"It's literally an oasis in one of the most hardcore parts of the city -- and no one knows about it." So wrote Huell Howser in 2007 about The French Garden, an eatery in the industrial side of downtown's Arts District. But plenty of people know about The French Garden; they've sustained this lunch-only, 150-seat bistro for 15 years. And plenty of people are now sorely disappointed. The French Garden closes on Friday.
In recent years, The French Garden has been overshadowed by trendier arrivals such as Church and State, Bestia, and Pizzanista. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before a higher bidder turned up. According to Downtown News, Señor Fish owner Enrique Ramirez will replace French Garden with an upscale restaurant -- and put current tenant Benoit Lesure out of business.
French-born Lesure opened his restaurant in 1998 with a simple formula: Free parking. Large patio. Full bar. Lunch-only. The French-inspired menu features quiches, salads, sandwiches, and pastas.
This week, Lesure, called "Benito" by the staff, waited tables with his usual high spirits. Guests representing a diverse mix of ages and ethnicities packed the patio. Many were long-time customers, and commiserated with Lesure and each other over The French Garden's demise.
But Lesure feels hopeful for the future. As he wrote in a note posted at the entrance, "Rest assured that indeed we WILL find a new home for The French Garden close-by, so that our family can stay together!" On Thursday, the "family" will gather for a farewell celebration following lunch service at 2:30 p.m. Everybody is invited.
If Lesure re-opens The French Garden, some of the ambience can come along. He'll still have the country-French tablecloths in gold, blue, green and purple, the mini Eiffel Tower, the framed map of France. But the scarlet bougainvillea that spills in thick bunches over the patio's brick walls will likely stay behind.