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Barbary Fig, St. Paul: candid review

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My husband and I moved to mpls. from NYC 2 years ago, and since then have been scouring the city for the best food in town. A few of our favorite restaurants so far: 112 eatery, alma, nami, jasmine deli, spoonriver, pizza nea in northeast and others. We love good food and continually hope to add new restaurants to our twin city list. So, saturday nite we ventured to st. paul to eat at Barbary Fig, which I had been reading about since we moved here. It seems like people either love it or hate it, and unfortunately I'm officially in the latter group. The meal was not only bland, but dishes like the grilled eggplant appetizer with roquefort cheese and the special lamb dish were pretty much inedible. The lamb/potatoes/veggie concoction was swimming in a dishwater-like liquid. The grilled eggplant was completely lacking in presentation and flavor. These dishes were the nightly specials, so we assumed they'd be good. From our point of view, it seemed like the chef was much more interested in closing up for the nite (at about 8:30pm, he was stowing away the patio's umbrellas, allowing the restaurant's spotlights to shine on all of the customers. Very romantic, in an interrogative kind of way.) and chatting with customers than worrying about how his food tasted. It's a shame, because we love good food, and when we fall for a place, we recommend it to everyone we know, but barbary fig is crossed off our list... and I don't recommend it to anyone on this board.

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  1. I have been to Barbary Fig several times. I'm sad to say that my experiences match yours. The intention is great, and I'm charmed by little owner/chef ventures ... but the food lacks flavor.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Jordan

      i'm from north jersey, just back from NYC. I will check out pizza nea. I like Joey Nova's pizza in Plymouth on Hwy 55.

      1. re: Jordan

        I, too, have eaten at Barbary Fig several times and have not been impressed. The food was OK, but not good enough for me to remember to consider it as a dining destination when making plans to eat out. The times I've eaten there, the service was also okay, but nothing memorable.

      2. Thank you tbites, for your candid report on your one visit to Barbary Fig (personally, I like to imagine that all of the posts here on chowhound are candid, and if we're not being "candid", then I sure as heck don't understand why we're all pulling out each other's hair over whether Nea is better than Luce is better than Punch or whether the curds at one State Fair booth are tastier than at the other. We're polite, but we're opinionated!)--I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it.

        But, I am rather confused by your comment "the chef seemed more interested in ...chatting with customers than worrying about his food tasted"--actually, maybe he was chatting with them about how their food tasted? I generally think that a visit to my table by the chef is a good thing --and if you thought the food was inedible or the lights were shining in your eyes, well, that would certainly be a good opportunity to mention it to him.

        I do hope you come back to post more regularly on this forum, particularly about your chow "finds," the places you return to frequently. It's always nice to hear about discoveries from new folks!

        ~TDQ

        2 Replies
        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          hi TDQ,
          Yes, I agree with you that we could have said something to the chef. And I definitely agree that i love when the chef visits the table. I've been reading chowhound for years, from nyc to atlanta to mpls and have never posted, and I think the way I expressed myself here may have been from years of pent-up frustration about bad restaurant experiences. Anyway, I still think that the chef/owner was in a rush to close up... maybe it was just an off nite (and I know any good reviewer should go back a couple of times). I may have also been blinded by my disappointment in the food. I also think some of what I was saying is stemming from a larger frustration with reviews in general. From reading reviews here and on city pages, sometimes it seems people like the chef so much that they have a hard time saying anything bad about the food. The chef may be an incredibly likable guy, but if the food doesn't cut it, I'm not going back. For example, I love alma, but I think Brasa is mediocre. Our chicken (one of the main reasons to go to Brasa) was incredibly dry. I make better chicken at home. But I think because people (including Dara at City Pages) are so in love with Alma and its chef (who is fabulous at alma), they have a hard time criticizing Brasa. I think the same could be said for B. Fig. Anyway, enough venting!
          I love many restaurants in the city (112 eatery being my favorite), and I'll start posting more often as I try new places.

          1. re: tbites

            Since you're a fan of Dara, you might have read her column last week wherein she said, as a patron, she doesn't think you have to give a restaurant more than two chances before you decide to give up on the place, never to return. Personally, unless there's a compelling reason to go back (you think it was an off-day, the place is only a few months old, there has been a recent chef/boh change, it's really close to your house, it's the only restaurant of its kind in town, everyone whose chow-opinion you trust disagrees with you), I am of the opinion that once is enough. There's too much good chow out there! (Dara says she, as a professional, gives a restaurant up to five chances if her review is going to be negative.)

