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Spago Tasting Menu (5 course) Great food but Lacking Service

I had been to Spago once before during Dine LA but wanted to try it the "right way" with their signature tasting menu.

As our waiter handed us menus, I said "Oh, we were going to do the tasting menu..." and he snatched away our menus and said "Well, then you won't be needing these". And then he abruptly left without confirming anything about the tasting menu or asking us any further questions.

Now, I had been studying up the tasting menu situation here on CH and read that there was a 5 course and 10 course. I was a little bit undecided going into the restaurant and thought discussing with the server would answer the question, but he didn't give the chance. Amuses just started coming. First a tuna tartar in a cone. Crazy delicious. Then a spoon of burrata with a jam of rhubarb. Also crazy delicious. Then a salmon blini with caviar-wow wow wow wow- so incredibly delectable. Probably the tastiest amuses I've ever had. Not super creative, but just close-your-eyes yummy. The only problem was they were coming too fast , overlapping even, and our first cocktail hadn't even arrived from the bar. We were a little rushed.

I finally see our waiter and say "Excuse me, has our tasting started?" And he said "Yes". I said "Oh, so there are no choices?" And he spoke in a pretty patronizing tone about "well, that's what a chef's tasting is, it's letting the chef decide what you eat". I didn't really let on that I was annoyed with this, or let him know that I've been to the French Laundry and done dozens of tastings all over the country. I just asked him "So it's a set number of courses?" and he said "Yes, it's five. The ones you got already were not courses" (here he condescended again and preceded to explain to me what an amuse bouche was, awesome!) We also missed any chance to get a supplement, etc, that I had read about.

So I guess there was no decision to be made about how many courses we were doing. Then I said "Do you know if the chef is cooking rabbit or veal tonight? I don't eat those" and he seemed pretty annoyed and said "You prefer not to eat rabbit or veal? I can find out" and then he left. He did not return to "answer" this question. He did not follow up either on whether we wanted to do the wine pairing (we ordered a cocktail to start but told him we were considering the wine pairing with the tasting). Food just kept coming out.

Another amazing amuse, a little pastry puff ball filled with a thick chunk of bacon. Heavenly. Seriously, those amuses I would be thrilled to have as the hour d'ourves at my wedding. I told my boyfriend I wanted to go to an event that had them going around on trays and gobble up as many as I could collect.

Our first course was an octopus 'ceviche' (looked like carpaccio) with mandarin oranges and radishes. Crisp, great flavors, a light but flavorful start to the meal.

At some point there was an intermezzo rhubarb sorbet with daikon radish in a broth. It was quite interesting and did in fact do its palate cleansing job, nothing I would crave to try again.

2nd course was a john dory encrusted in sesame seeds with a sweet pea emulsion on the plate and a purple sauce that I'm afraid I can't remember what it was. (The descriptions were blurted out in rapid fire by runners, and there was never a menu that we could reference the way you usually get at a fine dining tasting.) My first thought was that the sesame was overpowering, but the fish was cooked so nicely and the accompanying sauces really created a great balance of flavor. It was a dish that grew on us as we ate it.

We were also greatly enjoying the bread, the bread server recommended the "country" bread as his favorite, and we agreed.

3rd course was pea ravioli in a thin marscapone parmeggiano sauce with peas. I kind fell into a personal food reverie, this dish really brought me back to eating my mom's tortellini alla panna with peas as a kid. The flavors of pasta, peas, cream, and cheese bring me there, and this was an intense version of that flavor profile.

4th course was a braised short rib with a shallot puree (very small smear of it on plate) and a bone marrow with foam and fancy mushrooms. It was rich, hearty, decadent. The bone marrow with mushrooms was a delightful combination. I usually don't like to see short rib (easy to do, cheap protein) on an expensive tasting, but it was so delicious I can't complain.

5th course was dessert- a Neapolitan style (chocolate/strawberry/vanilla rather than the pastry) mouse/cake/ice cream dish with brandied cherries and some raspberry sorbet on top of crunchy chocolate bits. When it arrived, I felt disappointed, but when I tasted it I was happy again. But, why did it have to be so small? It was just a few bites and I wanted more.

The plain brewed coffee was delicious, but was not included in the price of the tasting, which I always find silly. When someone orders a gourmet tasting and spends a lot of money, let them have coffee for free which costs almost nothing. Call me crazy.

There was no take home menu or take home treat (like wrapped homemade cookies, etc) the way fine restaurants usually provide. This is another touch that is just missing and makes Spago feel a little cold or . When you do the tasting menu, they automatically charge you 20% for service. That may have something to do with our server's lackadaisical attitude towards us, but of course does not forgive it in the least.

Now, the back server (I believe he is called), the one that fills our water, brings us bread, clears our plates, etc, was great. He was very attentive, polite, and chatted with us about this or that, took our picture, etc

Luckily, I care much more about food than service, I didn't let the waiter's attitude effect my enjoyment of the meal, but Spago certainly missed the opportunity to enhance our experience by having a better dialogue about what we are eating, perhaps order some supplements, bring a copy of the menu home with us to reflect upon, etc.

The bill was $322 for two tastings, 2 cocktails, 2 glasses of wine, and 2 coffees. Service included at 20% and as you can imagine, I did not give any extra gratuity. We arrived at 6:45 and left at 8:30

The food was five stars, the waiter was one star, the back waiter was five stars, the value was three stars. I averaged all that to 4 star overall.

