Don't Eat At A Wolfgang Puck Restaurant Until You Read This

Dress your best when dining out at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant. For, there is a good chance the person sitting at the next table is a Hollywood celebrity you adore. Like George Clooney or Oprah Winfrey. They have been previously spotted at Puck's Spago in Beverly Hills, and are among the many A-listers who have grabbed a bite at a Wolfgang Puck's restaurant. 

Puck is a familiar face on television and has appeared in countless movies and television shows including The Simpsons and The Smurfs! TV cameos aside, though, Wolfgang Puck has spent decades cultivating a food business empire that includes upscale and casual dining restaurants, catering, and brand products such as Wolfgang Puck frozen pizzas and soup. The 50 plus restaurants that he runs include the two popular restaurant concepts — Spago that serves California cuisine; and Cut, which is a high-end steakhouse. In stark contrast to the five-star hotels that most of Puck's restaurants rest in, a separate line of Express restaurants can be found in airports, hospitals, universities, and casinos around the world. 

While customers never know what items to expect on the menu until they visit (Puck said in a Reddit post that all menus are freshly printed), what is known is a milieu of facts that can prep you for that special dining experience.

At a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, you get a taste of the Oscars' after-party feast

Back in the 80s, Wolfgang Puck's Spago on Sunset Strip used to be where Hollywood stars hung out on the night of the Oscars. While the main event carried on at Shrine Auditorium (it was moved to Dolby Theatre), talent agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar would organize his own Oscars' party at Spago, to which at least a group of 150 celebrities would show up. "People would watch the show at the restaurant and then race downtown, because in those days the Oscars were downtown, go onstage to get their Oscar and then come right back," Puck told Food & Wine

After Lazar passed away in 1993, Puck, upon the request of the Academy's board of directors, became the official chef of the Oscars After Party. Over the years, some of his dishes such as Miyazaki wagyu beef, pea agnolotti, and mac and cheese with truffles have grown to become crowd favorites. Puck told Vice: "What we really want to do is when people come to the (Oscar) dinner, they feel like they're at Spago or CUT or the Bel-Air Hotel having a first-class dinner." That shouldn't be a problem, as most of what he serves at the Oscars is frequently found on the menu of his restaurants. 

Joan Collins had a hand in Wolfgang Puck's signature smoked salmon pizza

Wolfgang Puck's smoked salmon pizza was a fortunate accident. It so happened that one night, actress Joan Collins, popular for her role in the TV series Dynasty, came to Spago on Sunset Strip and ordered smoked salmon and brioche. Since Puck was out of bread, he thought on his feet and served the salmon on a pizza crust instead of brioche. Little did he know that he had invented a dish that would mark a big revolution in the pizza world (via Michelin Guide).

Smoked salmon pizza, besides getting its own place on the restaurant's menu, also paved the way for the rise of gourmet pizzas in the United States. New York Times Cooking went so far as to credit Puck's kitchen for kicking off the 1980s California pizza trend of including toppings "beyond basil and mozzarella."

Puck himself, during his travels to Europe, found that his smoked salmon pizza was being served under the name of "Spago pizza" in many European restaurants — including the famous French chef Paul Bocuse' restaurant. "I said, 'Paul, what the heck?' and he showed me the menu and the name of the pizza was 'Spago Pizza.' It was a proud moment for me," Puck told Michelin Guide.

Wolfgang Puck's restaurants are found in luxury hotels

The chef's sit-down cafes called Wolfgang Puck Express are located in more modest locations such as hospitals and airports, but don't expect to find CUT or Spago at LAX. Puck's premier restaurants have much more posh places that they call home. 

For example, the luxe dining location of CUT is set in the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire — a 1920s Renaissance-style building in the expensive city of Beverly Hills. You might be able to recognize the building from the Richard Gere and Julia Roberts movie Pretty Woman. Meanwhile, CUT's New York location is situated inside the five-star Four Seasons Hotel, which in turn, is part of a building complex where an apartment can cost as high as $60 million. According to Life and Thyme, Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air just so happens to be located in the neighborhood that enjoys the highest annual median income in all of LA County. 

Puck expanded his restaurant business beyond the United States in 2010 (28 years after he started his first restaurant in LA) by launching CUT in Singapore. It is housed in the Instagram-popular Marina Bay Sands hotel, which is known for the world's largest infinity pool. CUT Bahrain is in a Four Seasons hotel that's built on a 12-acre private island in Manama, and the one in Qatar rests inside the elegantly designed five-star hotel The Mondrian Doha.

Wolfgang Puck's restaurants offer his childhood favorites

Wolfgang Puck grew up in a small town called Sankt Veit an der Glan, in Austria. Most meals were made with ingredients sourced right from the garden, he told Life and Thyme. They raised chickens, and therefore did not have the necessity to buy eggs from the market, and he simply went into the forest to pick berries. Puck would later adopt and practice this simplistic farm-to-table concept in his restaurants.

