Spago Beverly Hills
176 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Dining date: 2/25/11
Spago has one of the richest histories in LA dining, having been Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant for decades. It used to be one of my favorite restaurants when I first moved to LA; there was something about the upscale Asian-inspired dishes that captured my attention. However, when the first Michelin Guide in LA came out and awarded Spago two stars, I was perplexed. I enjoyed the food, sure, but the cuisine wasn’t as refined and innovative as other two-star restaurants I’d been to.
Enter the tasting menu. I’ve always ordered a la carte in previous visits – when I heard the tasting menu was a very different meal altogether, I knew I had to visit again. Kevin of kevinEats was also looking to make a return trip, so I joined him, Christina of food, je t’aime, Sam of Bites for Me, Diana and Jackie to come try out the tasting menu. In true kevinEats fashion, Kevin requested an extended tasting and the restaurant obliged; what resulted was a 23-course meal with 15 wines to match. Goodness.
We started with seven (yes, seven!) amuse bouche.
Spicy Tuna Tartare in Sesame-Miso Cone
I think you always get this amuse at Spago, one of their signature. It’s a good one, with tender chunks of tuna balanced well with a little sweetness and texture from the sesame miso cone.
Smoked Salmon with lemon-herb blini, salmon eggs
One of Spago’s famous dishes is a smoked salmon pizza. Here we have the house-smoked salmon on top of a blini; unfortunately, I didn’t get too much of the smoked salmon flavor, as I thought it was overwhelmed by the tart crème fraiche and salty salmon eggs.
I wouldn’t say there was anything too special about this course, but it was done well. A little bit of citrus and herbal notes complemented the fish.
Toad in a Hole with black truffle
A very light brioche was filled with a quail egg, and then topped with black truffle. Sounds amazing….and it was! Runny egg yolks work so well with truffles, and this was no exception.
Oyster Gratin with caviar
The saltiness of the caviar worked well here in cutting through the richness of gratin; the bite as a whole was pretty tasty with the oyster.
Pastrami-Cured Duck Liver Mousse with rye crisp and apple puree
I liked the tandem of the sweet apple and rich duck liver. The rye crisp added just a little bit of texture, as well as a more interesting presentation.
Bacon Confit en Croute with black truffle
I really liked the smoky, meaty bacon within the flaky dough; however, I found it overwhelmed any black truffle flavor whatsoever.
Pear-Rhubarb Sorbet with jasmine tea
This was a palate cleanser to signal a transition from the amuses to more traditional courses. The sorbet was interesting – very creamy and sort of floral…I didn’t really care for it actually. The jasmine tea was pretty solid though, as well as the small chunks of crisp, sweet Asian pear floating within.
Crispy Phyllo-Wrapped Santa Barbara Spot Prawns with black bean vinaigrette & Asian slaw
Chablis, Domaine Francois Raveneau, France 2008
This was a standout dish for me. I love fried shrimp so I really liked the light, crispy phyllo dough around the prawn. There was a cucumber flower on the plate (never had this before); when eaten, it tasted just like a cucumber, adding some cool and refreshing crispness.
Sauteed Veal Sweetbreads with onion-mushroom “pastille,” maitake mushrooms, confit bacon, orange-kohlrabi puree
Chignin-Bergeron, Domaine Jean Vullien, France 2009
I liked this dish as well. The sweetbreads were perfectly cooked with a crispy exterior. A rich pan sauce added depth of flavor, while the “pastille” was a fun way to add some sweetness and earthiness.
Fromage de Tete with truffled red wine sauce & truffle salad
Riesling Spatlese “Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg,” Karthauserhof, Germany 2003
I don’t think I’ve ever had head cheese before, so I had no idea what fromage de tete was at first. The “cheese” was very tender and rich, though the truffles were overwhelmed (again). The paired Riesling, with its mild sweetness, was a fantastic accompaniment.
Seafood-stuffed Sepia with fried calamari
Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle, Ermes Pavese, Italy 2009
The sepia (cuttlefish) was stuffed with Dungeness crab, which I thought was an awesome idea. The sepia was very tender, and the fried calamari was executed well, providing some crunchy texture as well.
