DINING AMONG THE STARS

L.A.’s entertaining dynamo and author Lara Shriftman loves to have exciting culinary experiences.  Here our gal-on-the-go shares the opening of Wolfgang Puck’s recently re-opened Spago in Beverly Hills. It’s very favorite Texan’s eatery in the City of Angels, so pull up a chair and join us, won’t you?

You know and love what Wolfgang Puck creates and so do I. Puck became a household name after he and his partner Barbara Lazaroff opened the company’s first flagship restaurant, Spago, in 1982 in Los Angeles.. From its opening day Spago was an instant success and a culinary phenomenon and since then Puck has built a culinary empire that includes three companies: Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, Wolfgang Puck Catering, and Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, Inc. He pioneered fine dining in Las Vegas as the first star chef to create a contemporary fine dining restaurant when he opened a Spago in The Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace in 1992 (Spago in Las Vegas had its 20 year anniversary coming up in December). He followed that success with a Spago in Maui at the Four Seasons resort and in Colorado at The Ritz-Carlton’s Bachelor Gulch, one of his favorite family vacation destinations.

Along with his incredibly successful restaurant and catering operations, Puck has written six cookbooks, starred in an Emmy-winning television series, and has been a regular on Good Morning America and the Home Shopping Network where he sells his line of Wolfgang Puck cookware and housewares.

LEGENDARY EATERY   The original Spago, located on the Sunset Strip with design done by Lazaroff, was infamous for the celebrities who dined there. For years Hollywood agent Swifty Lazar held his annual post-Oscar party at the Spago Hollywood location making it the place to be on Oscar night. Jack Nicholson, Sharon Stone, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Michael Douglas, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Caine, Kathleen Turner, Clint Eastwood, Steve Martin, Aaron Spelling, and Warren Beatty to name just a few, were among the guests who celebrated the awards at Spago in the 80’s and 90’s.

In 1997, Puck relocated Spago to tony Cañon Drive in Beverly Hills where it has become a West Coast institution. This year, on the heels of its 30th anniversary, Wolfgang closed Spago for a complete remodel in both its design and menu, and it has recently reopened. Legendary designer Waldo Fernandez then oversaw the redesign of Spago with all-new furnishings that give it a warm and sexy atmosphere. Even from the outside when a visitor walks by there is a slightly different feel from the original with the new pair of exterior doors that simultaneously welcome like a pair of open arms. And, it still feels exclusive.

The new design also features a set of lower-profile tables that were created for relaxed drinks and appetizers. There are two tables that feel really private, but every table in the new Spago is a good table. The restaurant also features an expanded private dining area with rooms that can be configured into one large, or three intimately-sized event spaces. I also love that Puck retained Spago’s infamous open kitchen layout to actually view Wolfgang and his chefs create their masterpieces. Outside the beautiful and tranquil garden patio features a pair of fireplaces and a one-touch, retractable roof system that allows for al fresco dining year round, rain or shine.

Perhaps the most dramatic change, and one of my favorites, is the implausibly large 30,000 bottle wine collection, 3,000 of which runs the length of the main dining room in a new, glass wine wall. It even takes 27 different types of stemware to properly serve the wines featured in the weighty volume assembled by Master Sommelier Christopher Miller.

Wolfgang’s wife, designer and philanthropist Gelila Assefa Puck, curated the art in the restaurant, which is a diverse collection of works by Los Angeles-based artists. To showcase the art, Gelila had the vision to give each artist his own room… like a museum. The highlight of the new artwork is an Ed Ruscha piece gracing the largest wall in the main dining room. In addition, works from Sterling Ruby exist among works by Doug Aitken and sculptor Thomas Houseago. There are Walead Beshty photographs, abstract art from the likes of Mark Grotjahn and pieces from younger, emerging artists such as Alex Israel.

The artistic elements in the restaurant extend from the chef’s jackets and uniforms, with their sleek new design by Ozwald Boateng, to the tableware by Bernardaud, a premiere manufacturer of fine French porcelain, who created hand-crafted tableware specifically for Spago entitled “Origins.” Bernardaud’s techniques result in distinct colors and reveal the gesture of the potter in each piece.

WOLFGANG’S TIPS

I asked Wolfgang Puck to share some of his best insider tips, and I love what he recommends. First, stay warm throughout the holidays with cozy desserts and drinks while sitting by the fire with family. Wolfgang’s Tip: Get into the holiday spirit by baking desserts that fill the house with the sweet smells of Christmas, like Piping Hot Christmas Apple Pie served with Holiday Wassail.

Looking for fun, easy ways to satisfy the whole family on Christmas or New Year’s morning? Wolfgang’s Tip: Create a family style brunch for everyone to enjoy in celebration. Holiday brunch is festive with dishes like Smoked Ham Hash and Pistachio-Crusted Vanilla French Toast.

Good food sets the stage for entertaining. Wolfgang’s Tip: For a stylish start to any evening, pop a bottle of champagne and serve elegant hors d’oeuvres, like Potato Pancakes with assorted smoked fish and caviar, prior to an intimate, formal dinner.

COOKING TIPS [smaller font than Wolfgang’s tips]

During the holidays, the kitchen is the heart of the house and preparing food for loved ones is full of little details. Wolfgang’s Tip: To guarantee that you have a perfect sauce for your dish, stir a spoon through the sauce or soup, and then lift it out of the liquid. It should be thick enough to leave a film on the surface of the spoon.

Bring the family together for dinner and enjoy a hearty meal guaranteed to wow your guests. Wolfgang’s Tip: Cook vegetables briefly in boiling water, then cool them quickly by plunging in ice water. This will bring the taste to its peak while also bringing out the bright colors, adding beautiful, natural color

ENTERTAINING & DECORATING TIPS [smaller font than Wolfgang’s tips]

For the holidays, there is nothing better than a beautiful table and great food that will put a smile on everyone’s face. Wolfgang’s Tip: Serve your holiday dinner family style on colorful, festive platters that spread the holiday spirit.

For a festive finale to your holiday celebration, provide guests with stunning traditional desserts like Glacéed Pears with Champagne Sabayon. Wolfgang’s Tip: For this dish, serve it hot or cold, directly from the dish, with some petit fours.