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Bastide shuttered as staff awaits word on new concept

November 24, 2008 |  5:08 pm

Bastide

The saga of Bastide, the West Hollywood restaurant with the revolving cast of high-profile chefs who have a tendency to leave — voluntarily or not — continues.

On Monday, Bastide’s crew arrived to find the monogrammed blue doors closed, the restaurant inexplicably shuttered by its mercurial owner/commercial director Joe Pytka just weeks after a glowing 3 1/2 star review in the Los Angeles Times.

“We were called into the [Pytka’s production] office and told that the restaurant’s closed, that Joe wants to re-conceive,” said sommelier Pieter Verheyde, when reached by phone Monday afternoon.

“We were kind of surprised,” said Verheyde, who has been at Bastide since 2007. Pytka, who is in Scotland, returns on Wednesday. The staff was told that Pytka would give them details upon his return.  Neither Pytka nor chef Paul Shoemaker could be reached for comment Monday.

“It is what it is,” Verheyde said. “I have no regrets, because we’ve been able — with Joe’s means — to create something original.”

As of now, “the door is locked,” confirmed Pytka’s publicist Joan Luther, who repeated the term Verheyde had used: Pytka “has an idea to re-conceive,” Luther said. Calls to Pytka’s office referred the matter to Luther.

Bastide has a well-documented history of chef-shuffling, of sudden turns and shifts in direction and of abrupt closings. It has gone through four head chefs in less than six years, including a year and a half when it was closed.

Pytka spent a reported $3.5 million to open Bastide at the end of 2002, with chef Alain Giraud at the helm. Under Giraud, Bastide earned an unprecedented four stars from Los Angeles Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila.

But less than two years later, Pytka let Giraud go, replacing the Paris-born chef (now chef-owner of the Santa Monica brasserie Anisette) with Ludovic Lefebvre, formerly of L’Orangerie.

Lefebvre didn’t make it to the two-year mark either. After unfavorable reviews for his avant-garde cuisine (one star from Virbila), Pytka and Lefebvre parted ways.

At that time, Pytka shut down his restaurant much the way Willie Wonka closed the doors of his chocolate factory; designers and chefs came and went presenting their ideas while Pytka searched for the magic formula for the restaurant, but the dining public was not invited.

For a year and a half, Angelenos waited.

Then in July of last year, Bastide finally reopened with new design, a new menu and a new chef. Walter Manzke, who came down from Carmel with his wife Marge, Bastide’s new pastry chef, drew an appreciative audience and three stars — before he quit this past May.

To fill Manzke’s place, Pytka tapped Shoemaker, previously chef de cuisine at Providence. It seemed a good fit, and Bastide ascended to 3 1/2 stars on his watch. Four chefs, and it looked like a return to the realm of four stars, or at least pretty close.

Wrote Virbila in her review: “As Pytka conceives it, Bastide is not simply a place to eat; it’s an ongoing experiment in the restaurant as performance art. It’s also possibly the most civilized place to dine in Los Angeles.”

That was less than a month ago. Now the staff is cooling its heels, waiting until Pykta gets off a plane and they learn if this is to be a short hiatus — or a very long Thanksgiving vacation.

“Reconception,” especially as employed by a man such as Joe Pytka, is a very relative term.

RELATED COVERAGE: A look through the L.A. Times archives underscores the highs, lows and in-betweens at one of the city's most talked-about restaurants, as well as the economic backdrop of the restaurant world:

By Amy Scattergood, Times Staff Writer

Photo credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

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