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NYT: "The Once and Future Spago"

From the article:

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Nancy Silverton, an owner of Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza (and a graduate of the Spago kitchen), said she picked up the telephone the other day to hear Mr. Puck’s unmistakable voice. “He must be under an incredible amount of pressure, with the transition, the expectations,” she said. “But he called me up and said, ‘Mama’ — he always calls me Mama — ‘Mama, how come you haven’t made a reservation to come to my restaurant?’ ”

The very fact that Spago Beverly Hills continues to exist, much less prosper, is striking at a time when the Los Angeles restaurant scene is so dynamic and punishing. Over the last year, some of this city’s most popular spots have announced they were closing: Angeli Caffe, Campanile, Sushi Nozawa and Lou among them. One place on Los Angeles Magazine’s list of this year’s 10 best new restaurants that was all but impossible to get into eight months ago had empty tables on a recent Friday night. The extravagance Mr. Puck championed at Spago has taken a back seat to restaurants that are quieter, smaller, more adventurous and less pricey.

“It’s a very different world now,” Ms. Kleiman said. “It’s not like where it was 10 years ago, when a lot of people could go out and eat at fine dining places on expense accounts. I think people in their 30s or 40s don’t think about going to Bouchon and Spago.”

Mr. Puck has tried to accommodate them. At this latest of Spagos, he jettisoned two staples, the smoked salmon pizza and the Wiener schnitzel (though he said he would be glad to make either for old-time customers who ask) as he dappled his menu with dishes like a veal filet mignon tartare with smoked mascarpone, and a soba pasta studded with pieces of Dungeness crab. His challenge, Mr. Puck said, is rolling out innovative dishes that would bring in new diners without frightening the horses — the patrons who have been eating at Puck restaurants from the beginning.

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Read it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/31/din...

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  1. I'm not young by any stretch of the imagination, but when I go out looking for someplace interesting and slightly off the well-trodden dining path, these days (at least for me) food and ambiance takes a distant back seat to considerate and attentive service.

    Not exemplary service; simply conscious and caring treatment from one's server, the host(ess) and the back-of-the-house staff who handle my food. I don't want angry/embittered cooks/chefs anywhere near what i injest. And I don'tt want to be a pariah because I order a glass of wine and not a bottle..

    My palate is very easy to please, and I'd rather stare into the sparkling eyes of of my dining companion than at a crystal chandelier. Other than that, I just want to share my gratitude as a patron with the restaurant's gratitude as a provider of a nice moment in my day...

    6 Replies
    1. re: silence9

      i'm curious as to how you know by tasting your food the chef or cooks are "angry/embittered."

      1. re: linus

        Obviously I can't possibly have that knowledge - those powers would elevate me from angel to archangel.

        I also can't possibly know whether the surgeon who beats his wife is performing my heart surgery.. But all things being otherwise equal, I'd prefer a different doctor...

        1. re: silence9

          i think we all would prefer to encounter only wonderful people with no flaws whatsoever. sadly, we live on earth.
          thus, i don't understand what angry embittered chefs have to do with how you enjoy the food.
          i don't give a hoot what mood the gal/guy cooking my food is in when he cooks it as long as it tastes good.
          and i think we can all agree there's a vast difference between being angry and embittered and slapping your spouse around.

          1. re: linus

            I'm the opposite. I can put up with competent but indifferent and even cold service - if the food is great. My experience is that I so rarely get bad service (sure, a mistake here and there - usually followed by a humble mea culpa). I find that the service you get is the service you deserve. And more often than not determined by the attitude you put out.

            1. re: foodiemahoodie

              "I find that the service you get is the service you deserve."

              i've felt this way for a long time, but have been afraid to post it. thanks for doing so.

              1. re: linus

                It reminds me of the parents who say that every teacher that their child has is against the kid... It makes me look at the "common factor" and then I draw my conclusions about who is most likely at fault in most of these situations, that's for sure.

    2. The food was never exciting to me but I would take out of town guests to brunch there because it is a LA classic. Hope the remodel doesn't diminish that little bit of classic LA that made it special.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Porthos

        It kind of has. At least from early reports.

        1. re: Porthos

          I had dinner the new Spago about two weeks ago. Nice small plate format, with some tasty highlights, but many other L.A. eateries do that now.

          Preliminarily, it seems that the reconstruction apparently took Spago's ethereally special "x"-factor along with it. While Wolfgang Puck has become comfortable with his status and empire, there is zero inventiveness about the format, the space, or the menu at his flagship currently.

          Being fair to Chef Yahagi, I ordered a la carte that night. I plan to return soon for his tasting menu to see if Spago can be redeemed in my eyes.

