Imagine lunching where the food is very, very good, but nothing is pretentiously trendy, where you can hear what your companions have to say but not what is happening at the next table, and where servers are so unobtrusive that I never saw the guy who removed my crumpled chopstick wrapper.
Don't let the chopstick wrapper throw you. The place is not a Chinese restaurant but Spago Beverly Hills, watched over so closely by Wolfgang Puck that you're likely to see him greeting each table.
When it's time to order, there's no tiresome monologue about unlisted specials. Instead, the menu is printed twice a day, and all the specials are on it.
The Asian touch runs throughout--that's why chopsticks are part of the table setting. I neeeded them for a bigeye tuna and hamachi sashimi salad (at top), a beautiful bowl of raw fish and greens with crisp accents of yellow pickled daikon and slim carrots. The strong flavor of shiso among the greens was a bit startling.
In that same group, braised beef short rib tortellini (above) were chewier than I expected and a little dry, at least in comparison to the moist, tender agnolotti. That's a red wine-mushroom reduction in the center.
Spago's menu is more about the style of what you eat ("Raw, Wild & Organic") than conventional menu categories. "From The Sea & The Pasture" incorporates what you think of as main dishes. Choices range from a lobster club sandwich, sauteed calf's liver and an omelette with French black truffles to Chinese stir-fried noodles with shrimp and black bean sauce (another chopstick dish). Puck's signature wiener schnitzel (above) is in this group.
And so is a prime rib eye steak (above), cooked with such attention that someone will check to make sure it's done as you asked. If you like meat and don't mind the price ($49), it's an excellent choice. That's an Armagnac-peppercorn sauce being poured over the steak. The bacon-potato terrine behind it made this dish doubly worth ordering.
The wine list is so long you'd need expert help to make a quick pick. What went perfectly with the steak, and other dishes at my table, was Collosorbo's 2007 Brunello di Montalcino. Nice fruit, but not too much of it, and well balanced acids and tannins make Brunellos good food wines.
Honey nougat glace, new to the dessert menu, was a pleasant blend of cream and crunch, accompanied by almonds and tender kumquat slices. A sticky toffee cake with caramelized apple, frozen labne, sweet pickled dates and thyme would tempt me the next time.
The dishes described are from the lunch menu February 5, 2014. Another day, the choices may be different.