Okay, so here's the backstory: Five or six years ago, my high school alumni association had a St. Patrick's Day party at Spago. They served perhaps the yummiest dessert I've ever tasted: a decadent banana chocolate-chip souffle. So when the time came to plan a celebratory lunch with my father and sister, I asked Spago to make a tasting menu lunch and re-create that dessert. The whole point of the lunch was the dessert.
So we go today, and get seated near enough to the patio to have to deal with a lot of unpleasant smoke. Yecch! Of course, the idea that smoking is only allowed in the patio was given the lie when a woman in the adjacent booth lit up toward the end of the afternoon.
So after much dilly-dallying and the waitress peddling flat AND sparkling water -- "perhaps you'd like a bottle of each?" "NOT" -- the amuses begin. Spicy tuna in miso sesame cones -- eh... Smoked salmon blinis with edible flowers -- eh... Heirloom tomato bruschetta with basil aioli -- delicious; bruschetta nice and soft and pliable. Bacon confit en croute -- eh...tasted like Egg McMuffin. Tomato sorbet with tomato confit in tomato water -- delicious and refreshing. Simplest is often best.
First course: wild Japanese albacore sashimi with citrus ponzu and scallions, garnished with mini-yuzu. Eh...give me the albacore at R-23 any day.
Second course: French-roasted langoustine with sweet corn puree, shellfish emulsion, kafir oil and sauce Americane: not good. Langoustine does not have a very rich taste; it's a poor man's lobster. It always reminds me of crawfish. This was actually pretty yucky.
Third course: seared grouper with fava beans, onion, tomato confit and lemon-basil-parsley sauce. Ho hum.
Fourth course: hand-rolled garganelli with wild porcini mushrooms and English peas. A very thick pasta with nothing inside. Strange. The effect was like a cardboard pizza with mushroom topping.
Fifth course: Duck breast with swiss chard, morel mushrooms, house-cured ham, and mariposa plums. Boring duck, absolutely nothing without the plums. With them, good enough to get by.
Cheese course: Manchego, an Alsatian muenster, a sheep's-milk cheese and a very ripe goat cheese that was the pick of the litter. The nut bread served with it would not have been my first choice. The other option: sourdough, which with soft cheeses makes for overly chewy bites.
Apricot sorbet with apricots sauteed with vanilla bean: Not bad-tasting, but with a flavor this intense and this particular, a little goes a very long way.
Now the big honking disappointment of the title: out comes a flourless chocolate cake (COULD THERE BE A MORE BORING OR TRITE DESSERT???) with creme fraiche, ten-year-old chocolate sauce and port wine cherries. Not worth a second bite. With it was a yummy chocolate ice cream with almonds, redolent of amaretto.
Now fifteen minutes go by, during which the chef comes out and plops down next to the young couple he'd been chatting up the whole time. Obviously the others taking the tasting menu were not worthy of his attention. Finally the waitress returns and we ask her, "Were you aware that we had requested a specific dessert?" No, she wasn't! As she said -- and none of this was her fault, she was good except for the water schtick -- "It would be nice if they told someone!"
Well, by this time, with the glacial pace between courses, we'd been there for three hours and wanted to leave. Another twenty minutes go by before she comes back and says, "They're going to make you that dessert now"!!!!! We told her we just wanted to leave.
Boy, did this piss me off. If you can't or won't make the dessert, that's fine, but (1) tell us ahead of time, and (2) don't bring us something else and then let it slip through the waitress that you make the dessert we'd requested regularly and would start making it now after we complained! Unreal. Just a total "f*ck you" to us.
Obviously, if you're one of the beautiful people -- and apparently Gary Busey and Steven Seagal, who were there, are beautiful people at Spago if nowhere else -- you get treated well. If not, you get treated like crap. Screw them -- there are too many other consistently excellent restaurants in town.
With a mandatory 20% gratuity, two bottles of water (she didn't ask if we wanted the second, just started pouring), and one soda, the bill came to over $350. Never again!