Critics’ choice: New looks for the old vanguard

Spago Beverly Hills; Sirio Ristorante; Nobu Malibu  

Spago Beverly Hills Los Angeles

Wolfgang Puck still has it, said Jonathan Gold in the Los Angeles Times. Thirty years after his original Spago transformed L.A. “from a Le and La sort of town into the world capital of casually elegant dining,” the dean of celebrity chefs has found a way to renew his flagship’s standing as a serious culinary destination. A recent makeover has erased Spago’s fun-loving origins: Designer Waldo Fernandez has rendered the room sedately modern, “taking a death ray to the encrusted layers of kitsch” and surrounding diners instead with pale walls and museum-quality art. To keep pace with less accomplished but hotter chefs, Puck has filled the new menu with modernist flourishes and Japanese delicacies. His talent-packed kitchen now offers “a persuasive sashimi of Japanese tai drizzled with ponzu,” as well as food that is more than food—like a mollusk sampler that resembles a tide pool, and acorn-shaped potato nibbles that arrive hanging from a small tree. Oneness may be lacking in the new vision, but that doesn’t prevent this Spago from wrapping every patron in a familiar cocoon—a place where “you forget that the world exists for anything but your pleasure.” 176 N. Canon Dr., (310) 385-0880

Sirio Ristorante New York

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Think of Sirio Maccioni’s latest venture as Le Cirque gone casual, said Adam Platt in New York magazine. Just as at Maccioni’s famed New York flagship, this room at the Pierre hotel is “outfitted with the kind of shiny, mahogany-trimmed walls you’d find in the stateroom of a billionaire’s yacht.” It’s also frequently filled with aging Wall Street lions and the kinds of “watchful, skinny matrons” who’ve been lunching in such places since the dawn of the jet-set age. But steer toward the simplest dishes—particularly the pastas—if you seek the regulars’ air of contentment. Many options recall the Tuscany of Maccioni’s youth, including the gnocchi with squid or the pappardelle sitting in “a rich, well-simmered beef, veal, and pork ragu.” If you have to sample one of the other entrées, treat yourself to the veal Milanese, a healthy slice of tender meat that comes encased in “a bubbly, perfectly crisped crust.” 795 Fifth Ave., (212) 940-8195

Nobu Malibu Malibu, Calif.

Nobu Matsuhisa has built himself a “ravishing” new museum, said Besha Rodell in LA Weekly. Some 19 years after he opened his groundbreaking first Nobu, in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood, his Malibu outpost has taken up occupancy in an oceanfront jewel box that most every night is “packed to the gills with beautiful people.” For diners of unlimited means, an evening here becomes the safest of bets—Nobu’s sushi and Japanese-Peruvian fusion dishes are “as precise and bright as ever,” and for a backdrop one gets crashing waves and “the smooth, glowing faces of the 1 percent laughing and pouting over cocktails and glasses of chardonnay.” But everything coming from the kitchen will be familiar to diners who last set foot in a Nobu in 1999. The black cod morsels lacquered in miso remain “as close as fish comes to candy.” Even so, there arrives a time when a foodie has to wonder if mad money would be better spent on something new. 22706 Pacific Coast Hwy., (310) 317-9140

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