Since Puck's family did not have the money to send him to school, he started helping his mother cook at the hotel where she worked. Though his childhood was replete with challenges — dealing with a "crazy" stepfather, unable to get a job, financial shortage, etc — what he fondly remembers about growing up are the dishes that his mom made. "When I was a kid, her wiener schnitzel and mashed potatoes were my favorite. She fried it in oil, and pork fat and a sprig of rosemary gave it an amazing aroma, especially in the winter when it was so cold out," he told First We Feast. This humble dish is now part of Spago's menu that Hollywood A-listers browse. Yet another childhood favorite of Puck that, according to the chef is a huge success in his restaurants, is Kaiserschmarren — an Austrian dessert that tastes like a delicate souffle. "I used to have it when I was a kid, my mother used to make it for me," Puck said.

At Wolfgang Puck's CUT, an appetizer can cost up to $245

Let's make it as blunt as we can: To dine at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, you need to have a reasonably fat wallet. Four out of the top 20 most expensive restaurants in Los Angeles, according to the list published by Money Inc, were Wolfgang Puck's — Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air ($80 per person), WP24 ($100 per person), Spago ($120 per person) and CUT ($140 per person).

If you are tempted to try out the one-ounce "Sturia" Jasmin caviar at CUT, LA, keep $245 handy. Or if you are ordering, Bone-in rib-eye steak for two, at CUT, Las Vegas, get ready to feel $225 lighter (via Yahoo Finance).

None of the CUT online menus have listed prices, but a NY Eater reporter learned that entrees for two can come up to $400 after tax and tip, and a one-course tasting menu can burn $140. A round of four drinks can come to around $110, and an Evian still water bottle can add $33 to your bill. According to the reporter, CUT New York is the most expensive steakhouse in the city, "where cocktails can cost more than a typical steak, and where steaks can cost more than a typical tasting menu."

Wolfgang Puck's Spago pioneered the idea of open kitchen restaurants

After working as a chef at Ma Maison for close to six years, Puck decided to branch off on his own and was very certain about one thing: He didn't want to be just stuck in the kitchen. He wanted to supervise the entire restaurant and talk to customers. ( via Food & Wine) His first restaurant, Spago, on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, was designed by his then-wife, Babara Lazaroff. According to Lazaroff, as mentioned in Restaurants that work: case studies of the best in the industry by Martin E. Dorf, the restaurant "was one of the first open and bright dining rooms where everyone could see and be seen" (via Barbara Lazaroff's website).

In a 2015 interview with Marketplace, Puck said: "When we opened Spago, we were the first restaurant with an open kitchen." By this concept what he meant was that the chef was in complete control of the kitchen, and did not have to get orders from anyone. "Before, you had all these fancy restaurants that poured your seafood on an iceberg and some ketchup with horseradish and everything. That was the traditional thing, and maybe they cut a steak in front of you. But there was no imagination because it wasn't a chef who ran the restaurant. It was some owner or a maître' d or a director of the restaurant," he said.

Wolfgang Puck's Spago restaurant shares a connection with Brad Pitt

If you're dining at Spago in Beverly Hills, take a moment to admire the $4 million renovations by acclaimed designer Waldo Fernandez. His clients include Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and Elizabeth Taylor among others. Fernandez gave the restaurant, which had opened on Sunset Strip in 1982 before moving to Beverly Hills in 1997, an updated and more modern look (via Los Angeles Times). The makeover, done in 2012, saw an addition of a new glass wine wall with 30,000 wine bottles, a patio with a retractable roof system, and an expanded private dining area.

Puck, who rubs shoulders with top celebrities almost on a daily basis, also has the top designers working on his restaurant spaces. Renowned designer Jacques Garcia, whose projects include the exhibition design of The Louvre's collection of 18th-century decorative art, was involved in the design of Puck's steakhouse CUT in New York (Via The New York Times), and world-renowned hospitality designer Tony Chi designed the dining room at CUT, Singapore. Chi included private dining rooms with mirror glass walls and floor-to-ceiling wine display cases (via Top 25 Restaurants Singapore). 

Wolgang Puck's restaurants have paintings by popular artists

Wolfgang Puck was friends with popular visual artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. He told Forbes: "I knew Andy Warhol and I asked him to design a menu cover and a wine label for Spago but then he went into the hospital and didn't come out. For our San Francisco restaurant in a hotel we needed something for a big wall so I asked Robert Rauschenberg if he had any leftover paintings. He said no but I'll make you one. The restaurant is no longer there so the painting is in my house."

When CUT opened in Beverly Hills, conceptual artist John Baldessari did nine pieces specifically for the restaurant. With all the pieces displayed on the white walls of the restaurant, Puck said the space looked like a museum. "We always have good art in our places — it's a big part of the experience for me. Not everybody appreciates it, but I think it's a good thing," said the chef (via Du Jour). CUT, LA, also sports original pieces by artist Damien Hirst (his pieces have sold for as much as $5.85 million), and CUT, New York features pieces — curated by Puck's wife Gelila Assefa Puck — by artists such as Alex Israel, Julie Mehretu and Tracey Emin (via CNN).

