Monday, July 2, 2007

Gotta Love LA

Bastide Countdown: Introducing Exec Chef Walter Manzke
Monday, July 2, 2007

Joe Pytka keeps teasing us with long-anticipated reopening of Bastide in West Hollywood. We've been obsessed since December, when we wondered about the closed restaurant. It was missed and MIA. After some sleuthing in January, we found out that Walter Manzke, a former Patina chef, was in talks to take over the kitchen. That was confirmed a few weeks later. And then Pytka starts throwing around July as an opening date. So here we are, July 2 and no official word. If Bastide really is opening this month (we're placing our bets on "maybe), it's about time we meet the man brave enough to take over the stoves, Walter Manzke himself. We have a two parter for you. Here we get to know a little about the chef, why it's great to be back in LA, and where he sees the scene going. Later, we'll try to get that opening date out of him, but it ain't easy.

You used to work in LA?
I was with Joachim Splichal for 9 years, and 6 ½ at Patina. Prior to that, I was at Pinot Bistro. Then in Carmel for 4 ½ years. I opened three restaurants, and they did very well.

Why come back?
Lots of reasons. One part is that every once in awhile you have to do something different. I have lots of friends here, and I got a little bored up north. In a way, I feel like I'm stepping right back in and haven't missed a thing. And then a lot was Bastide, the conversations that Joe and I were having. We started talking in October, and we both got excited about the project, and one thing led to another.

What's the best thing about the LA dining scene right now?
I like that maybe it's becoming more like San Francisco. It's great to see all of these small passionate places in offbeat neighborhoods.

What's your definition of a "San Francisco restaurant?"
Places that have small focused menus, like Hatfield's and The Foundry. Just doing something really well, keeping the costs under control. These giant menus with so much offered, it's become a little ridiculous. And in turn, the customer has to pay for it. And a place like Hatfield's, keeping it small and simple makes it exciting.

What bothers you about the scene?
Desserts are expensive. $12 or $14 dollars for dessert? I don't understand why it's like that. Maybe it's because the chefs are trying too hard, and because they're trying so hard, they have a big staff. That was one of the shocks coming back down here.

You're wife Marge will be doing pastries at Bastide.
Yes. We met at Patina, worked together for a long time before we got together. Then she was a sous chef at Melisse, and I was at Patina. We wanted to work together again, and in the big company I was in, we couldn't do it. So we moved up north and worked together.

What part of town did you two settle in?
Mid-Wilshire area.

Where have you dined recently?
Right now, I like to go out once or twice week. I had a great meal at Melisse last week. On the fine dining side, that's one of the best I've had since I've been back. I love Mozza. It has a great energy.

What's one place you loved when you lived here, and you can't wait to seek out again?
Ruen Pair has some of the best food for cheap. It's clean, and you can eat for under $10. I missed that.

The end-all, be-all question for any Angeleno: Where do you eat sushi?
The place that I love Nishimura. The chef is very talented.

Bastide Countdown Part II: Manzke Talks Joe Pytka, the Process, and Can We Get an Opening Date, Please?
Monday, July 2, 2007


In part one of the Bastide Countdown, we met executive chef Walter Manzke, who's taking over the stoves at Joe Pytka's still shuttered restaurant. Manzke found a lot of success in Carmel at three high-end restaurants, and now he's back in LA after five years. Why now? Joe Pytka, natch. Read on for the the chef's thoughts on what gap Bastide will fill, his new boss, and the responsible-yet-vague response to our question: When. Will. Bastide. Open.

How did this partnership with Joe Pytka come about?
I didn't know Bastide was closed, didn't hear much about it. But I was curious. I knew Joe from Patina, he was a regular. I contacted him. I knew Bastide was a beautiful spot. What Joe does and is willing to do, there aren't too many people out there that will support that. It all started as a conversation; we went out to eat a couple of times. I got really excited about it.

What a table to wait on. Where did you eat? Did you two critique everything?
We went to Spago, Providence, All' Angelo. Great meals. What's great about Joe is he loves to eat, and everyone in town knows that. He loves to dine out. Going to restaurants is one of his passions, so he doesn't get overly critical when he's there. He just tries to enjoy it. He notices everything, but he's not a difficult customer.

Is the staff in place at Bastide yet?
We have most of the key staff, but we haven't finalized everything yet. That's a detail we'll get to when we're ready. We still have some creative things we need to settle.

Tell us about the menu.
Definitely won't be French. The restaurant has a lot of French elements to it, but when it comes to the cooking, I don't like to call it French because I’m not French. I worked in France, I love France, I use a lot of French technique. I'm from California, I was born here, been here most of my life. My cooking was developed here. And I have much love for Japan, Thailand, Italy, everywhere.

That's pretty vague.
Well, we're not saying too much yet.

So, July. Happening?
We're still working on some important aspects, so we don't want to talk too much about it. The truth is, it's not going to open until it's ready to open. But I don't want to guarantee anything. If it opens in July, it won't be until the end of the month. I hope it's not too much longer than that. We're trying to do some new things, trying to bring back the great things that were here before, and add some new. We're still working on some creative elements.

Will the new Bastide fill an empty gap in the dining scene?

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