At the heart of the L.A. Live complex, facing out down the mall toward Staples Center, the vast Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill sometimes feels like an experiment in sensory overload, all sound-stage lighting and gleaming refractive surfaces, strobing video screens and rushing crowds. The sound system’s playlist could be drawn from a Venn diagram illustrating the intersection between KROQ music and songs your mom really likes. It is occasionally disconcerting to dine with 140 people whose main priority is to rush through dinner before tip-off.
To be honest, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill feels more like Puck’s restaurants in the Midwest or Las Vegas than it does like Spago: This is the export model, food in the crunchy, spicy, sprightly, smoky, slightly sweet groove he does so well. He’s not making any breakthroughs here. But Puck, the Magic Johnson of chefs, perfected many of the tropes of new American cuisine, from the Mediterranean-Asian thing to hardwood grilling, from exotic pasta to rowdy herbal accents to wood-oven pizza, and there is a sheen, a professional presence to the cooking here — burgers, chops, sautéed Alaskan halibut and beet-burrata salad — that Puck always seems to execute more consistently than anyone else.
The tuna tartare, for example, made with little cubes of sushi-grade fish, is tinged with wasabi, sesame and a chile oil, tossed with a little cucumber for crunch, paved with thin slices of perfectly ripe avocado, and served with a pleasantly oily flatbread toasted into chips. There couldn’t be a bigger cliché on a Los Angeles menu at the moment, but this tartare is elevated, perfectly of itself. The suave puréed-artichoke soup is spiked with crisp croutons and fat pancetta lardoons exactly the same size, so you never quite know what sensation is going to come with the next mouthful. And the Puck pizzas, which have surely been imitated more than any dish in modern American history, are exemplary, too: The model with sliced salumi, slivered red onions and sliced fresh jalapeños was all crunch and porkiness — the crust, may not be the marvel you’d find at Mozza but serves a different purpose, as a platform for the meats rather than as a thing in itself.
WOLFGANG PUCK BAR & GRILL, L.A. Live complex, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., dwntwn. (213) 748-9700 or wolfgangpuck.com. Mon.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 5 p.m.-mid. Full bar. Partially validated lot parking. Starters $12-$17; pizza $14-$18; main courses $18-$38.