When you’re very famous, or very successful, or Bruce Willis, you don’t really have to change. You’ll keep making action movies with implausible plots, you’ll keep making a bunch of money, so why bother making an indie movie and trying to get an Oscar?
Spago could keep doing what it’s been doing since the ’80s, and it would still be just as famous and successful. But unlike Bruce, it’s actually trying to keep things interesting.
You’re probably familiar with Spago. It’s been open for 35 years, has sister restaurants in places like Istanbul and Singapore, and attracts celebrities who regularly get photographed leaving dinner there. Spago made Wolfgang Puck the first (and maybe only) chef you and your grandma know by name - even if that’s only because you’ve bought one of his salads at LAX to take with you on a plane. So it would make sense if Spago kept serving $40 wiener schnitzels to Beverly Hills tourists while Wolfgang hung out on his yacht making sculptures with his spare $100 bills.
Instead, Spago has kept doing its best to stay relevant. They did a big renovation a few years back, making the space look less like a Dynasty set and more like a rich movie star’s Benedict Canyon estate. There’s an enclosed patio that you’ll only be sat on if you’ve got a star on the Walk of Fame and a bar that feels like a hunting lodge with excellent cocktails. There are still plenty of tourists having dinner here, but there are also couples doing a fancy date night, families celebrating graduations, and many, many business deals going down over meals. The servers are friendly and helpful, although they can also go missing if they decide you’re not particularly important people - which you might have to be in order to afford to eat here.
The food doesn’t rest on Spago’s reputation alone either. The menu straddles the line between very good food and cruise ship food, and ends up being like the kind of food you’d get on an expensive luxury cruise to Antarctica. And we mean that as a compliment. You can still order the smoked salmon pizza and wiener schnitzel that made this place famous (they’re not on the menu, so you have to ask), but you can also get a kind-of-Mexican octopus aguachile, lamb cutlets that come with falafel “macaroons,” and a fancy sashimi bowl. Sure, you might get a little whiplash from going around the world and back in one meal, and the original dishes feel more nostalgic than anything else, but almost everything on the menu tastes good.
Despite the changes, Spago is still the Beverly Hills restaurant you go to for a big occasion. It might be a piece of LA restaurant history, but at least it has the sense to give you an experience that feels like the present. Because no one really needs another Die Hard movie.
An off-menu Spago original, and really the only way to start a meal here.
Smoky and spicy octopus in a green habanero broth, all served in a coconut half. Which isn’t just some cutesy presentation trying to get you to take a photo (which definitely won’t turn out) - you get a special spoon to peel out the coconut meat. It’s a great, light dish.
There are always a few different pastas on the menu, and you should always get one to share. The agnolotti changes with the seasons and is delicious. If you’re splitting with the table, you won’t all be stabbing your forks at the same plate, they’ll serve it for each of you. Because they’re classy here.
This off-menu pizza tastes like the ’80s. And we’re fine with that.
The quotation marks are pretty unnecessary - this is an Asian-style piece of fish, perfectly steamed, with some vegetables, a little bowl of rice on the side, and a pour-your-own jug of sweet, gingery soy sauce.
Ok lamb cutlets made better by the crispy falafel “macaroons” sandwiched together with a cucumber yogurt sauce. There are better things to order.
Like this. It’s not on the menu, but be brave and ask. The crispy breaded veal comes with a slightly pickled potato salad, beets, green, and a creamy pile of cucumbers, and is essentially fancy comfort food.
$36 is a lot to pay for a single dessert. This rich tower of pastry, cream, and strawberries is split tableside, tastes excellent, but is also still $36.