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Spago -- Bachelor Gulch, CO

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My wife and I had lunch there today. The only other Wolfgang Puck-related place I had eaten before was in O'Hare Airport (I think) and it was better than average for an airport eatery. Certainly nothing like Spago at the Ritz Carlton in Bachelor Gulch. Having read some, but not a lot, about it on this board, I was anxious to try it. My wife and a couple of friends had tried it last week and liked it. Right now I am conflicted.

I liked the space and the atmosphere, even though BlueOx is correct that it's something you could find in any large city in America. Even so, I liked it. The restaurant was pretty full at 1:00 p.m. but we were seated promptly (we had made a reservation this morning and I would certainly recommend that) by a very friendly and accomodating hostess. Our server was a gem and she was backed up by capable assistants who seemed genuinely interested in taking care of us. The pacing of the food was good and we had no complaints whatsoever with the service.

Everything we had to eat was excellent. We started by sharing a Local Smoked Organic Salmon Pizza with shaved sweet onions, dill creme fraiche and salmon pearls (roe). A really excellent pizza, but really too big, since we brought half of it home. Oh well, it will be good for breakfast in the morning! My wife had a Grilled Prime Rib Eye Steak Salad with sweet onions, candied walnuts, marinated cherry tomatoes, endive and Maytag blue cheese. It was all good, the steak cooked beautifully medium rare. I asked for the Steamed Arctic Char "Hong Kong" Style with garlic, chili oil, ginger, baby bok choy, snap peas and jasmine rice, but was informed that they had run out of char and were substituting halibut. I said OK and it was still good. I think the char would have stood up better to the very spicy accompaniments, but the dish was very good and I have no complaints.

So, I like the room, the atmosphere, the service and the food. Why am I conflicted? Because I really have a problem with the prices. We just returned from St. Barth last month and these prices rival those in St. Barth, which were obscene even before the dollar collapsed against the euro. The pizza was $23. The rib eye salad $31. The fish dish $28.
On the lunch menu, first courses are $12-$24. Pizzas are $19-$23. Large salads are $18-$31. Pasta dishes range from $19-$28. Main courses are $21-$31.

Just for fun I asked for a copy of the dinner menu. The one I received offers thirteen first courses ranging from $21 for Italian Chestnut Soup with Black Truffles to $35 for either the same pizza I had for $23 at lunch, except for osetra caviar instead of salmon roe, or $35
for Risotto with Scallops, Shrimp and Maine Lobster. Thirteen main courses range from $39 for Main Diver Sea Scallops to $91 for Grilled Mishima Ranch Kobe New York Steak. I'll give you that the Kobe steak is very, very special. But this menu also has four other dishes at $52 (Lamb Chops or Veal Wiener Schnitzel), $53 (Kurobuta Pork Osso Bucco) and $58 (Slow Braised Prime Beef Short Ribs). Everything else (7 other offerings) is in the $40s.

I know I have gone on and on, but when are we going to finally say that the emperor truly is nude? I love great food and I have paid lots of money to have it, but at some point it just becomes ridiculous. Is Spago ridiculous? I am conflicted.

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  1. Is it ridiculous? I don't know. Can one eat very well but less expensively in the Vail Valley? Certainly. Is Spago worth the extra cost? Diners themselves decide. IMO, Spago's prices are the convergence of its being an expensive Hollywood restaurant that has found a home in the expensive Ritz Carlton, Bachelor Gulch "Village" in expensive Beaver Creek in the expensive Vail Valley.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ClaireWalter

      I think you are correct, Claire. Very well put.

    2. the salmon on the pizza is "local" to where????
      I am very curoius to know as a CO native...
      I know the restaurant is beautiful... down to the tiles on the floor... you pay for the sexy napkins in the bathroom... but after all is said and done, a meal is a meal, and we all get what we pay for. Or do we??? can you have this same experience for half the price in a different spot in the valley?

      2 Replies
      1. re: foodissexy

        There are landlocked salmon throughout Colorado: Green Mountain Reservoir and Spinney to name a few. I've just never heard of them being harvested and utilized commercially.

        1. re: jtc

          there is actually a salmon "farm" in Eagle, CO, aboutr 30 minutes west. Many restaurants use this farm. In the summer you can find him at the local farmer's markets.

      2. Thanks for the report ddavis. We also agree with you and BlueOx on the decor...I was really hoping they could match the "rustic luxury" look from the Ritz...but they didn't. As for price, I agree, crazy St. Barths/St. Tropez prices, but as I told my fiance, I'd rather pay 1 1/2 x's more for a great meal (service, food) than a lot for a mediocre one...who knows.

        1. I'm with you, ddavis. The *only* Spago worthwhile is Beverly Hills, IMO. I used to work for Wolfgang and as someone who has seen the carnage I can truly say this - Puck is *way* overrated, IMO.

          Lee Hefter continues to do some great things at Spago B.H., but other than that I can see no way to continue the brand elsewhere. I mean we've got frozen pizza, canned soup, television, and a line of cookware. C'mon Wolf - enough is enough. Get back to what inspired you in the first place -- good food.

          1 Reply
          1. re: azbirdiemaker

            I suspect few star chefs have been able to stay true to their standards and creativity once they went beyond the original restaurant that made them famous, and I therefore think it would be difficult (probably impossible) for him to give up the income from his packaged supermarket goods, his airport eateries, his catering empire and his other fine dining restaurants and concentrate just on Spago in Beverly Hills. Even some sticklers as Thomas Keller and Jean-Georges Vongerichten relinquished some control once they opened a second or third restaurant. It is one reason that I am (so far) impressed with Frasca in Boulder. There's just one, with hands-on owner/partners who want to keep it that way.

            As for which Spago is better, I personally can save my pennies and drive to the one at Beaver Creek (or eat there when I'm skiing). From Colo, it takes considerable more effort to get to Califonria! :-)

          2. I appreciate your review. We last dined in that spot, during the last days of Remington's (?), and enjoyed it very much. Our guest enjoyed it so much that they dined there for the next two diners, while we went up and down the road.

            I guess that I have become somewhat innoculated to the prices, as my wife "drags" me to every "resort" known to mankind - tough life, but someone... When last at Bachelor Gulch, the prices were similar, but probably topped out a little below Spago. Just did a Kobe at Aviara (Four Seasons) and it was around US$125. It was great, but still finished about 4th on my all-time beef list.

            I do agree that there is really good food in the Vail Valley for less. Still, it's good to know that Spago is delivering on the service and the food. Who knows, maybe a few tough quarters and they'll re-do the prices. Last couple of years, I'd have thought not, but with the £, and the € (plus the ¥) heading down, I do not think that the non-US tourists will fill in the slack. I have already noticed some restaurants dropping prices by a little. Time will tell.

            Again, thanks,

            Hunt