Wonderful Food Amidst The Stars - Spago Beverly Hills [Review] w/ Pics!
(Formatted with All Pictures here:
Spago is perhaps one of the most well-known L.A. restaurants, particularly to those living outside of L.A. It's been home to so many Oscar Parties and Hollywood movie star sightings that when one mentions "Spago" you almost expect it to be about a star sighting or big Hollywood party of some type. For 26 years, the name "Spago" has been the center of so much hype and buzz that, similar to my feelings about Wolfgang Zweiner's Steakhouse, but much more so, I wondered if any restaurant could live up to the expectations.
This past year, Spago Beverly Hills was one of only three restaurants in L.A. to receive a Michelin 2 Star Rating, which only added to the expectations. This past week was one of my Tasting Menu Hound's birthday, which offered up the perfect excuse for all of us to try this L.A. institution. We arrived 5 minutes early, and the maitre d' brought us to our table immediately.
Our table had a wonderful view of their beautiful patio, and the first thing I noticed was how relaxed and "upscale casual" Spago felt. We also had a nice view of their open kitchen behind the glass separators. Executive Chef Lee Hefter was over at Cut that night, with Chef de Cuisine Thomas Boyce overseeing our Tasting Menu. Wolfgang Puck was also present, and the captain asked if he should have Wolfgang stop by our table or not, but we declined, feeling a little ridiculous summoning Chef Puck for the sake of just seeing him in person. (^_^;
I started off with a Ginger-Peach Bellini made of Prosecco, Fresh White Peaches, and Ginger. It was a wonderful starter, nice and light, with the sparkling Prosecco blending nicely with the sweet White Peaches and the spiciness of the ground Ginger.
We began with a Spicy Tuna Tartar, Sesame Cone. This was a creative play off of a traditional Japanese Handroll, filled with fresh Tuna, lightly spiced, topped with some Katsuobushi (Dried Bonito Flakes). The Sesame Cone was a little sticky and sweet, but the fragrant nuttiness of the Sesame and the caramelized sugar worked with the Spicy Tuna. A few of us felt it was a little strong (in taste) as a starter for the Tasting Menu, but still a nice, creative dish.
The next course was House Smoked Salmon, Dill Creme Fraiche, on a Corn Blini. Topped with some Ikura (Salmon Roe), Chives and an edible Flower, it was just the right amount of saltiness from the House Smoked Salmon and Ikura, which paired well with the light tang from the Dill Creme Fraiche and the light sweetness of the Corn Blini.
The next course was a Tartlet of Heirloom Tomato Tartar, Garlic Pesto Aioli, 50 Year Old Balsamic Vinegar. This was simply outstanding! The fresh sweetness of the chunks of Heirloom Tomato, paired with just the right amount of the Balsamic Vinegar and Aioli, all coming together with the buttery crust from the Tartlet! Words couldn't describe the satisfaction we all felt with this dish. Outstanding!
Next we had a Bacon Confit Puff Pastry. Bacon. Confit. Buttery Puff Pastry. Need I say more? (^_^) This was *so* good I could've eaten an entire dinner of these wonderful, flaky pastry balls of goodness! :) The Bacon Confit was cooked wonderfully... soft, tender, yet still so bacon-y! :) And the Puff Pastry? They could've stuffed anything in the center and it would've still tasted good.
We had too many designated drivers tonight, so we opted out of the wine pairing. So I decided to try another of their signature cocktails: Mint-Cucumber Caipirinha made of Leblon Cachaca, Cointreau, Mint, Cucumber, Lime. Tasted almost like a Mojito, and while the fresh Mint, Cucumber and Lime were abundant, the alcohol was just a bit too strong for my tastes.
Our next course arrived with a Vine-Ripened Heirloom Tomato Sorbet, Heirloom Tomato Relish, Basil Oil, Topped with Heirloom Tomato Water. A simple presentation that sounded a little underwhelming, but upon tasting it, nothing could be further from the truth: The Heirloom Tomato Sorbet (only slightly chilled), on this hot summer L.A. night was refreshing! The Sorbet with the Heirloom Tomato Relish were perfect with the touch of Basil Oil and the Heirloom Tomato Water. The dish was fragrant and sweet, and it was one of our party's favorite dish of the night.
Continuing on with what's fresh and in season in California was the Heirloom Tomato Salad, Microgreens, Shiso Buds, Garlic Basil Aioli, 50 Year Old Balsamic Vinegar, Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Normally, any tasting menu that featured three dishes with the same centerpiece ingredient would feel like a bit of a letdown, but each preparation with the Heirloom Tomatoes were truly outstanding. This final Heirloom dish was no different: The large, sweet, meaty chunks of the Heirloom Tomato were given a perfect foil in the light bitterness from the Shiso Buds and Microgreens, and the Balsamic Vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil bound it all together. It was another refreshing and satisfying dish.
