In the booming Los Angeles of 1913, Hotel Stowell opened on Spring Street, then known as the Wall Street of the West. The hotel stood out for its vivid façade and artsy Ernest A. Batchelder tiles in the lobby, and Charlie Chaplin lived there. Decades later the Stowell had devolved to a flophouse called the El Dorado Hotel. Not long ago, the above-ground floors were given new life as the luxury El Dorado Lofts.
Now, the original grand lobby and mezzanine have been repurposed by Cannes restaurateurs David and Fanny Rolland into Le Petit Paris, an elegant, natural light–filled eatery that boasts soaring ceilings, a sweeping staircase, outsized crystal chandeliers, massive mirrors and arresting two-story-tall photo murals of the Eiffel Tower.
It has already been said that Le Petit Paris, which opened Sept. 18, is the most French place in Los Angeles. And aside from the obviously American-sized servings of such menu items as chicken stew, club sandwiches, lobster eggs Benedict, french fries, creme brulee and chocolate lava cake, it indeed feels as if you're down a side street not far from Avenue George V.
The vast main dining room, where the Rollands have achieved a pleasantly low ambient sound level enhanced with soft international pop, doubles as a grand hall. Other patrons weave through, passing gigantic beveled mirrors as they mount the staircase that rises to the luxurious mezzanine lounge. There, a DJ draws a dinner-and-drinks evening crowd. The mezzanine doubles as a balcony from which to observe diners below — or sit back at cozy tables paired with red sueded chairs. It's perfectly Paris: Read a novel in one of the restaurant's hidey-holes (it has two bars, a big patio and seating for 300) — or see and be seen.
The dining room is arranged in rows of black metal Parisian street tables, each adorned with a vase holding a long-stemmed rose. On Sunday afternoon, I sat beneath one of its enormous, doughnut-shaped crystal chandeliers, sipping rosemary-infused vodka Bloody Marys garnished with sweet yellow cherry tomatoes, celery and cucumber slices. Although our party made a late change in its number, altered its arrival time, then fussed over whether to order breakfast or lunch, the wait staff was fun and welcoming. When somebody asked for help in identifying a charming container used to serve the french fries, a member of the wait staff helplessly shrugged his shoulders, laughed and suggested "cassolette" could cover a lot of bases.
The asparagus soup was served in two steps, presented first as tight dollops of mashed potatoes topped with curly browned onions and asparagus spears, then surrounded by a moat of steaming pale soup. A hearty chicken stew, too big to finish, was served in an iron au gratin pan with dark fragrant broth, mushroom chunks, pearl onions and small potatoes. The lobster eggs Benedict came in two great, lemony mounds with tender pink chunks of lobster. The chicken club sandwich featured precisely trimmed crusts like the kind mothers once made, accompanied by a unexpected salad and a dense pile of crunchy/tender spiced fries.
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It was a blistering 92 degrees outside, and some patrons weren't dressed in line with the elegance of Le Petit Paris. Nobody, including the friendly proprietors, gave it a moment's thought. As guests relaxed in the skylight-illuminated room and laughter drifted through, it became clear that the Rollands created this space for leisure time with friends. They're from Cannes, after all. We lingered on amid the towering, 102-year-old, gold-leafed columns and Casablanca palms. Good talk — plus a warm chocolate lava cake with caramel, and a creme brulee with a fragile crust — were our rewards.
418 S. Spring St., downtown; (213) 217-4445, lepetitparis-restaurant-losangeles.com.