Set on the third floor of South Coast Plaza and nestled among fashionable neighbors (Louis Vuitton and Baccarat, anyone?), this steady operation is certainly able to hold its own. The space is small, elegant, and well-appointed, thanks to a central dining room decked out with curtain-draped windows, white beveled pillars, and a dramatic floral display.
Add on a gleaming open kitchen, chef's counter, as well as a secluded patio—and you know you've struck gold. Spacious banquettes and tables are filled with well-heeled patrons and in-the-know locals. Everyone is here for Chef Tony Esnault's contemporary take on classic French cuisine, brought to you by professional servers who virtually glide around in measured movements.
The menu highlights imaginative dishes that weave technique with ingenuity. For starters, crisp-skinned sea bream in a simple beurre blanc is matched with fennel done two ways—braised then seared, as well as a bright "kraut." Close at the heels is an equally clever dessert, where a frosted meringue shell is cracked open to reveal a rhubarb sorbet with strawberry gelée.
A word to the wise: the north parking garage is ideal, unless you'd prefer to indulge in some fine window shopping.