While Beverly Hills' Spago has been an important landmark in the culinary landscape of Los Angeles for nearly two decades, it comes as a surprise to many that the original location of Wolfgang Puck's flagship restaurant wasn't on Canon Drive, but Sunset Boulevard. Here now, a brief history of the beginnings of one of the most important contributors to California cuisine:
After exploring the potential for California cuisine and attracting the attention of the Hollywood elite, Wolfgang Puck left his first restaurant in LA, Ma Maison, which he co-owned with Patrick Terrail.
Wolfgang Puck created some serious competition for his former Ma Maison partner Terrail when he opened the original Spago on the Sunset Strip. Reports from the time claim that 21 Rolls-Royces fought for parking spots on opening night. Whether the stories are true or just the exaggerated tales of yore, there is no question that Spago instantly became the hottest spot in town, and for valid reason.
The early days of Spago truly laid the foundations for California cuisine, which Puck described at the time as being all about "local products, freshness, simplicity, lower prices, less solemnity and no truffles." And lower prices they were. At a time where there was an enormous divide between restaurants that fell either in the fine dining or casual category, Spago was paving new ground with the most expensive entrée priced at $15.
What a steal that was. Puck was doing some of the most innovative cuisine at the time, with early signature dishes that included haute cuisine pizzas topped with smoked salmon and caviar, and Sonoma baby lamb with braised greens and rosemary. Spago quickly garnered national attention, and Puck would go on to win the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef of the Year in 1991 and 1998, and the James Beard Foundation Award for Restaurant of the Year in 1994.
Following the wild success of Spago Sunset, Wolfgang opened another Spago on the ritzy Canon Drive in Beverly Hills. The menu included updated Spago classics along with seasonal dishes that drew inspiration for Wolfgang's favorite Austrian classics, like wienerschnitzel and kaiserschmarrn.
When Spago Hollywood's lease expired, Wolfgang Puck decided to leave the aging building on Sunset Boulevard, closing the Hollywood location. Spago Beverly Hills, with its expansive kitchen, became the flagship.
Spago Beverly Hills was awarded two stars by Michelin Guide, a recognition achieved by only three LA restaurants.
On the heels of Spago's 30th anniversary, Spago closed in July 2012 for a revamp of the interior design and menu, and reopened in September 2012. The restaurant now sports a cleaner, brighter interior and a menu updated to feature smaller plates, which Wolfgang believed was more reflective of contemporary dining trends.