Date Night Special
MB Post is always a delight, and is a little more special on a quiet evening
Monday is the slowest day for the restaurant industry, and the generally stated reason is that most people dine out on weekends and spend the following day recovering. Or perhaps it’s their wallets recovering, because they feel less affluent after spending on fancy food and drink on Saturday and Sunday. Whichever it is, it has become the day that many places give their staff the day off.
I’m out of step, because Monday is my favorite day to visit restaurants in South Bay downtowns. I spend less time finding parking and waiting for a table, more time interacting with servers who aren’t slammed, and have a better experience in a quieter restaurant. Monday is my preferred date night with my wife, when we window shop the stores, have a relaxed meal, and stroll the Strand before resuming our week refreshed.
Our new favorite spot for a Monday dinner is MB Post, where we have always appreciated the food but found the indoor dining experience loud and hectic. A recent remodel reduced the volume level and made what had been a barnlike room into a series of more intimate spaces. It’s now a much more pleasant dining experience, and on Mondays there are alcoves where you can converse in normal tones.
The menu has changed over time, but that’s no surprise – chef David LeFevre loves to work with fresh produce, so the offerings have been hyper-seasonal since day one. A few old favorites like the bacon-cheddar buttermilk biscuits are always on the menu, but on two recent visits we started with newer items like the little gem lettuce and sweet plum salad, chicken liver toast, and seared scallops over pickled green tomato succotash. As is often the case with Chef David’s food, both the flavors and the presentation of the scallops were well thought out and intricately planned. Three plump scallops were laid atop slices of bourbon-glazed pork belly that were perched atop grilled peaches, which were over a sweet corn puree. A spoonfull of corn and pickled green tomato succotash on either side and a few basil leaves for decoration completed the plate. The presentation was worthy of an art museum, while the flavors were rooted in rustic traditions of the Low Country south. There was so much going on here that I could have easily eaten a full plate of this as an entree, and I might have ordered another serving after the first bite if we didn’t already have more items coming.
At another meal we started with the plum salad and those famous cheddar biscuits, and they were a perfect complement to each other. The plums with butter lettuce, cherry gastrique, and cucumbers were all cool natural flavors that were nicely offset by marcona almonds, goat cheese, and a slightly tart sherry vinaigrette. Eating this alongside a warm cheddar biscuit with flecks of smoky bacon was a delightful contrast in flavor, scent, and texture. If you visit MB Post while stonefruit are at their peak, which is probably within the next month, I highly recommend getting both.
Chicken liver toast isn’t seasonal, but if it was I’d expect to want it in winter, when rich, fatty items are comfort food on cool evenings. This item isn’t generally a favorite flavor of mine, but we ordered it because my wife enjoys it and we have great confidence that the kitchen here can make anything delicious. That confidence was not misplaced, because the rich liver had been marinated in port wine and served over a spread of cherry preserves, and the fruitiness of both moderated the funkiness of the organ meat. Black poppy seeds, toasted pistachios, and a sprinkling of thyme lent subtle sharpness and herbal flavors, and the whole wheat toast added delicate grainy nuttiness that would have been absent if a sourdough or other white bread had been used. As we ate this, we marveled that anyone could think of pairing all these flavors together, and that it could work so extraordinarily well.
At both meals we ordered a few small plates and finished with a more substantial shared item, and the entrees we selected were the green pesto cavatelli and the southern fried jidori chicken. The cavatelli here is made in house with ricotta cheese blended with the flour, the same process used to make some kinds of gnocchi. As with gnocchi, the pasta is moist and fluffy, and making these in the ribbed cavatelli style helps the sauce stick to them. That sauce is a lightly garlicky basil and spinach pesto, enhanced by toasted herbed breadcrumbs, roasted cherry tomatoes, a judicious amount of Italian fennel sausage, and a dusting of Parmesan. It’s not spectacular cooking and presentation as the scallops were, but it’s a sign that Chef David knows that sometimes you just can’t beat an Italian grandma’s recipe. Execute it beautifully and your inventive items will seem all the more so when savored at the same meal.
The fried chicken was in the same mold, pieces of traditional buttermilk-brined bird in a lightly seasoned batter, fried so they’re crisp outside and moist within. Any southern roadhouse would be happy to serve this, and the housemade pickles that were on the side, but might have trouble crafting the pecan-bacon slaw. That mix of shredded cabbage, carrots, and other vegetables was on the vinegary side rather than heavy on the mayonnaise, which is how I like it, but my wife found it a bit too tart. A brown butter hot sauce was also on the plate, and I tried a few dips with the chicken, but liked the unadorned flavor so much that I didn’t use much of it.
The cocktail program at MB Post has always turned out interesting drinks to complement the food, and they seem to be going through a whimsical phase. The dirty martini called “Such a Socre-tease” used a pepperoncini brine that I found a bit overwhelming, but the other drinks we tried had the same flair with unlikely ingredients as the cooking. The “Sol d’Oro” is a milk punch, a drink that was last widely popular in the early 19th century, made with pisco brandy, white rum, pineapple, and banana, which are not too far from traditional, and yerba mate tea and cardamom mist, which aren’t. It takes the rich, fruity alcohol of old English punches to the edge of tiki drink territory, and if you enjoy new twists on the classics, this one’s for you. Don’t try to eat the dried pineapple wheel or you’ll regret it, because the edges are crunchy and sharp, but do order it.
At my wife’s insistence, we finished with a sticky toffee pudding, a dessert I have tried in Britain but rarely liked because it’s usually an undifferentiated mass of overwhelming sweetness. The MB Post version is a great improvement on this, with the sweetness moderate and of slightly smoky caramel rather than sugar, and some flavor to the cake beneath. A few coffee crisps added a bitter counterpoint, and I might have liked a few more of those, but it was still enjoyable.
Our Monday dates were surprisingly frugal, between fifty and sixty bucks per person before tip. For a relaxing evening of excellent food and service, it’s the best bargain at the beach.
MB Post is at 1142 Manhattan Avenue in Manhattan Beach. Open 5 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. Su-Fr, 10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. Sa-Su. Street parking or nearby lots, full bar, vegetarian friendly, wheelchair access good, noise level moderately high in most areas. Phone 310-545-5405, menu at eatmbpost.com. ER