About 10 and a half years ago, a young chef named Wolfgang Puck decided to open a little pizza parlor. He envisioned a simple sort of place with candles in Chianti bottles on red-checked tablecloths, something like a restaurant called Chez Gu that he had frequented while working in Provence. His friends all hated the name Puck had chosen, and did their best to talk him out of it. “Who,” asked one of them, “is going to go to a place called Spago?”
Ten years ago today, Spago opened. This is the photograph that ran with Lois Dwan’s glowing review in the Times. There were no red-checked tablecloths. There were no candles on the tables. There was pizza, but it was pizza unlike anything Chez Gu--or anyone else for that matter--had ever seen. Almost overnight designer pizza captured the nation. So did “California Cuisine,” which Puck had written in sprawling handwriting across his menu. California Cuisine would become a national fad and the restaurant with the silly name would become America’s most copied restaurant. Even today, at the venerable (for a restaurant) age of 10, Spago remains Southern California’s most difficult reservation.
Never more difficult than last Monday night--when they were impossible to get. To celebrate the anniversary, Puck and his partner/wife Barbara Lazaroff closed and threw a birthday bash. Customers were not invited, but so many former staffers flew in for the party, held at Campanile (owned by original head chef Mark Peel and original pastry chef Nancy Silverton), that the guest list ran to 300. Pizza was not served.