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Costa Mesa’s Knife Pleat earns a Michelin star

Knife Pleat is an elegant and approachable French restaurant in South Coast Plaza.
Knife Pleat is an elegant and approachable French restaurant helmed by Michelin-starred chef Tony Esnault and restaurateur Yassmin Sarmadi. The couple’s chic restaurant showcases modern, seasonal interpretations of classic French cuisine by Esnault, one of California’s best French chefs.
(Courtesy of Tom Bonner)

Michelin stars have long held a stature unmatched in the dining industry, and a restaurant that earns the distinction is held in the highest esteem. This week Orange County gained its third Michelin starred restaurant, as South Coast Plaza’s Knife Pleat was awarded a one-star rating from the guide.

Helmed by Chef Tony Esnault and restaurateur Yassmin Sarmadi, Knife Pleat showcases modern, seasonal interpretations of classic French cuisine.

Sarmadi said the honor feels particularly special after the challenging year and a half restaurants have experienced.

 Chef Tony Esnault and restaurateur Yassmin Sarmadi of Knife Pleat.
The Michelin Guide announced that Knife Pleat, helmed by chef Tony Esnault and restaurateur Yassmin Sarmadi, has earned a Michelin Star.
(Courtesy of Mona Shah)

“Everything, literally everything, this year was an unknown,” said Sarmadi. “So you just did whatever you could, and the best with whatever you had … that we would gain this sort of recognition during this time is very meaningful.”

This is Esnault’s third Michelin star during his decorated career. He earned previous stars as an executive chef in New York City in 2006 and 2007.

“Even though this is the third time he is receiving a star, his level of excitement, to me, seems like it were the first,” said Sarmadi.

Knife Pleat joins Orange County’s other Michelin starred restaurants, Taco Maria and Hana Re. Each earned one Michelin star in 2019 when the guide expanded to include Orange and San Diego counties. All three restaurants are located in Costa Mesa.

Knife Pleat occupies a 5,000-square-foot space in the penthouse at South Coast Plaza and is open for lunch and dinner. It offers a six-course chef’s tasting menu on Friday evenings.

“South Coast Plaza is elated that Knife Pleat has been recognized with a Michelin star, the ultimate designation of culinary excellence,” said Debra Gunn Downing, executive director of marketing at South Coast Plaza. “Chef Tony Esnault, restaurateur Yassmin Sarmadi and their wonderful team have created an exceptional Southern California dining destination.”

Chef Tony Esnault's modern approach to classical French cuisine is seen in Knife Pleat's elegant menu.
Chef Tony Esnault’s modern approach to classical French cuisine is seen in Knife Pleat’s elegant menu, replete with dishes utilizing local, seasonal and organic produce from the farmer’s market at the height of their season, as well as sustainable seafood and animal products sourced only from farms with 100% humane and organic practices.
(Courtesy of Tucker + Hossler)

Sarmadi, who enjoyed a successful career as a restaurateur in Los Angeles, said South Coast Plaza was the ideal location for her first venture in Orange County.

“South Coast Plaza has been very supportive of our efforts in every way, before the pandemic, thoughout the pandemic,” said Sarmadi. “We have a pretty extraordinary space, and there is great synergy that thrives here.”

Knife Pleat also earned a Michelin plate award along with two other Orange County restaurants earlier this month along with Heritage Barbecue in San Juan Capistrano and Khan Saab Desi Craft Kitchen in Fullerton.

Six Orange County restaurants earned Michelin Bib Gourmand awards this year as well. Typically, the guide is updated once a year, but in 2020 the Michelin Guide chose not to publish a California edition due to the pandemic. Instead, Michelin recognized 25 California restaurants as “inspector discoveries.” Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach and Chaak Kitchen in Tustin were included on the list.

With this recognition, Orange County demonstrates it’s a region that offers a culinary landscape with as much quality and diversity as its more metropolitan contemporaries, like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

While the Michelin Guide holds prestige today, the stars had humble beginnings.

Andre and Edouard Michelin founded Michelin Tyres in France in 1889, when there were fewer than 3,000 cars on road in that country. The Michelin Guide was developed as a way to encourage motorists to take more trips, and consequently use more tires.

The original guide was a small red book that mapped out gas stations, places of interest and offered road tips like how to change a tire. A list of places to eat and places to stay was also included.

The guide started awarding stars in 1926, and as the influence of the guide’s restaurant section grew, Michelin formed a team of secret diners known as restaurant inspectors to visit establishments anonymously and rate them. Over the next decade, a rubric of one, two and three stars was introduced. According to the guide, one star signifies “a very good restaurant,” two stars are “excellent cooking that is worth a detour,” and three stars mean “exceptional cuisine that is worth a special journey.”

Esnault said in order to earn stars today, a restaurant needs to demonstrate the highest standards.

“Everything needs to be perfect, everything needs to be cooked perfectly, plated perfectly … using the best produce,” said Esnault, “it needs to be soigne, as we say in French.”

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