Just because Spago isn’t broken, that doesn’t mean Wolfgang Puck isn’t interested in fixing it. Loath to rest on his laurels, the James Beard-winning chef explains that he has decided to completely rejigger his 30-year-old flagship, despite its continued success, since he’s fully aware of the danger of waiting too long.
“I don’t want it to go the way of a Le Dome or a Chasen’s, where they didn’t remain relevant,” he says of other long-gone lodestars of L.A. dining. “It’s because they did not change, or they changed when it was too late, that they didn’t last. Why do something when it’s fine? Well, that’s when it’s the right time! Not when things look a little tired.”
So Spago will shut its doors July 8 -- Puck’s 63rd birthday -- for a thorough redesign, eliminating the initial décor dreamed up by his ex-wife Barbara Lazaroff when the restaurant moved from its original Sunset Strip location in 1997. In its place will be a “classic modern” look courtesy of Waldo Fernandez, designer of the Soho House West Hollywood and Mezze, among other properties. (THR reported in December that Lazaroff was unhappy with the planned changes.)
Puck chose a summer hiatus so that it would affect fewer patrons. “I thought at least during the summertime people are on vacation -- some for two weeks, some for six weeks," he says. "A lot are just in Malibu."
The restaurant is expected to reopen by mid-September, replete with an entirely refreshed menu served on china created specifically for Spago by noted ceramicist Martin Kastner, who created the sculptural set for Grant Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago. According to Puck, he won’t begin thinking through the transformed menu until the renovation is underway, but he plans for vegetables to take a newly central role and for the overall tenor of the dishes to be more casual than before -- “more the style of the old Spago rather than this Spago.”
Unsurprisingly, Spago stalwarts have registered concern, both online and in person, over the loss of food favorites since the impending changes were announced in the fall. Perhaps no dish has been the subject of more menu-status anxiety than Puck’s “Jewish” pizza of smoked salmon, crème fraiche, chives and caviar. At the time of its debut, it was radical. Now it’s tradition -- and part of the Austrian chef’s culinary legend. “Look, we are moving forward,” he says resolutely, “but if you say you’re coming on Saturday, and you want a smoked salmon pizza, we aren’t going to say no.”