Knife Pleat Receives a Michelin Star
Just over two years ago, Knife Pleat by Chef Tony Esnault and Restaurateur Yassmin Sarmadi opened to great expectations at South Coast Plaza. On Tuesday, Sept, 28, the respected Michelin Guide affirmed Knife Pleat’s place in fine dining by bestowing it with a coveted Michelin star, making it the only French restaurant in Orange County to receive the recognition.
Knife Pleat’s South Coast Plaza journey began in 2017, when the center invited Esnault and Sarmadi to open a French restaurant in the Penthouse. The power couple in the Southern California dining scene was known for Spring and Church & State, downtown Los Angeles restaurants that earned stellar reviews from top critics.
Esnault, regarded as one of Southern California’s best French chefs, grew up in the Loire Valley and attended culinary school in Lyon. His resume includes stints at numerous Michelin-starred restaurants across Europe, including Carré des Feuillants in Paris, Auberge de L’Ill in Alsace, and at the legendary Louis XV restaurant in Monte Carlo, where he met his mentor, Alain Ducasse. The two chefs reunited in New York City at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House and Adour at the St. Regis. Esnault’s work with Ducasse earned the restaurants a combined five Michelin stars and three stars from The New York Times.
Sarmadi, a passionate foodie since childhood, opened Church & State in 2008, which established her as a pioneer of the burgeoning downtown L.A. culinary scene. The French bistro was named as one of the inaugural Michelin Guide California’s 2019 Bib Gourmand establishments. Spring was her first restaurant venture with Esnault.
“We sought out Tony and Yassmin in the quest to further elevate the caliber of our fine dining collection,” Debra Gunn Downing, spokeswoman for South Coast Plaza said in July 2019, ahead of Knife Pleat’s opening. “Their restaurant concept and interpretation of French cuisine for Knife Pleat represent a major step forward in the evolution of our Penthouse destination dining.”
Knife Pleat was conceptualized as a site-specific destination for fine French cuisine, next door to luxury fashion boutiques such as Oscar de la Renta, Christian Louboutin and the Louis Vuitton Atelier. The couple envisioned the restaurant as “elegant yet approachable,” designed to complement the center’s contemporary style while incorporating elements of tradition. A single door swings open to reveal a dramatic 5,000-square-foot space featuring an airy dining room wrapped with floor-to-ceiling translucent windows that slide open, and a plein air patio accented with vines and succulents. The bar provides views of the exhibition kitchen where Esnault and his team can be observed in action. The refined architecture and interiors by Johnson Fain – in collaboration with Sarmadi and Esnault – are decidedly understated, with a high fashion aesthetic and a soft palette.
The cuisine of Knife Pleat reflects Esnault’s modern interpretation of classic French techniques, drawing from 25 years of his fine dining experience in Europe, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. For the inaugural menu, Esnault created memorable courses such as chilled Langoustine with radish, green papaya, coconut espuma and lemongrass; the Crescent Duck featuring breast and leg confit with Swiss chard, Tokyo turnip and pickled rhubarb; and a Vegetable Mosaic starter composed of tomato, zucchini, watermelon radish, kohlrabi and fresh chickpea, highlighting California’s well-known seasonal produce.
Sweet delights by Pastry Chef Germain Boitteau round out the restaurant’s menu. Having acquired international experience over a 13-year period at Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris, the Yauatcha Soho in London, and Spring in downtown Los Angeles, the French-born chef pâtissier has earned praise from critics, who have called his desserts at Knife Pleat no less than “formidable.”
In a short period, Esnault, Sarmadi and their team have offered diners in Southern California a luxe culinary experience, including high tea, caviar service, weekly six-course Tasting Dinners with wine pairings, and a popular prix fixe lunch. That the esteemed Michelin Guide has noted their efforts is cause for celebration at South Coast Plaza.
“We’re overjoyed to be recognized by Michelin, the ultimate standard of excellence in dining,” Sarmadi said. “Being part of the global community of restaurants held to the same exacting standards is an honor. We thank our team who’ve played an essential role in earning this distinction, and South Coast Plaza, for providing the impeccable environment in which we’ve been able to thrive.”