Few restaurants enjoy the kind of celebrity awarded a place like
Spago. It’s a restaurant whose name is equated with prestige, Hollywood
glamour and smoked salmon pizza with creme fraiche and caviar. And its
infamy has long been sustained by its flagship Beverly Hills location’s
reputation as a celeb-hotspot. Consequently, everybody knows what a
“Spago” is, even if they can’t afford to actually dine there.
The reason is simple: Wolfgang Puck, Spago’s founder, is a chef
whose marketing skill nearly surpasses his culinary expertise. Not only
is he the most recognized progenitor of upscale California cuisine, but
he also has his name on numerous cookbooks, a cooking show and various
guest TV spots, a line of kitchen equipment and appliances, a chain of
fine dining and fast food restaurants and a brand of frozen foods and
canned soups found in just about every American supermarket.
But even if you know all this already, please allow me to be the
first to tell you that you know nothing about Spago—or, at least, the
Spago that opened in the Four Seasons Resort Wailea six years ago. And
especially if you haven’t been there in the past year, when chef
Cameron Lewark took the helm.
On assignment for a side-gig I have writing reviews for an online
travel guide, I dined recently at the Spago in Wailea. My companion and
I were ushered to what looked to be the best table in the
house—alongside a rock waterfall and koi pond with magnificent views
overlooking Wailea Beach and the breathtaking sunset skyline over
Kaho`olawe, Lana`i and West Maui.
What proceeded next, at the recommendation of our ever-accommodating
and highly professional team of servers and food-deliverers, was a
head-spinning barrage of plates—a “tasting” of chef Lewark’s
extraordinary feats of creation—each one more scintillating than the
Lewark is a passionate, extremely focused chef who, through grueling
work, sleepless nights and a desire to make people love tomato water,
found his way from potato-peeler to menu-maker in his 12 years at
Spago. He got his start under the guidance of renowned chef Lee Hefter,
Spago Beverly Hill’s executive chef, before opening the kitchen of the
Wailea Spago. And then last year, with Seamus Mackenzie as his sous
chef, Lewark was promoted to chef de cuisine.
Anyway, we were smitten at the word “tasting.”
As the dining room bustled, a conch blew, the sunset glowed pastel
and palm trees swayed, we feasted: Kamuela tomato soup with basil
cream; a delicately sweet and spicy ahi poke in sesame-miso cones;
ceviche-style diver scallop; ahi sashimi with freshly grated wasabi; a
layered stack of Mauna Kea goat cheese with roasted baby beets that was
rich like chocolate cake; a finely chopped 15-vegetable salad; creamy
corn risotto; steamed hapu`upu`u with plum sauce; pan-seared papio with
ginger-sake atop a seemingly hickory-smoked pineapple-shrimp fried
rice; tempura Maui Onions with six sauces; unbelievably fresh garlic
spinach and bechamel; and the juiciest, most tender, melt-in-your-mouth
Japanese Wagyu New York sirloin steak.
We had a serious food buzz.
Nearly defeated, I remember our last course like a dream, where
aria-singing angels delivered an Austrian souffle pancake with
strawberry coulis on a fluffy white cloud while pouring ambrosial
“liquid gold”—a late-harvest Dolce sauvignon blanc—down our throats.
It was Kaiserschmarren, but they called it “Wolfgang’s childhood
pancake.” After one perfect bite—equal parts cake, creme and sauce—my
companion leaned back in her seat and sighed happily.
“I just wanna hug everybody,” she said. “The chefs, the waiters, the guests—everybody.”
Spago also features an on-going
promotion for kama`aina—buy one entree, get the second one free.
Astounding, yes? It’s the kind of deal you can’t afford NOT to cash in
on. Reservations (and ID’s) are a must. MTW