Monday, January 24, 2011

Spago - First Foray in Eons, for dineLA Winter 2011

It's been years since I'd been to Spago - mainly as it's not really within my price range, and there were so many other restaurants in LA that I still had to try.  Also - though in no other area of my life do I consider myself at all the risk-taker, I find myself appreciating the new, creative and risque in cuisine - where Spago is reliable, classic and safe as a security blanket.

With that context in mind...when "Foodie Mentor" said she wanted to leverage the dineLA deal for a rare visit to Spago, I signed up to give it another go - $44 was a great deal for a three-course prix fixe there, as entrees normally run around that price on their own (and sweet bread was on the menu).

Apparently other dineLA fans had the same idea, as many fellow diners (a sea of Asians normally not seen in these parts of Beverly Hills in such numbers!) turned out in droves for the deal.  Most got seated in the patio - I think thanks to Foodie Mentor, we got seated in the more 'proper' dining room inside.

We started off with a few cocktails - Foodie Mentor had the drink with cranberry and candied ginger, while I had the Canon Cocktail ($16) that had an interesting combination of cucumber, dill and lime.  I was uncharacteristically camera shy and didn't bust out my Canon until later in the meal - so unfortunately did not capture pics of the menus that would enable a more detailed account of our drinks.  

I was also sad that I didn't get a clean shot of the tuna cornettes ($6 each) - an off-menu item we got to taste thanks to Foodie Mentor's informative contacts.  These cornettes were basically a scoop of tuna tartare, in cones made with a sweet crunchy wafer that had fragrant black sesame baked in, topped with bonito flakes.  Though the lowest-priced item of the night, these tuna cornettes were easily the richest in flavor.  In a place that looked like a time capsule for 80s/90s decadence, with its somewhat staid decor featuring loud-colored ceramics, these cornettes were small beacons of a more sophisticated present day, befitting of a fine dining venue, beckoning us 'back to the future'.  I could have eaten a dozen of these cones in one sitting.

After a few wistful glances at the regular (cost prohibitive) menu, we quickly moved on to the dineLA insert, which differed slightly from the menu posted on the site.  The advertised lamb, which we had both been looking forward to, was missing.  In its place were short ribs.

An additional entree was available for a supplement of $15 - New York Steak with baked bone marrow and chanterelle mushrooms.  I was very tempted by the marrow and mushroom combo, but knowing I still had quite a few dineLA meals at other venues to try, refrained from overextending my budget.

Luckily, the starter I was excited about was still available - Sautéed Veal Sweet Bread with Mache Salad, Onion Pastilla and Orange Gastrique.  The sweet bread was fried to a nice thin crisp on the outside, smooth and chewy inside, with the citrus cutting through its earthy flavors nicely.  I liked this dish well enough, but it didn't set my synapses and taste buds hurtling through time and space (in a good way) like the restaurant's decor did (in a not so good way).

Foodie Mentor had the Dungeness Crab Raviolini, Chervil and Basil Scented Shellfish Broth - this was light in texture and rich in flavor - a solid starter.

For the main, in lieu of the MIA lamb, I went with the Medallions of Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Brussels sprouts, Puree of Parsnips and Potato-Herb Croquettes.  The pork lived up to its name - it was incredibly tender and juicy, falling away easily with a flick of the knife.  However, I could not taste the bacon at all, and the pork itself did not have much flavor.  The croquettes were a little too soft, where I had anticipated the shell to be crisp. 
Foodie Mentor ordered up the braised short rib, which was also amazingly tender and juicy, but again could have used a flavor defibrillator.

The desserts by Sherry Yard were a second highlight of the evening.  I got the Lemon Lemon Lemon: lemon sabayon on lemon cake with a scoop of lemon ice cream, topped by a huge wafer.  Light and refreshing after the heavier dishes preceding.

Foodie Mentor got the Sticky Toffee Pudding, which I loved and wish I had ordered as well - the pudding was more like a cake, light and not at all like the one I had at The Gorbals, which was difficult to eat - with the toffee congealing against my teeth with every spoonful.

As we walked out into the night, I was glad that we had visited during dineLA (not at full, mortgage-sized price), scored the first of three dines that would earn me a $20 statement credit on Amex, Foodie Mentor racked up some OpenTable points, and we saved $8 on valet that went towards the awesome tuna cones.   And I left satisfied that it would be a very long time before I would possibly feel the need to return for another visit.




*Parking tip:  Since we went on a Sunday night, I was able to get street parking easily on Crescent Dr., just one short block over from Spago.  If you can't find meter parking, or if visiting on a weeknight during dineLA, there are $5 public lots at the Montage hotel across the street on Canon Drive, and on Crescent Drive by Whole Foods Market.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 5 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5 bites
Ambience - 5 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 5.5 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 50%

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Spago Beverly Hills
176 North Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Ph: 310.385.0880

Website: wolfgangpuck.com
Twitter: twitter.com/wolfgangbuzz
OpenTable:  Look for reservations
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Spago Beverly Hills on Urbanspoon

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