Next up was Seared Striped Bass, Cauliflower Puree, Seafood Ragout. The Seafood Ragout was the most impressive aspect of this dish, made up of Littleneck Clams, Shrimp, Lobster, Mussels in a Saffron Sauce, it added a wonderful brininess and complexity to an otherwise boring piece of Striped Bass. The Cauliflower Puree also added a nice healthy component and worked well with the Bass and the Ragout. I would've preferred a fattier fish for this dish, but it wasn't bad.
Chef Boyce rebounded quickly with the next dish: Handmade Sweet Corn Agnolotti Pasta. It didn't sound very appetizing, but like the Heirloom Tomato Sorbet, this was another one of the surprises of the evening: The Sweet Corn filling was *so* fresh and inherently, naturally sweet, but blending *perfectly* with the savory Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese and Butter Corn Reduction. Each bite of the pasta was like a taste of Heaven! My favorite dish of the night. (^_^)
Our final savory course arrived next with: Wild Sonoma Rack of Baby Lamb, Summer Shelling Bean Puree, Natural Jus with Black and Green Olives. This was probably one of the best Lamb dishes I've had in years. The Baby Lamb was perfectly cooked Rare-to-Medium-Rare, with the meat being extremely tender. It worked so well with the Natural Jus with Olives and the Fava Beans with the Summer Shelling Bean Puree balanced out the Lamb. Excellent!
We were actually really full at this point, but we had to save room for Dessert (^_~): Nougat Semifreddo topped with Blackberry Sorbet, Fresh Blackberries, Adriatic Fig, Persian Mulberries. The Nougat Semifreddo by itself was nice, but was overwhelmed by the tart berries. However, when eaten with a piece of the caramelized sugar "cracker" beneath the Semifreddo, the whole dessert came together. It's not "amazing" in any way, but a nice finish to a great meal. :)
Lastly, we ended with some nice Petit Fours: Macaroon, Mexican Wedding Cake, Financier, Rainbow Cake, and one other item that I missed out on (both in explanation due to a ridiculous story someone in our party was retelling, and that Petit Four was taken before I could eat it! :) What was nice was that our waiter offered to give us as many Petit Fours as we wanted, but we were beyond stuffed at this point and declined.
With the Michelin 2 Star Rating, I was expecting some good Service, and Spago did not disappoint: Our head waiter was very good, and his two waiters were very good about serving all the food at the same time for everyone in our party, and promptly removing plates when we were finished. There was always someone refilling our water or asking us if we wanted other drinks when we were empty, and it was always professional, crisp service, with no attitude. For L.A., it was good service, but when compared to the service I got at another Michelin 2 Star restaurant, Ryugin, there was no comparison: Ryugin's level of service is currently the best service I've had anywhere from Paris to New York to L.A. (I realize every city is different, but a few of us were comparing notes about service at various Michelin 2 and 3 Star restaurants we'd been to.) Our total came out to be roughly $165 per person (including tax and tip).
In the end, one of L.A.'s most famous restaurants actually lived up to the hype: While we never saw Billy Crystal or Tom Cruise, we did enjoy a great Tasting Menu with fresh, interesting interpretations of classic dishes, and some of the self-billed "California Cuisine" that Wolfgang Puck pioneered at Spago when he first opened it up. The fact that Spago still delivers innovative, creative and delicious dishes after 26 years (11 years at the Beverly Hills location) is nothing short of remarkable. It may not be my favorite Tasting Menu in town, but with its surprisingly relaxed, yet classy ambiance, and excellent execution of their seasonal Tasting Menu, Spago Beverly Hills delivers.
*** Rating: 9.0 (out of 10.0) ***
Spago Beverly Hills
176 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Tel: (310) 385-0880
Mon - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 2:15 p.m.
Sat, 12:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Sun - Thurs, 5:30 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
Fri - Sat, 5:30 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.
176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
exilekiss, my take on Spago is that it really is two restaurants – one catering to the typical LA LA Land diners watching their waist lines and gawking at the celebs and the other catering to serious diners offering a tasting menu of focused, tightly created dishes. Basically, the majority of diners are there to be seen.
One of our tasting meals:
Out of the 420 covers, plus the private party, there were only 60 tasting menus, which actually is a lot for Spago. Most diners order an appetizer, a main and dessert.
