When I jetted down to the OC this past week on a not-quite-glamorous but ever-so-practical Southwest aeroplane, I made plans to have lunch with AT, who had been eating up a storm in Los Angeles. Frazzled by my itinerary and the errands I had to run for family, I didn’t have time to think of what I was craving. So in true omakase style, I simply said, “I just want to be blown away” and left the decision up to him. Ever the consummate foodie mensch, AT came through in fine samurai form.
This delectable composition you see here was one of the dishes I had for lunch at that Los Angeles institution known as Spago. It was the first course of a five course tasting menu that was fantastically delicious.
It was regulars’ Friday at Spago and we sat facing the patio, observing the patrons display the aplomb that is quintessentially LA, the Beverly Hills part of LA to be exact. It wasn’t the overt see and be scened atmosphere that the upstart celebs flock to. That set was probably dripping their cool all over Ivy on Robertson. No, Spago is an established name with nothing more to prove, and like the restaurant and its decor, my fellow diners carried themselves with the same dignified restraint and lack of self-consciousness even though I’m sure quite a few of them could buy a few small island nations with petty cash. Sitting in my chair and basking in the sunlight that echoed off the light-colored atrium walls, I felt like Gatsby. A penniless Gatsby at that, what nerve to show myself here.
Wolfgang Puck was milling about the restaurant greeting his regular patrons, probably talking about how well preparations for his Oscar bash was going. I would have run over to him like a mad groupie but I was saved from such gauche behavior by an amuse of spicy tuna tartare in a light sesame tuile cone, a Spago classic. After that, it was house-smoked salmon with lemon on a still-warm blini. Within minutes, I forgot about Wolfgang and focused on eating a pear and golden fig tartlet with duck liver mousse followed by a tiny square of duck liver pastrami between two rye crisps. Quite frankly, the richness of the liver drowned out the world and I was floating among the clouds.
The first course came and it was the only time I stopped to take a picture because the composition was so beautiful, it demanded to be recorded for posterity. On the left, were two of the silkiest pieces of toro I have ever had in my life, the kind that leaves you dumbfounded and speechless with satisfaction. There was also a salad made with baby leeks, some hamachi (I think) and a cute little chopped something on a thin disk of radish topped with caviar.
Next up was a colorful dish of perfectly cooked skate, which I noticed had the stringy texture of crabmeat but a more delicate flavor. It was prepared with Indian spices and placed on top of layers of pureed lentils and eggplant. My desi friends would identify them as daal and bharta. The follow up course was house made agnolotti with marscapone cheese and pureed celery root draped with shaved black truffle. Again, the world disappeared and I could think of nothing else as I dived into the pillowy bites. The last course before dessert was beef cheeks in a red wine reduction with pureed jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes). While it was tasty, I agree with AT that a nice piece of marbled steak trumps all other cuts of beef anytime.
Dessert was a marvelous concoction by Sherry Yard, gingersnap sorbet on a gingersnap cookie and a warm fruit souffle, elegant and deceptively simple (and infused with love as per our waiter). It was a light dessert to round out the rich meal. We were two very happy piggys indeed.
As we left Spago, I bid my farewell to AT, blowing air kisses and promising to meet up for another culinary adventure sometime soon. My visit to Beverly Hills at an end, I walked past the valet and headed to the public parking structure to fetch my car for the drive home.