Wolfgang Puck is making a pizza. The 71-year-old chef, who has become a household name from his airport eateries, grocery line, and upscale establishments, has been making pizza for a very long time. Best known for creating the smoked salmon pizza at Spago, which was one of the city’s first restaurants to have a wood-fired oven, Puck is contemplating the signature pizza at his new daytime hotel cafe Ospero.
He stretches the dough while posing for the camera, as if this was a shoot for a glossy fashion magazine. Puck is always posing, holding a dish out for maximum exposure. He, and the team at Ospero and the penthouse restaurant Merois, will likely need it as the ongoing pandemic continues to hamper an ideal opening scenario at the massive new Pendry West Hollywood. It’s hard to even see a remnant of this plot’s former existence as the iconic Sunset Strip House of Blues. So thorough was the conversation to this property, which took three years to construct and is slated to open this week. The 149 room hotel and its accompanying 40 units of private residences cements Sunset Strip as the de facto destination for high-flying LA visitors.
“I don’t have COVID because I can smell,” exclaims Puck in his trademark Austrian accent, dabbing on goat cheese and chopped red onions over the newly invented pizza. He finishes the pie with prosciutto, which he keeps sampling strips of to taste the salty cured Italian ham. “I didn’t make recipes for the restaurant [yet]. I just know what I like,” he says, topping the pie with spicy Calabrian chile and some dried oregano. “I like it spicy,” he says. Ospero has a modern cafe feel, with a glass-covered counter up front to welcome anyone walking in from the street, with crowded tables and a cocktail bar toward the back. Deeper in, an array of banquettes and finally a balcony overlooking the basin of Los Angeles below. The space feels pretty minimal save for the emerald green leather chairs and some nicely pruned succulents on the tables.
When asked about the opening, Puck’s first in nearly ten years since debuting a namesake restaurant at the exclusive Hotel Bel-Air, the Austrian chef isn’t too reflective. Ever since Puck became the beloved chef to the stars with Ma Maison and Spago back in the 1970s and 80s. The ubiquitous chef doesn’t have time to think about how his impact on Los Angeles and California dining has spanned nearly 50 years.
His flagship Spago recently debuted a newly designed outdoor dining area to counter months of reduced sales due to the pandemic. And now with the entire food and beverage situation under his belt at this flashy West Hollywood opening, he’s mainly looking forward. Puck’s 26-year-old son, Byron Lazaroff-Puck, a veteran of fine dining establishments Alinea and El Cellar de Can Roca, will oversee the Ospero and Merois. But that doesn’t stop the elder Puck from showing him the ropes, instructing the younger restaurant professional to hold out a cocktail for the photographer.
The fare at Ospero falls in line with the California-inflected Italian that made Puck a household name, like cacio e pepe, burrata with pea shoots, ricotta gnocchi with oxtail ragu, and and his grandmother’s Austrian cheese ravioli with brown butter and hazelnuts. And of course, wood-fired pizzas from the oven that commands the ground floor restaurant.
Upstairs, however, is a bit of a new crown jewel for Puck’s empire: Merois (pronounced with some difficulty as “mehr-wha”). Again the menu follows the standard Puck approach of French techniques with Asian influences in a space that might accurately stun first time visitors with its unfettered views of Los Angeles. On the menu, consider a colorful vegan sushi tray or crisp fried black sea bass with vegetable fried rice. Squid noodles with a ginger-garlic clam sauce or Kona kampachi with a meyer lemon ponzu promise to remind LA diners that Puck feels more than comfortable mixing in Japanese and Chinese flavors.
But really, the dining room will likely be a see-and-be-seen type of place where the food will appeal to a wide audience. Puck’s food hasn’t been revolutionary or ground-breaking for some time, not that it has needed to. The chef knows what sells and what his legions of fans will appreciate, and with a flashy new opening at his former stomping grounds, it’s what the recipe calls for. At this point, after months of anxious closures and reopenings, the dining public will just be happy to sit down and get a good meal.
Ospero opens April 2 with service from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (until 11 p.m. on weekends). Merois opens on April 2 to hotel guests and private club members from lunch to dinner, and eventually to the public.