We were seated at our favorite table outside on the patio with a great view of the room and the entry and bar area. The patio is beautiful with a 100 year old olive tree, tropical plants and a water wall fountain. The air was balmy, the pace of the room unhurried and the over-all ambiance “magical” romantic.
I have never looked at a menu at Spago - we always just leave it up to Lee Hefter or Thomas Boyce.
The starters on the tasting menu are essentially the same:
Signature dish of Spicy Tuna Tartar in a sesame tuile
House-Smoked Salmon served on a Lemon herb Blini with Dill Crème Fraiche, Chives and Salmon Eggs (exilekiss sometimes the blini will be lemon herb, sometimes corn)
Avocado Gratin tart with Iranian oscetra caviar (there will always be some sort of tart)
Hamachi ceviche with Heirloom Tomatoes served in a Chinese spoon
Toad in a hole – Brioche, Quail Egg, Black truffle, Black Truffle Mascarpone Emulsion
Bacon en Croute - an old favorite
Hama Hama Oyster with Avocado Gratin, Bearnaise sauce with Caviar
Uni and Thinly Sliced Santa Barbara Bay Scallops topped with Oscetra Caviar - this was one of the best dishes of the night of the night – perfect very thinly sliced scallops sashimi with fresh as fresh uni. I don’t remember the saucing, but it didn’t detract from the ingredients.
Oysters surrounded by oyster liquor, mint chiffonade, Spanish olive oil and in the center of the plate a sorbet of Japanese cucumber – It was excellent – the sorbet was somewhat pungent, but the over-all effect was light and summery.
Sautéed White Australian Asparagus on brioche, topped with a quail egg – sauce of morel mushrooms and bacon confit. The dish is first presented with just the asparagus and quail egg. The morel sauce is then spooned on tableside. This was another winner with the highlight being the sauce of morels and bacon mixing with the runny yolk.
Santa Barbara Prawns, Charred Eggplant puree, Light Thai Red Curry topped with Microgreens – sometimes Lee has too heavy a hand with Thai spices, but this was subtle with a nice balance of flavors.
Pan Roasted Black Bass, Sweet Corn, Little Neck Clams, Spanish Chorizo, Garlic/Potato puree with Basil Oil – the bass was cooked to perfection – crispy skin, tender flesh. The combination of corn, chorizo, clams and potato a huge nod to Spain
Summer White Truffle , Sweet Corn Agnolotti, Mascarpone Cheese – I was surprised that the white truffle has as much flavor as it did as I was expecting blah based on earlier experiences.
California Rabbit wrapped with bacon and stuffed with herbs, chorizo and brioche crumbs. On the side Braised Shoulder of Rabbit with Potato Gnocchi
Sonoma Lamb, Fig and Onion Soubise, Porcini mushrooms, Maytag Blue Cheese sauce and Potato Emulsion – the Maytag sauce made this dish.
Tustin Baracata – sheep’s milk, Piemonte, Italy
Blanc de Blue du Ruzet, Goat’s Milk, perigord, France
Mont Briac, Cow’s Milk, Avergne, France
We were supposed to have a dessert course, but we called it off – I was definitely full.
I think Spago is a definite must on someone’s list of fine dining restaurants in Los Angeles. There is no doubt that Lee and the kitchen delivers, that Laurent as AGM is a wonder and the patio is one of the most pleasant places to dine.
Would you say that the food on the regular menu is significantly worse than what you get from the tasting menu? Does ordering off the regular menu hold up to the 2 star Michelin rating?
Given how little most customers care about the quality of the food and the number of people they serve each day, it seems unlikely that all their dishes are consistently good.
Friday lunch at Spago is maximum scene, particularly on the patio. Rarely do people order a tasting menu at lunch. My husband goes fairly often and he usually orders standard options. I know he has ordered the following – not all at one meal - oysters, risotto, agnolotti, smoked salmon pizza, tuna nicoise, steak salad, omelet and hamburger.
Nice review and glad to hear your Tasting Menu had quite a few dishes that were different from mine (although a few overlapped).
Same as you, we didn't get a chance to look at the menu since we were there only for the Tasting Menu. Chef de Cuisine Boyce did an outstanding job for us that night, so no complaints. :)
Well if I had to choose just 1 "Tasting Menu / Chef's Menu" in town, it'd have to be Urasawa. You just sit back and let Chef Urasawa cut, prepare and present his magic for you. It's such an intimate setting with focused, quiet service, and most importantly his amazing food, which changes all the time, depending on what's in season, what he can source, etc. (e.g., Grade A5 Wagyu Beef from Hokkaido (amazing!), or the Ohtoro from Spain on my last visit). It's more of a Hybrid Kaiseki meal, but still it's an amazing experience. :)
And don't get me wrong, the Tasting Menu at Spago that we had was wonderful! The Birthday Hound was so happy, and everyone in our party left very satisfied. :)
I've eaten at Spago many times throughout the years and have never had a decent meal -- pretty room, yes; good food, no. (I've always found the fish and desserts particularly mediocre). However, I've never had the tasting menu. So perhaps I will reconsider on the basis of ExileKiss' review and will give the tasting menu a try some night.
