176 North Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Adequately Fed: $90
Crispy Soft Shell Crap with Indian Spices****
Pan Roasted Maine Monkfish*****
(Out of Five Stars)
Spago is the flagship restaurant of Wolfgang Puck, the famous Austrian freezer chef. I had heard of Spago long ago as one of those mythical Beverly Hills eateries once impossible to get a reservation, but now the hype has cooled and I managed to get a reservation on a Tuesday night.
The atmosphere and the decorations of the restaurant were tastefully done as strange ‘70s and ‘80s rock piped in around me. Our waitress came by, a little overly friendly and helpful, but she was knowledgeable of the menu and offered great suggestions. In fact, the menu is updated almost daily with different rotating entrees so each time you go, you may discover something new and exciting. The menu consists of one column of first course appetizers and one column of main course entrees. The first course dishes range from $16 for Chicken Bouillon to $135 for Osetra Caviar, and the main courses go from $32 for the famous Spicy Beef Goulash to $58 for the Prime New York Steak. Most of the dishes have elements of Italian, French, Japanese, and Chinese cooking with even a few home-style Austrian dishes from Wolfgang’s childhood.
I will admit that I have always been a sucker for soft shell crab so my eyes went directly to that appetizer. It came with a salad of marinate cucumbers, baby haricot vert, toasted almonds, argula, mint, cilantro, and a lime pickle vinaigrette. The crab was fried to be crispy, but not weighed down as most fried foods are. There was also a sauce of distinctive Indian flavors of tamarind and chutney. The crab itself was good, but nothing spectacular; however, the sauce and Indian spices did make this a dynamic taste experience.
I based my main course choice, the Maine Monkfish, on my personal failure in preparing monkfish. Last year, I had gone to Santa Monica Seafood Co. and brought home a monkfish filet. Wrapping it in bacon and sautéing it did not turn out too great. So seeing monkfish on the menu, I knew I needed to conquer the fish once and for all. For those who have not seen monkfish before, look for a picture on the Internet. It is possibly the ugliest fish commercially fished in the U.S., but the flavor of its flesh has been coined the “poor man’s lobster.” When the fish came, the first thing that struck me was the pleasantly sweet aroma. The fish had been cut into thick slices and places on a bed of little neck clams, cipollini onions, carmelized sweet corn, and Spanish chorizo. The aspect of the dish that most stood out was the sauce made of a puree of white corn and marjoram-clam emulsion. Each bite topped with that fluffy white sauce stood out with the sweetness of the corn and the soft clam flavor. This was one of the best dishes I have encountered thus far in my culinary experiences.
Each dessert was tastefully plated and garnished, but my apricot soufflé struck me as much too sweet. Although it was a soufflé, I still felt that it lacked any depth, if not in substance than in flavor.
Overall, I highly enjoyed my dining experience. Yet, the highlight of my night had to be the hand I felt on my shoulder as I waited for my entrée. To my surprise, I turned around to Wolfgang Puck himself asking me how everything was. Stunned to silence, I only managed a meek smile as he shook my hand. If anything, that one experience was enough to make my night, but it was the food that would bring me back again.
Recommended: This place is extremely pricey so only come here if you are celebrating something or if your company is subsidizing your meal.