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Fade-out, remake at Bastide

January 11, 2006|Corie Brown

IN the end, Bastide was just too French for commercial director-cum-restaurateur Joe Pytka. Later this month, Pytka will be closing the tony Provencal restaurant on Melrose Place that he famously spent $3.5 million to open in October 2002. In its place, he plans to open a new restaurant this spring that will be, well, less French.

"I want the restaurant to be more reflective of Southern California," he says.

Bastide designer Andree Putman is coming back to overhaul the restaurant's elegantly understated countryside decor with a look that throbs with a more "provocative" vibe. "I want it to be more urban and hip," Pytka says.

That means tossing out the rattan furniture and rolling in the cushy upholstery. Out with the textured gray linens, Pytka says, and in with, well, he's not sure what. Putman hasn't completed her plans for redesign.

The changes, including a new name (yet to be decided), are designed to fit chef Ludovic Lefebvre's food, which Pytka doesn't feel worked with the existing decor.

"Ludo's food was shocking to people who came in expecting Alain's food," Pytka says. The reference is to Alain Giraud, Bastide's original chef, whose sophisticated Provencal cooking earned the restaurant raves from critics around the country and four stars from the Los Angeles Times.

A year and a half ago, Pytka surprised the culinary world when he let Giraud go and hired Lefebvre, a younger, more experimental chef who made waves with dishes such as foie gras pina colada and chanterelle soup with licorice and coffee. (Lefebvre earned one star in a Nov. 3, 2004, review in The Times.)

The globetrotting Lefebvre says he wants "people to travel the world with my food." While the new restaurant's menu will be recognizably French, with items "like coq au vin, or something," he plans to continue using a free hand with exotic spices from around the world, even in classic French dishes. He also plans to offer a "chef's table," which will feature his most avant-garde cooking.

Still, the struggle to keep Bastide alive has mellowed Lefebvre's experimental tendencies. He now admits that less adventurous diners need dishes they recognize and understand. But Lefebvre adds that there will always be "a touch of something to surprise -- a special spice from India or something," even in the most classic dishes.

The kitchen will be renovated to incorporate some new culinary toys. In particular, Lefebvre is excited to have a sous-vide machine that will enable him to vacuum-pack food in plastic pouches that can be slow cooked for up to 48 hours.

Bastide's much ballyhooed French-only wine list is undergoing a radical transformation too. The cellar is being expanded to include major Old World regions, as well as wines from the New World.

"There are so many exciting, controversial wines," Pytka says. Such as? "Amarone, the garage wines from Pomerol, a Chilean wine I had recently in Buenos Aires [that] was spectacular."

Lefebvre, who struggled to match his envelope-pushing food to Bastide's classic French wines, is thrilled with the new wine list. "There is a lot of good wine from around the world," he points out. "It's not all from France."

Pytka opened Bastide saying quite the opposite. "I thought then that if you were going to have a Provencal restaurant, you should be able to close your eyes and believe you were in France," he says. And, no question, he points out, that conceit allowed him to indulge his love of wines from Burgundy and Bordeaux. After all, he financed Bastide entirely on his own.

But it ended up being too much of the same thing, even for Pytka.

"The Bastide concept was limiting," he says. "That kind of purity of Frenchness is boring. We took it as far as we could."

-- Corie Brown

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