I'm starting to feel like a broken record when I mention (again!) that the Strip in Las Vegas is a great place to sample outposts of some of the U.S.'s best restaurants all within a couple miles from each other.
But it sometimes comes at a price (literally and figuratively).
First of all, prices on the Strip tend to be higher. I've dined at both Mario Batali's and Joe Bastianich's Babbo in New York City and B&B Ristorante in Vegas. Though the quality is reasonably comparable at both, B&B is about 25% more expensive. It's annoying and definitely felt like sticker shock the first time I came to Vegas, but it's something I've learned to just
Second, the ambiance is often different. Case in point: Rao's in New York is a tiny, exclusive, impossible-to-get-into Italian joint that's been around for decades and really hasn't changed one bit. Rao's in Vegas tries to recreate the look of the small, intimate New York Italian restaurant by putting up a fake, indoor version of the same facade in New York. However, it's really not the same. There's only so much you can do when you're inside a casino.
And then there's the question of quality. Is the Vegas version going to be just as good as the original? We wondered this about Spago, Wolfgang Puck's flagship restaurant in Beverly Hills that opened a second version in Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas.
The original Spago has an impressive list of awards, everything from the AAA Four Diamond Award and multiple James Beard Awards to two Michelin stars in the Los Angeles Michelin Guide (2008 and 2009). Michelin stopped producing guides for Los Angeles after 2009. How would the Vegas one (which does not have any Michelin stars) compare?
We were due for a visit to find out. A perfect opportunity came up when it was one of the few places with available dinner reservations during the busy week of CES. We decided to visit with Bryan's cousin, who happened to be in town the same week.
Consistent with most of the higher-end restaurants I've visited, Spago starts out the meal with a choice of several in-house baked breads. It's always fun to try a few, so I chose the French baguette and another more interesting roll (maybe a cheese bread?). Both were delicious.
The menu is divided up into three main food sections, simply called "One", "Two", and "Three." "One" consists mostly of appetizer sized starters, "Two" includes several house-made pastas, and then "Three" has all the main entrees. Our party of three decided to sample across the menu, ordering two dishes from "One", two from "Two", and three from "Three".
We would, of course, share everything so that we could each enjoy all the dishes.
Our first appetizer, simply called Sashimi, included paper-thin slices of yellowfin tuna sashimi wrapped around thinly shredded root vegetables and a tiny interpretation of nigiri, tuna on top of rice. This was served with a crispy rice cracker, grilled shishito pepper, and dots or splashes of sauces aji limon and yuzukoshō. Execution was great, and the flavors came together nicely.
Prime Beef Tartare came with thinly sliced toasts, capers, minced onions, dijon aioli, horseradish, and a quail egg. This is a classic combination and it worked really well. The beef was high quality, and we really enjoyed making mini toasts where we could design our own combinations of the beef together with the various accoutrements.
To me, the most memorable dishes of the night were the simple pasta dishes. They had Burgundy Truffles! You can choose to enjoy these over either their house made spaghettini or risotto. We tried it both ways (inadvertently - more on that later), and they were both fantastic. Bryan favored the house-made spaghettini, which had a perfect al dente texture and captured the creamy and flavorful sauce so well.
I was partial to the Parmesan Risotto (also topped with Burgundy Truffles), which was just bursting with the richness of the intense truffle flavors. We had only ordered the smaller portion, and part of me was a bit sad since the portion size was really quite tiny, especially for three people to share!
The Saffron Risotto with shrimp and reggiano cheese was also excellent. The texture of the risotto was perfect, and the single shrimp was juicy and succulent. I would recommend getting a larger size if you want to share since it only comes with one shrimp!
The entrees were also quite solid, though in my mind I couldn't stop thinking about the pastas. The Tuna was only barely seared, leaving a beautiful rare center. These lovely slices were served over roasted vegetables and topped with a crispy kale chip.
The Pan Seared Sonoma Duck Breast, a classic menu item, came over white corn purée, spinach, roasted turnips, cipollini onions, and huckleberries.
The Grilled French Seabass was served over a parsnip purée, wild mushroom, sautéed Brussels sprouts, salsify, and Fuji apples.
Dessert was another favorite (though I'm biased because I love anything with popcorn). A tiny slice of cheesecake with a chocolate cookie crust came topped with a crazy collection of toppings, like caramel popcorn, ice cream, meringue, cocoa nibs, and pretzels. It was like a fancy Cracker Jack cake - a perfect blend of sweet and salty, crunchy and creamy.
At the end of the meal, Bryan's cousin told us about a cocktail she wanted to try.
While she was waiting for us to arrive, she had started chatting with the server. He convinced her to try Wolfgang Puck's signature Old Fashion ($22).
What makes it special? This cocktail is made with Michter’s Rye, Demarara, and Angostura Bitters and then barrel-aged in oak barrels for six weeks in-house using some special proprietary method.
Both Bryan and his cousin ordered one and loved it.
All in all we were impressed with the quality of the food at Spago. Everything was well executed. It's not 2-Michelin star quality, but it's still quite good. My personal favorite was definitely the Burgundy truffle pasta dishes.
We had one slight hiccup with the service. We had originally ordered just the Burgundy truffle spaghetti and the Saffron Risotto. The server brought out two Burgundy truffle dishes (the spaghetti and the risotto) but no saffron risotto. When we told the server, at first he tried arguing with us saying that we were wrong, but eventually took away the wrong dish, brought out the right dish, and then later brought back out the wrong dish letting us keep it "with their compliments."
All was taken care of at the end, but the process of getting there was just a bit awkward.
In any event, I'm hoping it was a one time event and not a reflection of the service at the restaurant as a whole. As a side bonus, the "wrong dish" turned out to be one of my favorite dishes of the night, so I'm glad I was able to discover it.
Reservations seemed a bit easier to get compared to other restaurants on the Strip. There is also a more casual cafe out front, offering a separate, simpler menu of pastas, pizzas, and salads.
Overall the food is good and we had a pleasant time dining there. It's pricey and the dishes are not too exotic, thus making it a good and safe option for business dinners. As a food enthusiast I might not rush back, but I wouldn't hesitate to book it if I were in charge of picking a restaurant for a business networking dinner.