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Spago
176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

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  1. Very nice review, Sarah. We still like Spago, but there have been too many recent tales of sub prime service such as yours to be coincidental. Your service experience probably would have totally ruined my meal as I would have been fuming. Have you thought about sending a copy of your review to the GM or to Wolfie? I would if I were you. Thanks for sharing.

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    Spago
    176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

    1. Nice review. Appreciate the detail on the food and service. Great points about the coffee and other touches that could have made it better. You're an absolute saint for not ripping the waiter right there.

      1. Absolutely share your experience (the bad and the good) with management.

        1. Hello, and thank you for the review... I've wanted to try Spago for the longest time (especially the tasting menu) but as I'm not much of an imbiber in wine/spirits anymore, have hesitated from going there out of concern that not ordering cocktails or wine pairings might relegate the wife and myself to the realm of untouchables. This concern is now heightened when I read that even though you ordered cocktails and several glasses of wine, you got the stinkeye from your server for no good reason. Perhaps your experience was an unfortunate exception, but as with you, when I drop $300+ dollars on a meal (food only, in our case) anywhere, my heart breaks just a little when service not rendered feels like an unmerited judgment. Even then, I'd still like to go, someday... Thanks again...

          4 Replies
          1. re: silence9

            Although I have not been to Spago in a few months, the outstanding service has always been consistent and unchanging for years. That's why I'm urging the OP to share their experiences with management. I also hope that this experience was just an exception and not a trend.

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            Spago
            176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

            1. re: LATrapp

              Thanks, everyone. I will send the review to Spago management after your encouragement.
              To Silence9, I would say not to worry about not ordering alcohol. These days, it's in very poor taste to discriminate against those who don't drink. Service industry must be sensitive to those, for example, who are recovering alcoholics, or allergic, or who don't drink for religious reasons. It's completely uncool for anyone to treat you differently because of that.

              But at Spago, it seems you might get shi**y service even if you do order quite a bit. I will keep everyone posted on whether or not management responds.

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              Spago
              176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

              1. re: sarahbeths

                Good for you (and us). Spago's service is rarely sub-par. The amuses do come rather quickly at the start of a tasting menu and you are correct about it's missing a lot of the little "flourishes" other TM's dole out (coffee, a bring-home menu) but it sure is good.

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                Spago
                176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

              2. re: LATrapp

                I concur. Service has always been excellent when dining there with no regard for $$ spent.
                I think it is the luck of the draw as to WHICH server you end up with.
                If you know names (positive and negative) use them. The turnover rate there is not that high as I recognize servers when I visit.

            2. Odd, because most of the reports on Chowhound have generally slammed Spago for the food and lauded the service.

              I've always felt Spago was underapprecated on Chowhound. Sort of like that handcrafted double-stitched capt oe in your closet that's completely broken in and fits you like a glove, but you simply don't wear enough (or polish enough) because, well, you think that cool alligator monk strap is cooler.

              1. Not surprised by your report. The service at Spago the last few tasting menus were very disappointing and it was the only restaurant where we had to get even the GM twice to ask him to slow down the courses after our server didn;t seem to care. In addition, there are many good other restaurants now in LA with much more interesting and better prepared food (and tasting menus) than Spago, e.g. Hatfields, Saam etc. for a much better price. It was lousy service by the server but the reason why he didn't ask which tasting menu you wanted was most likely that the 10-course is not available most of the nights (even the 5-course is sometimes not o Sundays). If you want the 10-course call them before (or better go to another restaurant).

                1. I just received a call from management at Spago. They are are extremely apologetic and glad I brought this to their attention. They wanted to hear more details, and offer me a gift certificate to come back and have good service. So thank you all for encouraging me to let them know, because it seems like we all will benefit.

                  Apparently supplements only happen when truffles are in season, or you can supplement your tasting with something from the main menu (which the waiter should have suggested or offered and hopefully will from here on out). The tasting menu is not written, as it is meant to seasonal and surprising, but the manager said that upon request it can surely be printed out and delivered to take home.

                  So...the food is delicious, the managers do care, and now that they know about that server who didn't care, they will straighten him out. I will also report back after returning compliments of the house.

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                  Spago
                  176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: sarahbeths

                    That is an impressive outcome, especially when one considers the sheer number of hounds who have posted here about sending written complaints to various restaurants over the years and never heard anything back from them. So, however one may find the food at Spago (we still find it to be top tier) the management of the restaurant still brings it with pride and a sense of professional commitment to their patrons.

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                    Spago
                    176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

                    1. re: sarahbeths

                      Wonderful story and kudos to you and to Spago!

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                      Spago
                      176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

                    2. Spago is quite possibly my favorite restaurant in the world. My meal at Spago was the single greatest dining experience of my life Service, Food, Drinks, and Coffee were all world class. I found the service to be quite warm when I went there as opposed to other places of this price range. Good to hear they made right on your sub par experience.

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                      Spago
                      176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: P3R3

                        Very interesting. We have only been to Spago once- this year for lunch during DineLA. We really enjoyed the food and atmosphere and would definately go back. Our waiter, however, was a dolt. Knew little about the menu when we asked questions (but was very nice, would go find out answers and then even come back to correct the wrong things he told us previously). Told us he was getting items mixed up between Spago's menu and his other job. Very pleasant, don't get me wrong, but I had the impression for this lunch that service was more amateur (wannbe actors) and not something taken very seriously. I have to say I am very impressed with this response. Maybe we will take Mom out to Spago when she comes out to LA over Mother's Day.

                        H

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                        Spago
                        176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210