            There are many folks who post on Chowhound who love Barbary Fig, but I would not say that it's a "board darling" the way Alma or Lucia's are, for instance. The commentary has been somewhat mixed. Jordan, in particular (who chimed in above) isn't a big fan of the place and has said so at least a couple of different times. And I think it's completely appropriate to have dissenting opinions. The thing that surprised me about your report was your impression that the chef didn't care, when you also mentioned he was chatting with the patrons. That sounds like caring to me! Anyway, welcome to chowhound!

            ~TDQ

        2. I went to Barbary Fig today for the first time in years. I was drawn by the nice day, the porch, and the desire to try it once more after not enjoying it so much years ago. I have to agree with the others. The food was mediocre, and I had to keep getting up to look for the waitress who was never around--for some reason even though all the customers were outside on this beautiful day, the waitresses were hanging around inside. I ordered the vegetarian tagine and it was really watery. The spicing was okay--if you like the taste of pepper. I have been to worse restaurants. This was not my favorite.

          4 Replies
          1. re: katiakatia

            Do NOT go to the Barbary Fig. I remember eating there almost 10 years ago, when I had recently graduated high school. It seemed overpriced to me then, as nearly everything did at that age, but I couldn't remember much about the quality of the food. When a friend asked to meet us there I should have figured that if I didn't return within those 10 years there must have been a reason.

            Sure enough, it was awful. The word 'mediocre' has been used above, but considering how long this place has been around and how many absurdly glowing reviews you can find of it online, I think a stronger word should be used.

            Two of us got the special, lamb with baby fava beans, yams, and basmati rice, and the other two in our party got the chicken tagine and the lamb sausage with couscous. All of the dishes were tasteless, using low-quality ingredients, seemed warmed-up rather than cooked, and were served without any kind of presentation. The price, relative to other places you could eat on Grand Ave. wasn't that bad, but when you consider the terrible food, was ridiculous.

            Lamb should be naturally flavorful, but what I had seemed like it had been boiled (instead of 'roasted', as the menu claimed). I expected fresh fava beans, since it's summertime, or at least something other than the tasteless canned ones that were scattered around the plate, seemingly directly out of the can and into a microwave. The rice underneath the dish was also flavorless and sort of hard and watery at the same time...like rice that's been re-heated out of the fridge. The yams? What bits of yam I could find were pureed and squirted seemingly at random on the plate. To make the food edible I had to salt it heavily.

            The tagine was the only dish with a modicum of flavor, but it wasn't at all what I think of when I picture a tagine. It was served like the lamb special: a few things glopped on the plate in a big mess. The chicken was in stringy chunks and doused in black pepper-heavy harissa. The only nod to vegetables were a few chopped, stewed tomatoes. It was really just unbelieveable. I didn't try the lamb sausage and couscous dish, but my companion reported that it was as bad as everything else.

            The service was decent, but it was sad to see these friendly and attentive waitresses dishing out such abhorrent slop. It was nice dining outside, but our tables and chairs were woefully flimsy and unbalanced. We also had the experience of the staff closing up long before the listed closing time, which made for an awkward after-dinner conversation.

            Overall, the experience was so bad as to be amusing in retrospect. It was a bummer, though, since none of us are in a position to be dining out a lot and we 'used up' one of our nice meals for the month. None of us are super picky and don't require a restaurant to present everything like a work of art or use the hippest new ingredients. We just wanted something better-than-decent for the price and we were sorely disappointed.

            What I really don't understand are the glowing reviews you can find online when you google Barbary Fig...are these just written by shills?

            1. re: tasmonia

              Bummer! Thanks for the honest report, tasmonia.

              I used to love Barbary Fig, but have been going less and less over the years, because each visit is more disappointing.

              I think the glowing reviews are from long ago, or from long-time fans who stick to one favorite dish (mine is the eggs with lamb sausage) and who gloss over the problems because of remembered pleasure. I've done this myself with some of my old-time favorites, so I quite understand how it happens.

              I'm sorry to hear that B.F. has slid from its past glory days. It used to be a reliable hit. Now, it seems like it's iffy at best, and not worth it for many.

              Sigh.

              Anne

              1. re: cheeseguysgirl

                Do we have anywhere in the TC for a Moroccan dining experience? Couscous with Tagines and things like that?

                1. re: mnitchals

                  How about Saffron in downtown Minneapolis? It isn't a Moroccan restaurant, but the menu has lots of North African flavor. (No couscous on the current menu, but there are a couple of tagines.) And it's really, really good - or was, the last time I was there several months ago.

                  http://www.saffronmpls.com/

                  Anne