Review (+ photos): Seasonal Fare at FIG (Santa Monica)
Full review + photos here: http://la-oc-foodie.blogspot.com/2009/02/mini-foodventure-104-fig-santa-monica.html
Not being much of a fig person, when I first heard buzz of FIG I didn't really pay much attention to it -- a fig-themed restaurant? really? But after doing a little more research I realized it's a restaurant headed by chef Ray Garcia (who worked at French Laundry and Cyrus) and "forager" Kerry Clasby with an emphasis in using sustainable, seasonal and "the region's best" foods into "simple, elegant [cuisine] that focus on pure, uncomplicated flavor." Sounds great, even if I still don't know what FIG stands for, if anything. Foraged Ingredients by Garcia? Fresh, Innovative and Good-to-Eat? or maybe just a reference to the fig tree in the courtyard of the Fairmont Miramar hotel, where the restaurant is located at?
The menu definitely reflects the seasonal flavors, and I love how the bottom of the page highlights what produce are at their peak or soon on its way. But it was mildly frustrating to see that the menu listed hen of the wood mushrooms as a peaking ingredient, but I didn't see it featured on any of the dishes (and the waiter assured me there are no off-the-menu specials either); so sad, since I haven't tasted those in a while and was looking forward to them.
My friend was feeling carnivorous so he opted for their 12 oz. New York Strip steak frites. I decided to get three small dishes to get a greater variety of flavors, asking for the starter to arrive first and the soup and side dishes to come with my friend's entree.
Shortly after our orders, the bread/butter and amuse arrived. While I love the presentation of the warm demibaguette arrived in its own little paper bread bag, I was also thinking "how not-so-sustainable . . ." But I was quickly distracted from that by the "green butter" dip, which tasty and intriguing for both of us since we can't quite place our finger on what the other ingredients in there are. Herbs? Avocado? Pistachios? all the above? I would've asked the waiter but he's already away before I got the chance -- found out later, from Caroline on Crack's blog, that it's Arugula Butter!
The amuse of a warm salad with wild mushrooms with a drizzle of olive oil is more than a bite, but we didn't mind. It was scrumptious! These aren't your standard button 'shrooms and you can tell from the all woodsy, earthy and meaty flavors that came forth. I surely hope that this becomes a permanent menu item -- wild mushrooms are available year round, right?
Moving on to my first of small dishes: grilled mortadella with pink lady apples ($7). Quite sensational, the sausage was mild and tasted more like a ham, and it was nicely complemented by the crisp and sweet apple pieces and the tinge of smokiness from being grilled.
Shortly after we finished this starter, I was served was their roasted tomato soup with basil and marscarpone ($9). A little bit confuzzling since my other dish and my friend's entree wasn't ready yet. Nonetheless, the tomato soup overall went above my expectations esp. since most of my tomato soup experiences came from a can or a carton thus far; the flavors were vibrant with bright notes of acidity and sweetness, it certainly wasn't like anything I've had before. Would've liked a little bit more mascarpone cheese and I am unsure about the basil foam topping (personally would've appreciated the more natural presentation of chopped up leaves in the soup) but it was a delectable dish nonetheless.
Finally, my accompaniment of sauteed cauliflowers with hazelnut and sage ($9) - again a well-done dish whose simple preparation highlights the freshness of everything that went in it. The cauliflowers were perfectly cooked, and their almost-buttery flavor was nicely accented with the nut and herb nuances. I am definitely going to experiment with that hazelnut-sage combination myself when I cook my veggies at home!
What of my friend's NY Steak ($29) - also solid. A perfectly cooked medium-rare, it was juicy, beefy, tender with an amazing crispy-caramelized sear of fat on top -- this is the reason why I can't even become a pescatarian or just a bacon-loving vegetarian. The fries were nicely done too, having been flavored from herbs that were either fried with them or tossed in right afterwards, but seemed to lost some crispiness.
Finishing off our meal, a shared cheese plate. They offered several flights at pre-set prices (or a build-your-own at $4 per cheese), but our server was rather unhelpful on explaining the flights (telling us "Local" is all locally-made cheeses, and "Progressive" is going from mild to strongly flavored ones when we are more interested in the exact cheeses featured in each flight.) Alas, in the name of trying "the region's best" we went for the local flight ($17) . . .
. . . which turned out about 50/50, I personally liked the first cheese (which has a brie-like creaminess but with tinges of gorgonzola flavor) and the very last one (which was pungent but goes surprisingly well with the figs or the fruit-nut bread slices.) The other two hard cheeses in between are a bit unremarkable. While I did like their crystallized structure and snap, I found both too salty to eat alone.
Despite the somewhat disappointing final note, FIG is overall solid and competent in the food -- it's a great spot to hit up for simple-yet-elegant fares where the flavors of the raw ingredients really speak for themselves. The service was waffly, though I attribute that more to opening week hiccups that hopefully will get worked out soon. And while it is fairly pricey (aim for about $40/person on food) I definitely would recommend this place as the occasional splurgy or special occasional meal or even their wonderful-sounding cocktails, which, like the cuisine, is inspired by what's available and in-season.
And I wish the best for Chef Garcia -- menus that need a regular makeover are always an ambitious undertaking, and I hope that he can pull it off through the seasons. I for one can't wait to see what the next batch of fresh produce will bring to the restaurant and bar.
I'll add my review of FIG that I posted on another thread:
We shared a plate of the charcuterie (fresh and hard salami, the foie gras pate, a chicken liver parfait that was a layer of chicken liver pate topped with a layer of chicken fat (dear lord, this was awesome), and some of the jamon iberico de bellota). They also bring you each a small baguette along with a tub of arugula butter, which I liked very much. I had their signature drink, a fig mojito. This was refreshing, although didn't taste very much of figs. For apps, we shared the sweetbreads and a tarte flambee with fig fromage blanc, blue cheese and lardons. Neither was especially memorable. For mains, I had the duck and my dining companion had the pork tenderloin. The pork was cooked well, but the sauce had some sort of spice in it that really hit you in the back of the throat and totally overpowered the flavor of the meat. My duck leg, on the other hand, was not well cooked. The skin was just sort of soggy and sad, although the actual poultry was fine once I got past that. We shared sides of roasted baby carrots (slightly undercooked), roasted brussel sprouts (very good) and roasted cauliflower (good). At this point, the waiter brought us two little triangular sandwiches on brioche, explaining that this was one of the chef's specialties. These were not good. It was a twist on PB&J but this almond butter, fig spread and blue cheese. I'm not sure which blue cheese was used, but the layer was so thick that was absolutely the only flavor I could taste. It really needed to be cut with cream cheese or something in order to be palatable. For dessert, we had the chocolat pot au creme and their homemade fig bars with greek yogurt ice cream. These were both delicious. I'll absolutely be back there for a drink because they have an incredible view of the sunset on the back patio. But I think in terms of food, I would focus on their cheese, charcuterie and the desserts.
Fascinating reviews and compelling new concept. What a hot area -- last year's hot opening, Anisette, this new venture, FIG, and the tasty Musha, all within walking distance for a progressive experience. I see wanting to be right next to the Santa Monica Farmer's Market, but wouldn't the rent on a new business be huge thereabouts? The 12-oz steak frites that AquaW's friend ordered for $29 is now listed on the website menu for $32, and soups and veggie sides that approach double-digit prices are on the high side for a casual establishment. Very interesting, though, and the proprietors sure have good credentials.