Gourmet Mag Top 50 Restaurants, Los Angeles
I don't know whether or not they use canned soups at Spago, but I have to say that I have never ever had a meal there that I thought was great. The restaurant is perfectly pleasant and out of towners in particular like being taken there because it seems so "L.A." to them, and even if you are nobody like me, Wolfgang Puck may come over to your table to say hello (which impresses those aforementioned out-of-towners), but I have just never had a great or memorable meal there. Perhaps it's because I'm more of a fish person than a meat person and they just don't know what to do with fish or maybe it's because the restaurant really is nothing special food-wise.
Have you ever ordered a Tasting Menu there? It's their speciality. I can't believe you won't be overwhelmed when you finally experience one, some of the finest food in the USA. I'm not an Out of Towner and I can tell you that SPAGO BH is filled with Locals all the time. Below is a basic Tasting menu enjoyed by some Hounds a couple of years ago. Yes , they are all locals.
Tuna tartare in sweet black and brown sesame
This is the signature Spago appetizer. I was
struck by the texture of the cone: it didn't
seem to contain any flour, so it had a very
delicate soft crunch. I would guess it's made
out of caramelized sugar, miso and sesame paste
with sesame seeds -- maybe a little rice flour
Foie gras mousse on kumquat tart
I thought the sweet and sour kick from the
kumquat almost overpowered the foie gras mousse,
but others at the table really loved it.
Smoked salmon on lemon-scented blini with creme
The blini batter was made with lemon zest,
yielding nice light lemon overtones.
Fava bean bruschetta wrapped in lardon
This dish was visually very cool. The pureed
fava beans contributed a really saturated green
veiled by the translucent lardon wrapper.
"Pastrami-cured" foie gras terrine on toast,
The pastrami-style spices work amazingly well
with the rich foie gras. There's a tang from the
peppercorns that's met by the deep savory rush
of the liver.
Bacon confit en croute
Oh, man. Bacon in rich crumbly pastry.
Wine: Billecarte-Salmon Brut Rose Champagne
Crumbless crab cake with basil aioli and salsa
Wine: Costa del Vento (Timorasso grape)
The aioli was dolloped along the side of the
plate in a row of little dots. The crab cake
itself was intense. There was pretty much just
lightly-sauteed crab meat and nothing else. The
salsa, aioli and microgreens scattered atop it
Austrian white asparagus with fava beans and
tomatoes Lobster-asparagus soup with caramelized
Wine: Lorimer Gruener Veltliner (Austria) 2002
A very thoughtful two-parter: a mini-"Iron Chef"
white asparagus battle. The soup was ultratasty
asparagus essence tinged with seafood flavor and
the sweet chewiness of the shallots. The whole
asparagus was really a salad -- "redolent of
springtime," as I might say if I felt especially
pompous. The fava beans were whole, lightly
cooked. There were small wedges of heirloom
tomato. There were also very sugary wedges of
Hudson Valley foie gras with black cherries and
morels in balsamic vinegar reduction
Wine: Chateau Raymond Sauterne 2001
Wine (BYOB table): Suduiraut Sauterne 1997
A superb, superb piece of foie gras succulently
betrothed to the cherries and mushrooms. The
cherries were such a great foil to the foie gras
they almost rendered the Sauterne superfluous.
Pan-seared skate with Fruits de Mer and tomato
Wine: Alsace Riesling 2001
A nice, understated, refreshingly ocean-y fish
Sweet pea agnolotti stuffed with mascarpone
Wine: Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru 2002
Tiny, delicate pasta shells bursting with pea
essence (the mascarpone must have been mixed
with pea puree to make the filling) served
alongside fresh baby peas.
Squab breast and bacon-wrapped leg with carrots
Wine: Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel 2001
I thought these butter-pat-sized slices of
pigeon breast -- rich, gamy, and thoroughly
umami-drenched by their reduction sauce -- were
amazing. Until I tried the leg. The crispy
Applewood-smoked bacon wrapped around the tender
leg meat just took the back of my head off. The
carrots and zingy ramps brought me back down to
earth. *woo!* said, "what a dish! Our favorite
of the lunch!"
Rib-eye steak with Armagnac peppercorn sauce and
fontina-laced pureed potatoes
Wine: Arbios Cabernet 1999
This was an add-on course requested by the BYOB
table. *woo!* again: "Had to have SOME beef
with all the GIGANTIC reds that we brought ...
what else is new?" A perfectly-cooked piece of
beef. The potatoes were amazingly thick, rich,
and sticky. The waiters served them in a special
mixing vessel and stirred them before serving.
You could have cemented bricks with it, but it
was sublime! The cheese permeated every cell of
Assorted Cheeses including one Epoisse
Wine: Graham's 20-year-old Tawny Port
Stone fruit (peach, nectarine, et al) cobbler
served with buttermilk ice cream and blueberries
Unfortunately I couldn't stay for the cheese or
dessert! So I can't report on it. I will say
that they wrapped up some petits fours for me
and they were delicious.
The BYOB Wines (an excerpt)
2001 (?) Pillar Rock
1995 Chateau Lafite Rothschild
1990 Lynch Bages
I have to admit, we blew out the normal cost
structure for this lunch what with our extra
courses and our corkage fees and all. However, I
have been to a Spago Tasting Menu dinner where
we stuck with the original plan and the bill
came out in the realm of the sane. So I'm going
to list the sane prices here.
$85 + $15 (18% tip) + $7 tax = $107
Tasting Menu with Wines
$135 + $24 (18% tip) + $11 tax = $170
Tasting Menu with and without Wines,
averaged for two people (each couple splits
each glass of wine)
$110 + $20 (18% tip) + $9 tax = $137
Here's what I personally like about Spago. No
matter how rarefied or high-flying the dishes
get, they are always grounded by some earthy
(or oceany) element. It might be a truffle or
other mushroom, a root vegetable, a gamy meat or
a briny fish -- somehow they keep you connected
to the source. I'm not sure if this is Wolfgang
Puck's contribution or Lee Hefter's or some
combination thereof, but it's what makes this
place a true Chowhound destination. Why?
Because the earthiness, the pungent quality, is
the base of the craving that forms in your
memory. I like to think that this is the
Austrian influence working at a deep level in
this cuisine, and in my opinion it's what makes
I agree with the above. The tasting menu is disproportionately exquisite to LA cuisine. It's unbeatable. People at neighboring tables were eyeing the food jealously and wished out loud, "I should have gotten the tasting menu!"
What I love about Spago, in addition to its food, is the service. Some may say it is haughty or what not, but I have always received the best. Whether or not Wolfgang himself is there. He's a very nice man, btw. During the tasting, for example, I asked if I could have black truffles (I was craving this throughout the season). They said yes and innovated a delicious risotto, generously topped with truffles. I had asked for black truffles at Melisse and got a blatant no. Another example -- I got extra vanilla bean ice cream at the end of one of my other meals, just because! Moreover, they never cease to replenish my drinks, unlike many other places where I have to personally request. I always get the requested tables, like a booth for lunch. And the food always comes out just like we ask.
they are all ranked and numbered in the october issue or perhaps i don't understand your post. can you please clarify?
three of the top five are in california! maybe l.a. rated so high because ruth was here for such a long time. i was surprised at the number of restaurants in texas. i don't think trotters should have been ranked as high as it was.
did you also see the taiwan branch of din tai fung featured in the article on taiwan?
i must agree. alinea is the best restaurant in the country...perhaps the world.