Welcome to The Gatekeepers, a monthly feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite tough-to-get tables.
Elizabeth Daniels 11/12
Lunch service is nearly done on a Tuesday afternoon at the newly redesigned Spago, a bright, open space that retains the same regal feel, but with cleaner lines and modern art on the walls. Roseanne Barr's sitting at the bar, basketball great David Robinson dines on a table in the center of the room, and Wolfgang Puck himself sits at a side banquette shuffling papers and discussing a deal. Senior Manager Ellen Farentino looms over the main dining room strutting in low pumps, crisp blazer, and a pencil skirt, then moves over to coordinate the patio's transformation for W Magazine's annual party in the evening. The $4 million remodel by Waldo Fernandez seems to have reinvigorated Spago in almost every way. Farentino gives Eater the juicy secrets on scoring a table among the stars at Spago, and some of the best dishes on the new menu.
It's 8PM on a Saturday Night. What's the wait going to be for a table for two? It can be right away because we offer a full menu at the bar. With the remodel, we've added four additional lounge tables that are 'tea height' and work well for dining. If they want a table in the dining room, most likely an hour, to an hour and a half.
If someone wanted to get a table for a specific date and time, what's the wait? Right now it's about three weeks.
What if the person waiting for a table or reservation is a celebrity, like Angelina Jolie? She'll actually sit at the bar, or a tea table. Even Christina Aguilera will dine like that. We need to honor all the reservations that we have in the books and even celebrities need to wait if tables aren't available.
What's the longest wait for a walk-in table since the remodel? People have waited an hour and a half at the bar, and they indulge in a drink or a few bites before getting seated at their table. Many people are here for people watching so an hour and a half goes by quickly.
What's the strangest request you've tried to accommodate? Someone has come in carrying a baby that wasn't even their own, claiming that they needed to get a table immediately. Apparently one of their relatives who lived in Beverly Hills brought the baby in a stroller to help them get a table quicker. I just told them they could get a table at the bar area but I felt bad because I had to seat the baby at the lounge table. The customer sent the baby home before sitting at the bar for a meal.
How have the neighborhood and regulars responded to the remodel? We've had such good feedback. People are really happy to be in a fresh, new environment. The personalities are the same; Wolfgang is still here regularly. The place feels more like a family reunion now, and people really love the new menu. It's like we had our living room redone so we have new talking points. People really love the new bar and cocktails.
What's the best thing to eat here? The chirashi with uni and hamachi is my favorite, as well as the puffscale bass.
Have any critics come in recently? We haven't really had too many come in yet after the remodel and if they have, they've been under the radar. S. Irene Virbila and Jonathan Gold haven't come in yet, as far as we know. We really try to hit the mark every day and do a great job. We treat everyone the same and hope that what we're doing is the right thing. If a critic comes in, hopefully they're having the same experience as the people sitting next to them.
What do you like to drink when you're here? The Samarai Sword is amazing, but I usually like to sip on Krug Champagne whenever I get the chance.
Where do you like to eat around town? I love The Golden State - they have a great burger. Al Gelato has meatballs that I really like. The burrata at Osteria Mozza is amazing and, not to sound biased, but I really do enjoy WP24 for the view and the food.
What kind of restaurant would you say Spago is now? I would say it's a farm-to-table, California cuisine, home-away-from-home fine dining restaurant but in a casual environment. It's not stuffy here. The old Spago was great, but the new Spago has been updated to make it relevant. It's a little bit more modern, more fresh. There's more seating, there's great cocktails.
What's next for Spago? We're toying with the idea of doing a late night cocktail special. Wolfgang wants everyone to be happy and enjoy themselves. Spago will reinvent itself again whenever it needs to.
·All The Gatekeepers Coverage [~ELA~]