For anyone who has had the Craft tasting menu, I am wondering how it compares to Spago's tasting menu. I've not had the tasting menu at Craft, but all the individual dishes I have ordered at Craft have been wonderful, which has never been my experience with ordering a single thing off the menu at Spago.
Thanks for the report omotosando. Yah, I had heard mixed things about the regular menu items at Spago prior to my visit, which is why I went with the Tasting Menu (and I usually prefer a Tasting Menu in general anyways :). And based on lizziee's extensive experience there (from her above posts and reviews) it sounds like it really is completely different, which is unfortunate.
I agree with you that a restaurant's normal entrees should be just as good as their Tasting Menu (the kitchen should be proud and stand by whatever it puts out, regardless of format). Based on only the Tasting Menu at Spago, we thought the food was very good. Thanks.
I wrote up my meal at Spago back in March, and while it was good, it's really nothing that great that makes me want to go back and spend another couple hundred dollars. My write up is at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/498942
I liked the ala carte experience at Craft last October better (funny you would want a comparison).
Spago's service while adequate was really not as good as Craft, and I just like the style of food at Craft's better - less fussy.
Thanks for your well-written review. Sounds like you had a few of the same dishes, but many different ones. Yah, I like Craft for some of their items (other items were complete misses for me), but overall, I like the ambiance and decor better there as well. :)
I had just never been to Spago and wanted to try it at least once.
Thanks! Yes I was quite surprised that they kept some of the same items (the tuna cone was a signature so I expected that but others should have been rotated more).
Also interesting that we both enjoyed the pasta dish a lot. Wouldn't have thought that of Spago, as it's not an Italian restaurant.
One of these days after I get over the OD of wiener schnitzel and apple strudels I'll have to sample Spago's $40+ version and see how that stack up.
Your pictures reminded me of our excellent meal there probably 5 years ago. We had a table right next to the waterfall. I ate there with my parents and my husband. We ordered off the menu but had many of the same items you enjoyed, like the white asparagus, also had very fresh, briny oysters among other dishes. It was one of the best meals I've ever had, and like you, everyone in our party left extremely satisfied. I even wrote them a thank you note for their service and care of our party.
As much as I hear people say how mediocre the food at Spago is, it is one of the few places in Los Angeles where I have consistently had an amazing meal. Of course, this may be because for the last nine years, I have ordered maybe four different things on the menu, and none of them all that adventurous. It's not that I am an unadventurous eater, it's just that when you find something you really love, and you know it will always be perfect, it takes a very, very tempting offer to make me change my mind. Part of my love of this restaurant, I suppose, also stems from being a relatively regular customer. When my mother still lived in LA, we went at least once a month, and that lasted about 8 years, so we got to know the servers and the host staff quite well, and, thankfully, never had to sit inside, but it's just nice to walk into a restaurant where, no matter how chi-chi it may be, the staff still know your name.
I was just at Spago a few weeks ago for the tasting menu. I had been a couple times before for a la carte, and once to the original Spago on Sunset.
In my experience, the food was excellent every time, and the tasting menu was extra-excellent. But almost every time, there was some issue or another.
1. original Spago: they sat us, us nobodys, near the bathroom, worst table in the house. It was my first experience with little food, but I forgot to bring the magnifying glass. Attitude City, all around.
2. first visit to new Spago, I don't remember any misses, so I guess everything went well. Food was fab. Hostesses at the front were bitches.
3. next visit, food was great. Service sucked. Our waiter was so bad, I had to complain. But to their credit, they got us a new waiter and comped our desserts. Hostesses at the front were bitches.
4. tasting menu, similar to yours with a couple of diff dishes. Food was fab. Chef had a complete hissy fit over my request to sub out the beef, while keeping the beef for my two friends. Not sure if it was Hefter. But "management" righted the wrong, got me my substitution, and made sure our dinner went well. Our waitress was great. The wine pairings was kind of a letdown--just wines picked from the by-the-glass list. Also, I had called before going this time, to let them know about our food preferences, ie I don't eat beef, but the information went nowhere except the air, and apparently did not get communicated to our server. When I asked about the 10 course tm, I was told that it was only available "if the chef has time." Excuse me? Only one of the hostesses up front was a bitch.