Eat at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant and you may see a celebrity

Even before Puck launched Spago, he was used to having a celebrity clientele. Ma Maison, where he worked prior to Spago, was a hot dining hub in West Hollywood. It wasn't unusual to have a packed patio with Jack Nicholson, Burt Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Ringo Starr, Stevie Wonder, and Marlon Brando all eating just feet away from each other, reports Eater. While Ma Maison shut down in the 1980s, Puck's career was just beginning to gain the spotlight. His new restaurant Spago saw the likes of Dinah Shore, Warren Beaty, and Billy Wilder frequenting it, Food & Wine reports.

Director Woody Allen and television host Johnny Carson used to be regulars too. In fact, Carson used to order several pizzas for takeaway, and he was the reason Puck really got into the frozen food business in the first place. The restaurant was the venue for talent agent Irving "Swifty" Lazar's Oscar parties. "I remember he invited celebrities like Andy Warhol and Norman Mailer. That party made Spago nationally and internationally famous," Puck told Bon Appetit.

Maybe not as common as before, but even today, it wouldn't be surprising to spot celebrities at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant. Just keep in mind that if you do spot a celeb, asking for a selfie is a major no-no.  (via Wolfgang Puck website

The menu at Wolfgang Puck's Cut includes Wagyu beef sourced from Japan

Wagyu beef is known for being some of the best beef in the world because of its tender and umami-rich flavor. This particular breed of Japanese cow is specially bred to ensure the best possible marbling of the meat and it's this characteristic that gives Wagyu beef its unparalleled texture, raising it to the status of a delicacy. 

As soon as you sit down for a meal at CUT, a waiter brings the cuts of Wagyu beef wrapped in black napkins and arranged on a China platter. "Each hunk of muscle is pointed out and described appreciatively. There is less ceremony when you buy a diamond at Tiffany," writes restaurant critic Pete Wells of The New York TimesThe meat is imported from Miyazaki Prefecture in Japan, and is a rarity in American restaurants. Each ounce is $25, and the smallest cut offered at the restaurant weighs six ounces. So yeah, that's a $150 for the cheapest Waygu steak. 

According to Wells, Puck also has a special way of cooking his steaks that involves grilling them over wood and charcoal, before hitting them with a 1,200°F broiler. This leaves the meat with an outer texture that the food critic said was similar to a good loaf of sourdough.

Wolfgang Puck's restaurants are generous with the truffles

Truffles are very expensive. So it's no surprise that in 2001, the Los Angeles Times reported on how Puck had bought $19,000 worth of white truffles, weighing 1.82 pounds, from the town of Alba in Italy. He told Food & Beverage Magazine: "I like to spend money on good-quality ingredients, especially if they offer pleasures I can share with my family, my friends, and the guests in my restaurants. I might invest thousands of dollars to buy the best white truffles of the season, so we can offer shavings of them on pastas or pizzas or other dishes in our restaurants." It's no wonder that LA Magazine mentioned Wolfgang Puck's Spago and Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air among the top places to order expensive white truffle dishes.

Puck's love for truffles isn't news. His macaroni and cheese, which he served at the 2017 Governors Ball, used black truffle oil and thinly sliced black truffle as garnish, and even his chicken pot pie has black truffle as an ingredient. Order whole lobsters at CUT, and you get them with a generous serving of black truffle butter. To top it all, Puck's hangover food is a combo of Bloody Mary and a mushroom omelet made using truffle salt and topped with black truffle shavings!

You can taste Wolfgang Puck's newest food experiments at his test kitchen

As a mentor to Wolfgang Puck, the French chef Raymond Thuilier made him realize that a chef could be a true craftsman. Years later, when Puck moved from France to the States and started his own restaurant, he did not hesitate to take risks. He used unusual ingredients, kicking off trends that the world was, as it turned out, ready for. The result of such kitchen adventures were never-before-seen dishes such as duck-sausage pizzas and the more popular, smoked salmon pizza. He also popularized the use of goat cheese in fine dining. Most Americans hadn't even heard of it as the product itself appeared in the market only in 1979, two years before Puck started his restaurant. 

In 2017, Puck made another bold move. He opened his test kitchen in West Hollywood for the public to dine in. The space, where chefs working at different Wolfgang Puck restaurants come together to create new dishes, started accepting reservations from diners. He introduced uncommon appliances such as a centrifuge and a distiller for chefs to play around with. Puck was clear that the focus of the space was not to make money. "It's to stretch their imaginations. Everybody is like a songwriter or a painter. You're not going to tell them what to write or paint. I don't want to put boundaries on anything," Puck told Food & Wine.