It is possible to reserve a table at Fishing With Dynamite, I have heard, to make a phone call or to get lucky on Open Table, or to walk into the 33-seat restaurant directly from an afternoon at the beach. You might even catch a sliver of sunset from the not-quite-ocean-view restaurant. If a developer could include a guaranteed seat at the oyster bar in the price of a new beach condo, he or she could probably tack an extra hundred grand onto the price. A glass of Sancerre, a half-dozen Naked Cowboys and blasting Bob Seger may be why you move to Manhattan Beach, or so I dream. The rest of us will have to settle for leaving our names at the door, grabbing a pale ale down the block and sauntering back when the magic hour grows near. There are worse ways to spend a warm Friday evening.
Fishing With Dynamite is the newish seafood restaurant from David LeFevre, who owns the comparatively vast Manhattan Beach Post next door and who came to local attention when he succeeded Michael Cimarusti as chef at Water Grill, maintaining its reputation as one of the best fish restaurants in town. The meaty, spicy, vegetable-intensive gastropub cooking at MB Post, which he opened a couple of years ago, seemed almost designed to build LeFevre’s reputation as a chef who had progressed beyond seafood — it is a restaurant you’d want to cater your tailgate party. But really, you probably suspected that he had lost none of his knack for sourcing littlenecks, for searing diver scallops or for grilling whole squid. When a chef turns toward the watery part of the world, he will not long be satisfied with caramelized pork jowl and fleur de sel pretzels, no matter how delicious.
So you will sometimes find LeFevre behind the counter of his restaurant, hairy and cheerful, blasting sand off scallop shells with a hose or scrubbing the clams for his bacony New England clam chowder. An order comes in for Santa Barbara sea urchin and he dexterously mines the spiky shell for its lobes of bright orange roe, which he deals like cards onto a pebbly bed of ice. (It is so fresh, this sea urchin, that you can feel the individual eggs with your tongue.) He retreats next door; an oyster shucker flips open Sweet Petites, Kiwi Cups and other examples of the oyster farmer’s art, with which he offers all manner of ponzu and mignonette. (In practice, even a squeeze of lemon might be overkill with oysters like these.) Tiny Peruvian scallops, cold and fresh, have a penetrating nutty sweetness only heightened by a pinch of spiced salt.
There is whole grilled sword squid with sliced chiles on LeFevre’s short menu; super-thin grilled asparagus and a competent tomato salad with burrata; seasoned fries and tasty, if one-dimensional, Thai-influenced mussel soup with coconut. One afternoon, there was a whole New Zealand snapper stuffed with garlic, bok choy and ginger and then tempura-fried. When you eased a fillet off the snapper’s frame, you unleashed a universe of Asian fragrance, and it was hard to stop eating until there was nothing left but bone.
But is it as good as Connie and Ted’s? It is a reasonable question, because a comparison between the first-rate seafood restaurants opened by two former Water Grill chefs is inevitable, even beyond the comparable long waits. They are two completely different restaurants, to be sure: one small, the other big; one at the beach and the other in town; one leaning toward Southeast Asia and the other toward coastal Rhode Island. You could have dinner at either of them and you would be happy. And while Cimarusti is perhaps more labor-intensive than LeFevre — his kitchen will always take the extra step to extract the essence from a lobster shell or to ensure that your next bite of sea urchin does not include a mouthful of crushed ice — LeFevre is also a master at building flavor. And those squash buns!
LeFevre’s cooking is refreshing and light. So you will have room for the bread pudding made with the soft pretzels he bakes for his restaurant next door, all dark chocolate, gooey caramel sauce and salty, salty chew.
David LeFevre couldn’t resist the call of the sea. Ahoy!
1148 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach, (310) 893-6299
Oysters, $3.25-$3.50; small plates, $9-$19; desserts, $6-$8
Open 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Wednesdays, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays. Credit cards accepted. Full bar. Valet parking.
Oysters, grilled sword squid, fried stuffed New Zealand snapper.