Earlier this week in the New York Times, Adam Nagourney reported on the rebirth of Spago Beverly Hills, the flagship of Austrian celebrity chef and food magnate Wolfgang Puck, who, according to celebritynetworth.com, is worth about $75 million. With his face emblazoned on soupcans, his pizzas found in the frozen food aisle, and his outposts tucked into numerous airports (Nagourney says Puck now oversees 101 eateries worldwide), Puck still wants to be a part of the Los Angeles fine dining scene, where the competition is more cutthroat than ever.
The very fact that Spago Beverly Hills continues to exist, much less prosper, is striking at a time when the Los Angeles restaurant scene is so dynamic and punishing. Over the last year, some of this city’s most popular spots have announced they were closing: Angeli Caffe, Campanile, Sushi Nozawa and Lou among them. One place on Los Angeles Magazine’s list of this year’s 10 best new restaurants that was all but impossible to get into eight months ago had empty tables on a recent Friday night. The extravagance Mr. Puck championed at Spago has taken a back seat to restaurants that are quieter, smaller, more adventurous and less pricey.
But the chef is undaunted. The new Spago seems to be adjusting to the times:
At this latest of Spago, he jettisoned two staples, the smoked salmon pizza and the Wiener schnitzel (though he said he would be glad to make either for old-time customers who ask) as he dappled his menu with dishes like a veal filet mignon tartare with smoked mascarpone, and a soba pasta studded with pieces of Dungeness crab. His challenge, Mr. Puck said, is rolling out innovative dishes that would bring in new diners without frightening the horse—the patrons who have been eating at Puck restaurants from the beginning.
When I spoke with Puck several months ago, he touted the Austrian food he introduced to his diners: “Wiener Schnitzel we make here at Spago, goulash we make here at Spago, and the Austrian fried chicken, we make that, too, you know, where we make it like the Wiener Schnitzel in flour, egg, and bread crumbs.” It’s a shame these specialties are on their way out—but hopefully the kitchen can still whip it up by special request.