          1. re: Porthos

            I brought my own bottle ( as I usually do ).
            Waiter offered to bring glasses, which my party accepted.
            I opened said bottle ( as I always do ).
            Five minutes later, gray-dress lady showed up, announcing there is a corkage fee.
            I said "of course".
            She said it's U$S 75.00 per bottle.
            I said I never paid that much, waiter should've warned.
            She said that was "the custom of the place after the remodel".
            I offered to leave.
            She called manager, got fee waived.
            Party asked for a tasting menu.
            Waiter asked kitchen, kitchen said yes, proceeded to bring x number of dishes from the (regular) menu.
            Dishes from unremarkable to ridiculous.
            A -used- bone used as container for carpaccio??? wtf???
            "Kobe" beef announced the waiter. We asked "from Japan of course?". Waiter said, well, er, this is American kobe.
            Long story short: sorry Spago. That is, sorry for you, not for me ( who won't return ).

            1. re: RicRios

              Wow, very interesting..... Thanks for sharing your experience. Does not look like this will be high on my list to return to.

          2. Thanks for sharing this.

            Does anyone else feel like Puck deserves some credit for recognizing the need to bring some new energy to Spago? As much as I feel sad that venerable places like Campanile are closing/have closed, it does seem that those who don't shift with the times can sometimes sink (I ate at Campanile two weeks ago with someone who's been dining there since it opened in '89, and she said very, very little has changed since then). And as far as the "old Spago specialness" being gone... I don't know. Are we maybe being overly nostalgic? Don't get me wrong -- I'm hopelessly nostalgic at times, but perhaps change is necessary for survival.

            5 Replies
            1. re: CLowe

              I think what is sad is not that Spago is changing, but how it's changing.

              Spago used to set the trend (e.g. CA pizza), now it seems like it's just following it (e.g. tapas menu).

              1. re: ipsedixit

                +1. Do we need another tapas place? Even if the food is delicious, we already have SO MANY delicious tapas places. I didn't go to Spago very much (2-3 times?). But I loved the smoked salmon pizza and the casual but upscale ambiance. I totally agree that places need to evolve or die, but there's a difference btw an update and losing your soul....

                1. re: ilysla

                  We have a lot of great tapas places in L.A.? You mean the "small plates" trend or actual tapas?

                  1. re: foodiemahoodie

                    Sorry, small plates.

              2. re: CLowe

                i think what's sad is that it seems like wolf, rather than standing with his identity, seems to be chasing after a crowd that he doesn't understand, and floundering a bit doing it. i would have hoped that after as much as he's done -- and a lot of it good -- he'd be able to stand firm with what he believed in.

              3. "I think people in their 30s or 40s don’t think about going to Bouchon and Spago."

                I found this quote interesting, since I'm a 30something Chowhound, and the only 2 restaurants I've dined at in Beverly Hills are Bouchon and Spago. I'm an out-of-towner, so my tastes/food interests are going to be different than the tastes of a local 30something Chowhound.

                Sad to hear the Wiener Schnitzel is no longer on the menu. When I saw a server walk by with one, I remember telling myself to order the Schnitzel should I dine at Spago in the future.

                8 Replies
                1. re: prima

                  As previously mentioned, the kitchen will still make salmon pizza or the wiener schnitzel if you ask for it.

                  1. re: J.L.

                    While the article mentioned he'd make the salmon pizza or schnitzel for old-timer customers who ask , it didn't sound like never-evers could also order those dishes. Guess I'll see if I can order the schnitzel next time I'm at Spago.

                    1. re: prima

                      Just ask your server next time you go.

                  2. re: prima

                    I found this quote interesting, since I'm a 30something Chowhound,
                    _________________________________

                    You're a Chowhound. Which makes you about 1% of the 1% of the dining population, if that.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      good point.

                    2. re: prima

                      I've been going to Spago and Bouchon (LV) since my college days, but since my last experiences visits within the last year, I've found the food to not be as good as I expected. I wish that Spago concentrated on being the best that it could be, rather than a new direction.

                      It was Kleiman who said it was a business decision to lower the price point and go after younger customers. But if Puck just wanted to remodel like someone wants to redecorate their house, more power to him.

                      1. re: prima

                        If not, the schnitzel up the street at Bier Beisl is supposed to be great.

                        1. re: Thor123

                          There are few occasions when we get to discuss schnitzel, so I'll seize the opportunity to mention that the entire month of November is "Schnitzel Month" at Wirtshaus on La Brea. They are serving 7 different schnitzels although I do not know if they are available at the same time or in rotation.

                          http://www.wirtshausla.com/home.html

                      2. The LAWeekly likes it.

                        Says the highlight were the desserts from Sherry Yard. Good thing she's not like leaving (or already left?) or anything.

                        http://www.laweekly.com/2012-12-13/ea...