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Spago Tasting Menu Review (long post)

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Spago Tasting Menu Review (long post)

Jess | May 24, 2005 10:31 AM

Last week, someone asked if Spago was worth it. On Saturday night, we had the tasting menu with wine pairings and I can say it was one of the most spectacular meals I've ever had.

I have to concede that I don't know if this is the regular tasting menu or not. Our reservation was arranged by a friend who does a lot of work with Wolfgang Puck, so we might have received special treatment. I thought the tasting menu was supposed to be eight courses, but we had ten. We also might have endeared ourselves to the hosts for making a lot of jokes as we entered about the people who were standing outside the restaurant and protesting the serving of "cruel fois gras and crated veal." Alas, we did not have any veal, but fois gras was in ample supply. I do wonder what restaurants will do when the fois gras ban goes into effect.

To the best of my recollection, here is a description of the meal.

Amuse Bouche

The first four of these came out together. The hamachi came shortly thereafter. I cannot recall if the last two amuses came before our first course or if they were interspersed. I feel pretty confident that the last fois gras amuse came out between courses, but I'm not sure about the confit of bacon.

Tuna tartare in crisp miso cone. This is always a favorite treat of mine. The miso cone is sweet, but the tuna had a very fresh, clean flavor.

Fois gras pastrami. This was an unusual preparation. The fois gras was peppered and served in a very thin wafer. I love fois gras, but I thought the pepper was a little overpowering.

House smoked salmon on corn pancake with creme fraiche and caviar. This was good, but not spectacular, although it may have suffered because I had the fois . The salmon was delicate and the pancake had a distinct corn flavor.

Fois gras mousse with kumquat jelly on a pastry. This was fabulous. The mouse was so creamy and the jelly had the perfect sweetness to complement it.

Hamachi sashimi with sweet vinegar. Served in a japanese soup spoon. The fish was perfectly tender and it provided a nice break from the richness of the previous items.

Confit of bacon en croute. Back to richness. This was a pastry puff with a strong bacon flavor. It was extremely powerful and tasty. Someone in an earlier post described this as tasting like an Egg McMuffin. We actually thought it tasted more like a Burger King Crossainwich, but that is not a criticism of this dish. It seemed quite decadent.

Seared fois gras with dried cherries. This was the final amuse (although I can't rule out the possibility that I'm forgetting one), and it was served in another spoon. I thought my piece of fois gras might have been slightly overcooked, but the cherries had a nice combination of sweetness and tartness.

Courses

White Asparagus. This came in two preparations. One slice of asparagus was heated with a slightly Italian preparation. It didn't have a sauce, but it had a slight tomato flavor from the seasoning. It was good and had a nice heartiness to it. The second was a cold asparagus salad with greens and cherry tomato. I liked the way the combination showed off the contrasting ways the asparagus could be prepared.

(I have to admit that I may have the order of the next few courses confused. I was not taking notes.)

Oyster served in the half-shell with creme fraiche. I swore off raw oysters after I got seafood poisoning a few months ago, but I had to give this a try. It was very good and fresh. The only criticism was that the shell was set on some form of cored vegetable (jicama, perhaps) with a white filling. It turned out to be a wet salt mixture which was a shock to the unsuspecting.

Baby artichoke ravioli with a mascarpone sauce. Very light and simple. The taste of the artichoke was sublime and we all wound up using our bread to sop up the sauce.

Crab prepared two ways. One preparation was a softshell crab tempura with two sauces. The tempura batter was a little heavier than Japanese-style tempura, but it was wonderfully crisp while still allowing the flavor of the crab to come through. The second was a small crabcake with virtually no breading. Both preparations were fantastic.

Turbot. This was a simple preparation with a savory, smoky sauce containing bacon or ham, a few vegetables and some type of fruit – peach or apricot, perhaps. It was very good, although I do not remember the details. I do recall that this was the least successful of our wine pairings, because the sweetness of the fruit clashed a little with the wine. If the sauce had not had the fruit, the wine would have been perfect.

At this point in the meal, we were already feeling quite full, so we asked the sommelier how many more courses were coming. To our chagrin, she told us that there were "three more savory courses, cheese, and two desserts." Yikes!

Frogs legs. These were fantastic. Perfectly sauteed and served on a bed of pastina, prepared risotto style. The risotto alone would have been sufficient, but the frogs legs were tender and flavorful. The wine they served with this was an absolutely amazing match.

Rabbit. While nearly every dish we had was fantastic, this was the standout of the night. The rabbit was perfectly cooked. Each serving had two rounds with stuffing and a small rack that looked like a baby lamb chop. The sauce is indescribable. We were so taken with the dish that we asked Lee Hefter to come over and describe how it was prepared. It involved so many steps and reductions that we joked it must have taken days to prepare. An interesting side note: Hefter told us that he is extremely enamored with rabbit, but his supplier raises so few at a time that he only can get 12 a week. So rabbit is only on the menu at Spago on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Squab. Another dish with two preparations. One half were small slices of tender squab with a
The other was a leg stuffed with fois gras. It was served with a white asparagus flan that was outrageously simple and subtle, but oh so good. Unfortunately, we were so full that we wound up taking a lot of this dish home. (It was very tasty served cold on Sunday.)

Cheese course. We each received three slices of cheese on a platter, which was served with warm slices of a walnut bread and a fruit bread. Given that we really love and are knowledgeable about cheese, this was a little of a disappointment. The cheeses were a goat, Brin D'Amour, and what was decribed – aptly – as a "stinky Muenster." I found the goat and Brin D'Amour a bit bland. Personally, I prefer the cheese plates offered at Patina, Melisse and Bastide, which allow the diner to choose a few cheeses from a large selection. In truth, though, we were so stuffed that it didn't really matter.

Peach sorbet with fresh peach. I could only pick at the sorbet, which had a very strong, crisp peach flavor.

Chocolate wafers with poached cherries, cherry sorbet, vanilla ice cream. I am not a huge fan of desserts that combine fruit and chocolate, and I was so full by this time that I could only manage a little taste. The best part of the dish was the cherry sorbet, which was fabulous. The ice cream and the chocolate wafer also were very good, but I found the poached cherries just a little too strong. Everyone else loved it, so I suspect my reaction had more to do with my personal taste in desserts.

A few final comments. The first is about the wine. Most of the wines were relatively modest wines, including from South Africa, Argentina and Italy. I think only two or three were from California. The last dessert came with a Port. For the most part, they were good. There was only one miss – served with the turbot – and one truly spectacular choice – with the frogs legs. I'm not the most knowledgeable about wine, but I thought the selections were pretty good. I grew a bit suspicious about ordering wine pairings with tasting menus after a prix fixe meal at Fleur de Lys in Las Vegas in which the wines were so badly matched that they ruined the meal.

Service was excellent and friendly. I mentioned our joking about the protesters and chatting with Lee Hefter. The staff also was very well trained. At one point, one course came out before the plates were cleared, but the servers quickly slipped out of view as others came to clear the table. They were so subtle about it that I was the only one who noticed. At another point, two members of the table stepped away. While they were gone, the servers brought out the next course, but took it back to the kitchen so it did not sit at the table. When they came out again, they brought out what I am pretty sure were freshly prepared dishes. I think many restaurants in Los Angeles would have just put the food under a heat lamp and then brought it back out.

All in all, this was a wonderful experience, even counting the hangover and food coma I experienced on Sunday. It was far too much food, but it speaks volumes that I can remember the dishes as well as I can after consuming that much wine. And in answer to the thread below, it was definitely worth it.

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