seafood is a different feeling. The thing that binds them is the love of the ocean, just for different reasons. East coast is nostalgic, people living off the ocean, and there’s this grit and strength of people working on it. Out here, there's some of that, but here it’s the relaxation, the tranquility, the entertainment through surfing and things like that. It's just a different vibe, more of a pleasure. But they both meet with seafood. They both really love seafood.

Z: What about the name?
DL: The name is funny. You know me, I take my guests and the food very seriously, but I don’t take myself very seriously. When we opened Post, everyone expected seafood because of my experience at Water Grill. When this space came available, it just seemed right and direct and a no-brainer to do a seafood restaurant in a place so close to the ocean. We don't really even have an oyster bar in Manhattan Beach, you know? It was an organic natural path for us. It was like fishing with dynamite. All the stars were aligning, it was the obvious choice.

Z: You've gotten some guff for calling it Fishing With Dynamite, haven't you?
DL: Well the phrase means a lot of different things. I obviously don’t condone actually fishing with dynamite. We’ve had little feedback from that. People actually said the name is hard to wrap their head around because they're scuba divers and stuff like that. And I value our guests' opinions, but if they know me, my history at Water Grill and caring about the ocean and the product as much as I do, I don’t think it’s as big a deal as three or four people are making it. It’s a fun name. The majority of people love it.

Z: What’s one thing that’s really going to blow us away there? No pun intended... ok, maybe it was.
DL: It’s tough for me to say. It’s like picking a favorite kid. I think Ray Hayashi, our chef de cuisine, is phenomenal. I think the work that he and I have done together is really really great. The raw bar is awesome. The effort that we’re putting forth to track down oysters. It’s going to be really unique. The way the menu is formatted is really fun. I think the crab cake is great. It’s all jumbo lump blue crab meat, no binder, we just basically fold a mixture of different sauces into the meat. And we sprinkle bread crumbs on top and bottom. It’s a chunky, East Coast-style crab cake, what I love. I’m really excited about that.

Z: What else?
DL: I’m really excited about the design of the restaurant. For me, I've found something else that I’m good at. I’ve always loved cooking and the camaraderie and having fun when you’re working really hard in a restaurant. And there’s the other part that I found out with Post, that I really like design. The design of the restaurant, the service, the music, getting all the things together. That’s really fun. I feel like we did a great job at Post. But what we’ve done with FWD is really solid. Here I'm like a Creative Director. Choosing the materials, the flooring, it’s been really satisfying. Yesterday we took the paper off the windows, turned on the lights and set the tables. And the whole crew was really excited.
Z: It's amazing coming to that later in the game.
DL: Yeah. The other day I was showing someone the original menu and drawings that I put on graph paper, the idea. Like a mock for our designers to go off of. And it's amazing. There are all of these little seeds that you plant, and over the process, in this case a year, all of a sudden you’re sitting and looking at a real menu next to the original with my chicken scratch on it. I had to physically draw things that I wanted in my restaurant. It’s so cool to look at this graph paper and to look at the server station that they custom-built for you. Or the oyster bar with its grated floor so the shells go in, so the station stays clean. You see it come to life. And then you see something you totally screwed up and think, Damn, I didn’t find a space for the trash can. You’re totally humbled.

Z: There are a lot of seafood restaurants popping up around town right now. It’s amazing. It’s like the new gastropub.
DL: I don’t know why it’s happening, but I embrace it. Between (Jason) Travi and (Michael) Cimarusti, two great chefs who have seafood boiling in their veins, they’re doing places that are for all the people, not just for some of the people. I love that places like Littlefork and Connie & Ted’s, they’re soulful. The restaurants we open now and in the future will always be handcrafted, soulful and artisanal. I have to tell you that L&E does a wonderful job. In the last year I’ve been there four or five times, which says a lot for me. Especially because it’s like 25 miles away from me.

You know, running a seafood restaurant is difficult. It’s all perishable product. You have to know your purveyors. You have to sell the product. Out of all the products, seafood is the most fickle to cook. Some of it’s delicate, some of it isn't. You’ll cook cod differently than loup de mer. It takes a really deft cook to do that. If you’re doing a seafood restaurant, you have to love it, you have to have it in your blood, be ok with having fish scales in your hair.

Z: You've sort of taken over Manhattan Beach. Why was it time for FWD and MB Post?
DL: Well we opened here because I love Manhattan Beach. I didn’t open either one because of the opinion I have of the culinary scene here, but because I just love the people. The way of living here is just what I embrace. We have a group of loyal guests who love this town. They’re really proud of and support something special, whether it’s a boutique or a fireworks display. I feel like I’ve never been in a place like Manhattan Beach, and I’ve been all over the world - Iceland, Europe, Thailand, all over Southeast Asia.

Z: You really are such a South Bay boy. Where do you eat and drink?
DL: I love Shin Sen Gumi, they do an amazing job. I love Torihei. I like to drink at Ercoles, my favorite bar. It's been here since 1927, a great little hole-in-the-wall. The four things that they cook are really good, there's a great jukebox and a picnic table in the middle. If I want to go for a beer, I love Simmzy’s. They have great burgers and fresh salads.

Z: Your favorite day?
DL: The best day in the South Bay is getting up with my girlfriend, getting on our beach bikes, coasting down to the beach, stopping for a beer or breakfast in some of my favorite holes-in-the-wall. And just spending the day on the beach. Biking to work is amazing. My quality of life has gone up exponentially since moving here. I’m like the luckiest guy in the world.

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