Spring, the highly anticipated French restaurant in DTLA, opens today

If you've been waiting for Spring, the highly anticipated French restaurant from the team behind Church & State, to open — a 6,000-square-foot project that's been three years in the making — then you have someplace to be for lunch today. The restaurant opens its doors later Monday morning. 

Chef Tony Esnault and partner Yassmin Sarmadi have reworked the enormous space in the Douglas Building, on the corner of Spring (hence the name) and Third streets in downtown Los Angeles, into a restaurant and bar that includes an open kitchen and an atrium, filled with trees and fountains. The restaurant will open for lunch Monday, and dinner this weekend, just in time for Valentine's Day. The bar will be open for dinner beginning Saturday.

It's been a long time in the making for the couple, who also own Church & State, the French bistro in the Arts District south of Spring. They first started the project three years ago; construction has been going on for the last year. And they're not finished yet: The restaurant and bar will eventually expand to include a market. 

Esnault, a gifted chef who was executive chef at Patina before moving to Church & State and who cooked for Alain Ducasse in Monte Carlo, says that Spring's menu won't be California-French so much as "French-French" -- fine dining techniques and composition, with a farmers market-driven sensibility, served in a place that looks like a huge kitchen patio somewhere in the South of France.

Walk into the restaurant and you feel like you're coming in through the kitchen itself, a light-filled space jigsawed with long tables, shiny pans, state-of-the-art equipment and shelves of Esnault's own collection of cooking stuff — old French gadgets and bowls and jars and enameled coffee pots that he's assembled over the last 20 years which he brought from home. 

The menu is French, of course, but with a southern bent — Esnault is from the Loire Valley and cooked for years in Monte Carlo at Ducasse's Louis XV restaurant. "The climate is perfect for this type of food," said Esnault the other day as his team practiced cooking and serving the lunch menu. 

"We wanted something very personal," Esnault said of the restaurant and its design. He and Sarmadi found the artwork, the furniture, even the antique glassware in the bar all on various trips to local flea markets and excursions to Europe.

The restaurant, which is done in white and pale green, has two fountains and two trees, and is filled with light from the vast skylight. The bar, done in darker greens and blues, has a brass and concrete floor, a dark green marble bar, and bright coppery light fixtures. The cocktail program, overseen by Adam Flamenbaum, who previously worked at Bar Bouchon, is designed to pair with Esnault's vegetable-driven cooking. 

"We don't throw bread on the floor; we don't want silverware," Esnault says about the bar adjacent the restaurant, describing his impression of a more casual restaurant bar's ambiance. In other words, don't expect to order your dinner at that green marble bar, although the chef says he may make gougères in addition to the olives that you can order with your cocktails. The idea, he says, is to stop in for a drink before or after your dinner, and to go next door and sit down for your actual meal.

As for what that will look like, Esnault and his staff of 60 will have oysters and escargot, rilletes and salads for lunch, as well as dishes such as bourride with aioli, Scottish salmon with beets and chicory, Mary's chicken with salsify and yams, sunchoke soup with buckwheat crostini and chervil. Esnault is still finalizing the dinner menu, but he says he'll have larger plates, including duck, and lots of seasonal specials. 

Because although there won't be actual tablecloths at Spring, the sensibility is that of a white tablecloth restaurant. You could easily imagine Esnault's plate of escargot with persillade — a construction that resembles more a still life painting than a plate of the more traditional snails in butter on bistro menus — at the chef's old stomping ground up the street at Patina.

For those of you who love Church & State — where Esnault will still be the chef, by the way, if you're worried about the status of your onion tartes and coq au vin — maybe think of Spring as a more refined, and definitely quieter venue for Esnault's exquisite cooking.  

Spring, 257 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, 213-372-5189, springlosangeles.com.

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