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The refined and elegant dining room at Spring, on the corner of Spring and 3rd Street in downtown LA, is Tony Esnault and his wife Yassmin Sarmadi’s dream restaurant.
I first met Esnault in 2010 while dining at Patina restaurant next to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Before Patina Group chef and founder Joachim Splichal hired him, Chef Esnault, from the Loire Valley, worked alongside Michelin award winning chef Alain Ducasse.
He eventually left Patina to open Church & State with Sarmadi. After a few delays, Spring opened in February on the ground floor of the Douglas Building. They took over a street-front space, formerly occupied by the Japanese bar/eatery Origami. They also acquired the outdoor common area to the Douglas Building lofts. The flooring is concrete and above is a huge glass pyramid-shaped skylight, allowing natural light to stream in during the day.
Last month, my husband and I walked into the dark, speakeasy style bar attached to the restaurant for a pre-dinner cocktail. The decor is dark gray and blue with vintage-style furnishings for a classic feel. The walls have a variety of different picture frames that the owners found while antique shopping and visiting auction houses. Other interesting tchotchke items are featured in a glass case located between the bar and restaurant. There is a collection of egg holders, metal molds, wine openers, candle snifters and a hand cranked pasta contraption. In the back of the restaurant is a large, wall-sized map of France from the year 1968.
The hostess led us to a small table next to a trickling four-level fountain. A few eight foot tall trees in huge glazed pots decorated with strings of tiny white lights are strategically placed around the room.
Glancing at Spring’s menu I noticed a nightly five-course prix fixe and a variety of a la carte items. The dishes are more refined Southwest French cuisine than Esnault’s Church and State rustic French food. The space at Spring is a tad more sophisticated, offering a more romantic, fine dining experience, and the tables are more spread out than at Church and State. The staff is excellently trained here, as with the sister restaurant.
We started with a salade d’automne filled with Farmers Market produce that were peeled and cubed. The purple beets and butternut squash framed the edges of the plate, among layers of smooth endive standing up at a slant, torn colorful and slightly bitter radicchio and curly frissee. For texture Esnault dots the salad with bright red pomegranate seeds, dry and crunchy bite-sized croutons, and toasted pumpkin seeds.
The wine steward, dressed in a blue suit, suggested a glass of Chateau D’Ollieres Rose’ from Provence and an Alphonse Mellot Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre to pair with this salad.
Esnault looked into his dining room from the white and silver open kitchen. I watched him throughout the evening leading his kitchen team. With an impeccable eye, Esnault examines each dish and adds a snip of herbs or sprinkle of salt, before handing it off to a server to deliver to a table.
A member of his kitchen staff was peeling vegetables and cutting them into jewel shapes to arrange artfully on a plate with honey spiced Maple Leaf Farms duck breast adorned with huckleberries, sliced watermelon radish and baby turnips.
Our next course was a bowl of al dente risotto aux champignones made with Italian Carnaroli rice, known as the “king of rices.” Guests receive warm empty bowls to fill from a larger bowl of risotto to share communal style at the table. We learned from our server that Esnault likes this type of rice because it holds its shape better than others for the slow cooking process to make a divine risotto. It’s mixed with three different types of mushrooms – lobster mushrooms known for their seafood aroma when cooked; the darker thick, smooth and wavy wood ear mushroom that is popular in Asian dishes, and chanterelles offering a slightly peppery essence. A generous handful of Parmesan Reggiano and extra virgin olive oil are whipped into a frothy white sauce that frames the edges of the risotto and adds richness to this dish.
I was in the mood for fish and ordered the white halibut that arrived in a bowl with a colorful mosaic of carrots, onions, celery and turnips mixed with cannellini beans. It was similar to a Southwest French stew with a vegetable jus that you must eat with a fork and finish with a spoon. This is a Basque country staple elevated to a new level in appearance and flavors.
We finished with two exquisite desserts offering a chocolate and Tahitian profile. The chocolate was made with bittersweet ganache that looked like Hershey kisses, surrounding a scoop of lemon honey sorbet on a bed of chocolate crumble for texture. Our wine steward paired this with a glass of ten year old Smith Woodhouse Tawny Port.
The second dessert was fruits exotiques with a Tahitian panna cotta and cubes of fresh mango and a passion fruit coulis surrounding a scoop of coconut sorbet. A meringue wafer gave this dessert height.
Before leaving, we met the General Manager, Sophie Bonnet, and learned that she and Esnault have many things in common. Both worked with the esteemed Alaine Ducasse. Bonnet worked at a restaurant named Spring in Paris, located near the Louvre (not affiliated with Esnault’s Spring). Before working with Esnault, Bonnet was a restaurant manager for Michael Voltaggio at Ink, and at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.
She told me she respects Esnault’s work ethic.
“He is a perfectionist, and so am I, so we understand each other,” Bonnet said.
She also told us that lunch at Spring is the best deal in Los Angeles. The three course lunch menu is $24 and changes daily. It’s a great spot to get away from the intensity of the city and sit among natural light, trees and a soothing fountain.
Lilly Pulitzer once said, “Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring.” Despite the cold and cloudy winter season, dining at Spring will perk up all of your senses.
For holiday gatherings, Esnault offers a special Menu de Noël starting with hors d’oeuvres and a choice of a chicory, frisée, beets, persimmon salad; salmon gravlax or ravioli with foie gras. Entrée choices are slowly cooked wild halibut with Manilla clams; Maple Leaf Farms duck breast with sweet potato or filet mignon. Finish your Christmas Eve dinner with buche de noel or the lighter Tahitian dessert I adored. This festive holiday dinner is $72 per guest with a $36 wine pairing.
$$-$$$ 257 S. Spring St., (213) 372-5189 or visit springlosangeles.com.
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