Rye-Crusted Loup de Mer with littleneck clams & lemon butter meuniere
Firmint “Csontos Vineyard,” Bott, Hungary 2009
The fish was extremely moist – perfect. However, the rye added a wheat flavor which I didn’t totally like with it. Still, the fish was very good. The littleneck clams were tasty, though not really cohesive with the dish overall.
Hand-rolled Garganelli with Maine lobster & spring rapini
Pinot Grigio “Alisos Vineyard,” Central Coast 2008
The garganelli was a nice al dente, but wasn’t quite as chewy as some of the garganelli I’ve had elsewhere (ie Drago Centro). However, a solid dish with the tender lobster in a tomato sauce.
Handmade Agnolotti with celery root & French black truffles
Lazio Bianco “Coenobium,” Monastero Suore Cistercensi, Italy 2007
The pasta here was wonderful. The celery root added some savory sweetness, while the butter sauce and truffles added some richness and the bulk of the flavor. Very nice.
Duo of Rabbit: Bacon-wrapped Loin and Rack of Rabbit
Lanzarote “Maceracion Carbonica,” Bermejo, Islas Canarias 2008
We progressed into some richer, meat courses here. Look at the rabbit ribs! I found it a little uncomfortable to eat since I imagined this small bunny rabbit. I didn’t regret eating the meat, though, which was delicious. The loin was wrapped in bacon, which added a little bit more moisture and flavor to the dish. I thought the jus really brought everything together.
Sonoma Lamb Loin with fennel puree and brussels sprouts and black olives
Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Chateau de Candale, France 2006
Nothing too imaginative here, but this was a solid dish. I like my meats, so I enjoyed this lamb, especially with the fennel puree. It wasn’t as tender as I expected, though.
Slow Braised Short Ribs with Baked Bone Marrow
Cabernet Blend, Rothwell Hyde, St. Helena 2006
Love the idea of the bone marrow! The short rib was really tender, meaty and rich (though..when isn’t it?). The bone was filled with chunks of marrow and maitake mushrooms, adding even more richness to this dish. A cabernet blend was the ideal wine pairing for this.
Selection of Artisanal Cheeses
Madeira Sercial, Rare Wine Company
I’m never a huge cheese fan. Given we had 18 courses already and had 4 desserts coming up, I opted to just try a small piece of each. Still not a huge cheese person.
Lemon Souffle and blackberry sorbet
Moscato D’Asti “Bricco Quaglia,” La Spinetta, Piedmont 2010
Pastry chef Sherry Yard came out to present the first dessert. The soufflé was warm, light and airy and contrasted well with the refreshing fruits and blackberry sorbet.
Cuvee Beerenauslese, Kracher, Austria 2006
This Austrian favorite is one of Yard’s signature desserts. This was very much like a strawberry and pancakes brunch. I liked the dough quite a bit – it was very light with a subtle sweetness from the powdered sugar. The strawberries were okay, though I feel like I’ve had these flavors together dozens of times.
Dow’s 20-Year Tawny Porto
This is a rendition of a Hungarian cake, with layers of chocolate and a little caramel. The cake was pretty light, which I liked.
Chocolate Pot Pie
Lastly (finally!), we had this “chocolate pot pie.” I think the top crust was a chocolate puff pastry, which we cracked to find more chocolate, crunchy cocoa-puff-like balls, as well as raspberry sorbet. This was probably the most interesting of all of the desserts.
This meal was the strongest I’ve had here, and I quickly understood the Michelin stars…well, at least one of them. With 23 courses presented, I expected some to be very good and some to perhaps be duds. I wouldn’t call any of the dishes bad, though I found the desserts a little disappointing. My favorite courses were the toad in a hole, spot prawn, sepia, agnolotti and rabbit. Consider my opinion of Spago changed; while I’ve enjoyed my a la carte experience each time, the tasting menu presents a more refined meal worthy of Michelin recognition. Next time, though, I don’t think I need to try as many courses!
Photo courtesy of kevinEats.