Upon entering Spring, the downtown eatery from former Church & State chef Tony Esnault and partner Yassmin Sarmadi that was years in the making, you are immediately faced with a large open kitchen bustling with white coat–clad chefs, like something out of Ratatouille.
One of the chefs is using kitchen shears to snip a bouquet of edible arugula flowers. Others work behind a long marble bar. Diners can sit and watch the Michelin-starred Esnault and his team in action or admire a nearby display case of vintage cooking tools, which looks suited for the set of Downton Abbey and hints at an obsession with antiques that's thematic at Spring. Everything in the marvelous courtyard space, from the mint-green Provençal chairs to the vintage cocktail glasses, is reminiscent of another time and place.
It feels as though you are staring at a French post-impressionist painting — Vincent Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night comes to mind. But then suddenly you’re inside the image, dipping a warm baguette into a small tin of l’huile d’olive and forking wild Burgundy escargot through a plate painted with swirls of herby persillade and a rough sauce of chopped tomato, fennel and garlic. The little snails are topped with whimsical circular croutons and served alongside gem lettuce.
A glass ceiling spills natural light into the lofty room, where pepper trees frame a fountain that serves as the centerpiece of the dining area. When the sun sets, little lights on the trees give off a romantic glow. The glow gets even rosier once you reach the bottom of the Power Lunch cocktail, a crystal-clear combination of gin, Pastis liqueur and triple sec, which is strong in all of the right ways. It tastes like French licorice and is served in a vintage coupe, garnished with tarragon leaves.
Choose between a five-course tasting menu of suggested dishes or from the à la carte menu. The black bass bourride (fish stew) is nestled in a ceramic bowl (crafted by local potter J. Schatz) alongside leeks, fennel, tomatoes, sprigs of dill and dollops of garlic-saffron aioli. After the server pours the vibrant orange broth into the bowl, he points to a set of French doors through which Spring’s gourmet retail market will soon open and notes that the ceramics will be available for purchase.
Lamb sirloin comes on a plate decorated with bright squiggles of red harissa beside a molded oval of couscous flecked with scallions, raisins and mint. For dessert, cheese is encouraged, though the Chocolat Monegasque is everything you want a dessert to be. A creamy rectangle of bittersweet chocolate ganache sprinkled with crunchy chocolate crumble and nutty praline is topped with a tart lemon-honey sorbet and citrus vinaigrette. The citrus cuts through the creamy richness of the chocolate, resulting in a dessert that's impeccably balanced.
Despite its beauty, Spring isn't the coziest of restaurants. There are no corner tables or plush booths, and the bistro-style seating makes the room seem more conducive to power lunching than to relaxing over a special-occasion dinner. But you can (and should) further unwind with a digestif in the restaurant's adjacent lounge — and keep the Café Terrace at Night fantasy going a little while longer.
Spring, 257 S. Spring St., downtown; (213) 372-5189, springlosangeles.com.