Its been a long while since Ive wanted to actually write a detailed review of a restaurant that weve been to in Los Angeles. However, yesterdays dinner demands such a review. Andrew was in charge this year of choosing a restaurant for our combined Valentines Day/Anniversary dinner and we decided to go the day after Valentines Day so we didnt have to pay an additional amount of money just for the prix fixed menu (and rushed service, etc). We ended up at Spago (I told him I wanted to be surprised so I didnt know where we were going until we pulled up to the restaurant). Andrew has wanted to experience Spago for a while, but Ive balked at the outrageous prices ($16 for a bowl of soup?! I dont think so!) So the only way to get me there was to take me out.
We arrived early but were seated right away. Spago is a large restaurant, with an outdoor seating area filled with trees and lights. Considering it was quite cold (well, cold for Los Angeles) we were happy to sit inside. There are booths lining one side of the wall, tables for four or more in the middle, and tables for two lining the other wall. We were seated at one of the tables for two. Even though we were pretty close to our neighbors we didnt feel like we were eavesdropping on their conversations. And it also made it easy to see the various meals they ordered! I think the hostess forgot to give us menus, because we were seated and given the wine list, and several minutes later were handed the menus.
Immediately I noticed how expensive everything was, especially the appetizers (which ranged from $17-$42). Another oddity was that there were no salads listed but we noticed the couple next to us eating a Cesar salad and some type of mixed salad. Perhaps theres a secret menu out there that were not cool enough to know. Or maybe people just tell the servers what they want even if its not on the menu. I was too intimidated to ask so we just stuck to the menu. Andrew suggested getting a few appetizers, and since he was footing the bill I let him order whatever he wanted (although I only saw one out of the many that I would actually want to try. The food was simply too sophisticated for my taste buds!) He ordered the cheese ravioli (KÄRNTNER KÄSE NUDELN GIANT FARMERS CHEESE RAVIOLI with Mascarpone, Goat Cheese, Parmesan, Mint, Chervil and Hazelnut Brown Butter) and house smoked salmon and sturgeon. While we were waiting a server came out with a tray of various types of bread (we snagged some olive bread, quite good!) I liked the cheese ravioli better than the smoked salmon dish, but I did enjoy the smoked salmon/sturgeon more than I thought. They were both presented beautifully.
For our entrees Andrew tried to order the spicy beef goulash but the waitress asked if he had another choice. She said that while the goulash was good, it wasnt a dish where you would be amazed by its brilliance. We appreciated the honesty (unless of course, she was trying for a higher tip as the goulash was the cheapest dinner entrée!). So Andrew chose the seared rare Big Eye Tuna instead. I went for the pan roasted duck breast (Black Trumpet Mushrooms, English Peas, Confit Bacon, Cippolini, Sweet Pea Puree and Thyme Natural Juice). I have got to say, that duck is probably the best duck Ive ever had (and Ive ordered a lot of duck over the years!) It was cooked perfectly and had this great marinade/sauce and I savored each and every bite. The presentation was beautiful as well, although I wasnt a big fan of the sweet pea puree I just didnt like the consistency. There wasnt a lot of accompaniment with the duck (a few mushrooms, bacon, etc) but it turned out to be the perfect amount of food. Andrew enjoyed his tuna although he does prefer Literati IIs tuna recipe better.
The dessert menu was the same size as the regular menu and there were many choices to ponder. I told Andrew to choose two desserts he wanted the most and wed share. He ordered the chocolate chip soufflé (which took about 10-15 minutes) and the lemon dessert (a lemon and coconut cake dunked in a lemon cream/frothy type sauce with grapefruit ice cream and grapefruit chunks). The soufflé was the clear winner; Ive never seen a soufflé as huge as this one! It could have easily satisfied 3-4 people. I wish I could have taken a picture of it. It was served with a little container of thick chocolate to pour in the soufflé, two slices of caramelized bananas, and a small scoop of banana ice cream. We got too full to come close to finishing it. My lemon concoction was good, but I wasnt a fan of the grapefruit ice cream. Other desserts on the menu included a flourless chocolate cake and apple pie.
We were very happy with our meal. Our water glasses were refilled consistently and the waitress checked in with us during every course to make sure everything was okay. The General Manager (I assume it was the GM) even made a brief How is everything visit. We never felt rushed, and the time in between courses was longer than what we were used to (not a bad thing). The only thing I noticed was that Andrew was never asked if he wanted more wine, and my iced tea was not refilled until my dessert (it was half empty during my main meal). Was it worth paying the extra money for the high end Spago? Maybe not for the ravioli appetizer at $17 but everything else exceeded our expectations. This isnt a place for a quiet, romantic dinner (the noise level was high but I never had a problem hearing Andrew; a large group may have issues though). However, its worth it to experience Spago at least once.