Appetizer charcuterie (clockwise from top left): Duck Rillettes with Baguette Crostinis, Spicy Pepperoni with Fire Roasted Peppers, Smoked Kielbasa with Herbed Mustard, and Chicken Liver Pate with Balsamic Glazed Shallots
Somewhat on impulse, and feeling flush because last month’s credit card charges were low, I made a reservation at one of the Bay Area’s “name” restaurants, Spago
of Palo Alto. Wolfgang Puck opened Spago nearly ten years ago, and it was impossible
, then, to get a table. By 2001 the dotcom crash had culled the crowds
, while newer, hotter restaurants attracted the young hipsters for whom a five-year-old establishment was passé.
265 Lytton is a prime location, one block from University Avenue and a short walk from the train station. Walking through the portal brought back memories of sipping a glass of chardonnay in the spring sun amidst vine-covered stone walls; it was an indulgence that even a budget-conscious student couldn't resist.
The inside dining room was a popular place for prospective employers to conduct job interviews. Business conversations were always a trial because I had to remember my table manners, focus on the discussion topic, and nibble at the food. Chinese cuisine might leave one hungry an hour later, but interview luncheons were worse: I sometimes grabbed a burger right after.
Spago was about half-filled at eight p.m. last Thursday. At a nearby table two women were celebrating their father’s birthday while he made faces at his bored granddaughter in the high chair. The gentleman sat ramrod straight in his brown suit, a military man whose like, sadly, is disappearing from view.
After the appetizer arrived, I began to chat about work---specifically the actions of a large competitor--with my dinner companion, until she signaled that a nearby table of accountants and lawyers had fallen silent. So we started to talk about our children and Roth IRA conversions, and they resumed their conversation.
We had a pleasant, unspectacular meal. The appetizers had cooled to room temperature but were tasty enough. Service was attentive, and throughout the meal small dishes (creamy onion soup, sorbet, chocolates) cleaned our palates. (One of the top-ten phrases in the English language: “compliments of the chef”.)
I paid the bill, about $100, and strolled back to the car in the cool night air. This time I didn’t need to grab a burger. © 2007 Stephen Yuen
The short ribs were fork tender.