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Knife Pleat Balances Elegance and Approachability

Cover Image for Knife Pleat Balances Elegance and Approachability
By Sophie Brochu

Tony Esnault and Yassmin Sarmadi are known as a power couple in the Southern California culinary scene. Their Michelin-starred restaurant, Knife Pleat, is recognized for its market-driven French cuisine, dramatic dining room, and warm hospitality. The key to the couples’ success? Balance in everything.

Where does the name Knife Pleat come from?

A Knife Pleat is a fashion term; given our very fashionable location of South Coast Plaza, we thought it would be appropriate and fun to have a name that was related to fashion with a culinary play on words. Knife Pleats are also what you find in a chef’s toque.

“People often equate elegance with a stuffy or intimidating environment. I don’t think a restaurant should ever be either of those things.”

How do you balance elegance and approachability?

People often equate elegance with a stuffy or intimidating environment. I don’t think a restaurant should ever be either of those things. A restaurant is where people go to restore, so by nature, it needs to surround its guests with comfort and hospitality. When it does that, it becomes approachable. The decor, food, ambiance, and service can all be elegant, but when guests are treated with warmth and hospitality, it all becomes approachable at the same time.

Your dishes are beautifully plated. How would you describe your cooking style?

Modern French. The techniques all stem from my traditional French culinary training and experience. But our recipes are adapted for the way we like to eat today. My emphasis is on vegetables, and I let each ingredient shine, without masking their true flavor with rich or heavy sauces. I limit the number of ingredients on each plate so you can experience every item to its fullest, without being overwhelmed.

Yassmin Sarmadi and Tony Esnault photographed by John Dole.

You’re known as a power couple in the Southern California restaurant scene. What’s the key to working together?

Respecting the other’s perspective and contributions is key. We don’t always agree on everything, but we do agree that having a balance between what we each bring to the business is a source of strength for us as a couple and for our business. And keeping our work and personal lives separate—not always an easy task, but a must!

While Knife Pleat constantly updates its menu with the seasons, is there a signature dish?

Everything is always evolving with the seasons and the best available products each week or each day. A dish that I’ve become known for is the “Legume de Saison.” It’s a plate of seasonal vegetables—sometimes 18 or more—each of which is cooked separately and according to the method that brings out the best in that vegetable. It’s a very labor-intensive dish to make, so it’s not always on the menu, but it makes an appearance on special occasions!

Knife Pleat offers prix fixe menus and à la carte.

What are you typically doing on a day off?

Relaxing. We tend to be homebodies on our days off. We walk our dogs together, shop, cook, enjoy a nice bottle of wine, and some cozy home-cooking for dinner.

Can you tell us about the special dinners you’re offering in November and December?

We have quite a few special tasting menus in November and December. Following our Game Tasting Menu, we have a Vegetarian Tasting Menu November 25th and 26th. In December, we have a White Truffle Tasting Menu—six courses with white winter truffles—as well as a Tasting Menu with white truffles, black truffles, and caviar. Guests can count on ringing in the holiday season with some extravagance and style.

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