Wolfgang Puck’s new Spago Beverly Hills opened its doors Monday night and it is spectacular. The site of the old Bistro Garden has been entirely reinvented by designer Barbara Lazaroff, Puck’s wife and partner, and architect Stephen Jones. Etched on the glass entrance door are the words, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
This is not the old Spago relocated, but an entirely new restaurant, with a new menu and style of cooking. It’s going back to Puck’s roots in a sense, back to fine dining in the grand style. After all the pizzas and casual cafes, it’s easy to forget that Puck cooked at three-star restaurants in France for years before he arrived on the scene in Los Angeles.
The heart of the airy, elegant restaurant is the brick-floored garden patio sheltered by two 100-year-old olive trees that frame a fountain inscribed with the word “passion” in 20 languages. With its widely spaced tables and comfortable chairs, the restaurant has a sense of luxury very unlike the original.
The immense kitchen at the back, seen through glass panels that can be slid back when the occasion demands, is state-of-the-art. And on these first nights, the choreography is intense as Puck and chef Lee Hefter, who headed the kitchen at Granita, bob in and out of view along the line of back-to-back stoves.
What’s to eat? A sumptuous foie gras plate of sauteed duck liver, a terrine of foie gras, a silky mousse of foie gras--and rillettes of duck. Warm crawfish salad layered with diced beets and potatoes. Grilled whole dorade perfumed with rosemary and thyme. Aged co^te de boeuf (prime rib) cooked on the bone and served with pommes aligot, a rich combination of mashed potatoes, garlic and Cantal cheese.
Puck has also devoted a small corner of the menu to the Austrian dishes of his childhood. Which means you can get a marvelous terrine of pork (similar to a very refined head cheese) drizzled with green-black pumpkin seed oil, Austrian cheese ravioli in hazelnut butter and plate-sized wienerschnitzle with warm potato salad.
“I sold 12 orders of gulasch tonight,” he was heard to say excitedly. It looks as if he’s actually having fun cooking. Now he’s got the venue to show Los Angeles, once again, just what he can do.
Spago Beverly Hills, 176 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 385-0880. Open daily for dinner (and tentatively for lunch starting April 28). Major credit cards accepted. Valet parking. Appetizers $9-$16; entrees $19-$28.