Went to Spago last night. Pretty good experience, probably better than we expected, and the prices were lower than we thought they'd be as well.
Had an 8pm reservation, walked in about 5 minutes late, sat us at a deuce in the main room immediately. Unfortunately, the only duece available at that time was at the end of the line of tables so we were near a fairly high traffic area... not a big deal, as it was just two of us, and the service was quite good, although the couple next to us just complained and complained about their table geography... funny thing though, when they were offered several other choices to move, the lady looked at the other tables and decided against the move. The staff was VERY accomodating, and I'm sure we could have gotten a different table had we requested... but no big deal.
We (as usual) decided for the multi-course tasting menu, but instead of the house pairings on the wine we brought some wine ourselves and purchased a bottle as well. More on that later. Here is the food line up...
Tuna Tartare in a sesame (w/honey?) cone - a la French Laundry's salmon in the "cone" pretty good, fresh fish, and good starter. Very healthy portion for an amuse... took 3-4 bites to finish.
Foie Gras Combo - A foie gras mousse on a cracker, and a small piece of foie gras terrine on toast for both of us (4 total pieces). Very good. Again a generous (portion & ingredient) amuse.
Chestnut soup with creme fraiche and shaved truffles. Wow. Really good flavors and well executed. The sweetness of the chestnuts were a great compliment to the aroma of the truffles.
Scallop Ceviche - Incredibly fresh scallop in a ceviche sauce with micro greens. Tasted great. Nice course after a moderately heavy soup.
Seared Foie Gras (we added this to the tasting menu) - Traditional seared foie gras on apples with a sweetened balsamic reduction sauce. Generous portion of foie gras, executed well. What can you say about foie gras done well? It was great.
Seared Maine Diver Scallop with Pad Thai noodles, tofu on a coconut curry sauce. Great fusion of ingredients. A little on the spicy side, but tasted great.
Pan Fried Grouper with White Truffles and a truffle reduction sauce. Excellent fish, great truffles, perfect fish dish as a setup/transition from the appetizers.
Agnilotti (sp?) pasta with Black Truffles. What can I say other than, I love truffles. Classic simple pasta with lots of truffles is tough to beat. Pasta was done very well, light sauce, perfect accent for the truffles.
Duck Mixed Grill. Duck breast with veg on one side and more (I'm NOT complaining) seared foie gras on the other. Classic duck entree. Delicious.
Venison Filet. Perfectly done. I'm sorry, by this time, we are pretty full, so I don't remember the sauce details, but I do remember that it was REALLY good... we ate more than we should.
Cheese. Very good selection of cheeses. They had one of my FAVORITE triple creams, Explorateur, so that made me pretty happy.
Apple and Pomegranate - nice refresher.
Chocolate Stuff. Cold chocolate mousse/sorbet type thing with a chocolate cookie and a little pot of molten chocolate on one side a small piece of 12 layer chocolate cake on the other. Great chocolate ending.
As if they didn't feed us enough, a plate full of cookies were then brought to the table. We nearly died. Boxed them up for the kiddies at home. They loved them.
1998 Muller Catoir Haardter Riesling Spatlese - Purchased from Spago. Great Riesling for the amuses, and courses 1-4 (excluding #3)
1997 Chateau d'Yquem (half bottle) - I know it's really too young to drink, but wanted to see how this tasted now. Brought from home. Drank with Course #3 (foie gras) and cheese course.
1995 Chateau Latour - Great vintage, great producer, tough to beat. My wife and I were married in '95, so I stockpile this vintage. Very approachable, even at this young age. Great wine. All of the other courses.
A couple of comments about our evening. The service was really great. The sommelier took VERY good care of us (comped our corkage!), as did the rest of the staff. Everything was executed perfectly. A couple of thoughtful touches as well... for example, towards the end of the meal, we finished our large bottle of pellegrino, and asked for another, and it was obvious we were nearing the end so they automatically opened a much smaller bottle of water for us, even though we didn't ask for that, and I was just expecting the large bottle... good for them. Decanted the Latour very well, good stemware, kept the Yquem properly chilled, didn't let the Riesling get too cold. All done well.
The main room is a bit loud, but not overly so, we were able to carry on a conversation without too much trouble.
Had a great time, great food. The comparison against Melisse is that I would say Melisse is just a bit more refined in both the food and ambience, whereas Spago is a shade more casual. Certainly a highly subjective benchmark... definitely IMHO.
Most surprising of all was that the cost for the meal was well under $300... which given the food, quality, everything, I feel is a great value. Oh and FYI, after all that wine, we did NOT drive ourselves home to OC, we had planned that ahead of time.