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Scott Bridges

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Fig & Olive: The Flavors of the Mediterranean

Posted: 04/ 6/2012 6:48 pm

I'll just say it: This is one of the best pure Mediterranean restaurants that I know of. If you're looking for a perfect Easter brunch this weekend, this should top your list.

Fig & Olive is that wonderful paradox of obviousness and surprise. The menu, with a few exceptions, is a pantheon of traditional ingredients from the South of France, Spain and Italy, whether imported or grown locally. And those exceptions (Hamachi, tuna and salmon, for instance), seamlessly morph into the regional cuisine as prepared by Executive Chef Pascal Lorange.

A cheese plate is one of the best ways to thin-slice a restaurant and begin a meal, and here, it ought to be mandatory. An assortment of French and Spanish sheep, goat and cow cheeses (a few of which include Manchego, Fromage de Chevre, Gorgonzola Dolce, respectively) are paired with the ubiquitous figs and olives, marcona almonds and fig and olive walnut tapenade. An olive plate and a degustation plate, including Jamon Iberico (Spanish ham) are also available.

One of the highlights of the menu is the crostini selection. There is no wrong choice here, but there is a few that merit special attention. The mushroom, truffle artichoke and parmesan crostini is superb. The prosciutto, ricotta, fig, olive and walnut is a prime example of the versatile interplay of these regional ingredients. The Manchego, fig and Marcona almond is another.

The crudo is a fine example of the Mediterranean flavors, interweaving harmoniously to create synergy -- consider the salmon, which incorporates orange, grapefruit, lemon, cilantro and Chateau Leoube Olive Oil or the tuna with cucumber, chive, lemon sesame dressing and Coratina Olive Oil. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the carpaccio -- and there's something here for everyone: zucchini, yellow fin tuna or beef. Served with baby argula, heirloom cherry tomatoes, slivers of parmesan and an 18-year-old balsamic vinegar and truffle olive oil, this is not just any beef carpaccio.

The appetizers at Fig & Olive are substantial enough to be considered small plates. The sea scallops & truffle artichoke tapenade, for instance, includes three or four scallops the size of a kid's fist. And the fig gorgonzola tartlet is large enough for two, although it's so good that you probably won't want to share. It features warm gorgonzola, prosciutto, fig, walnut, arugala, scallions, and tomato on a puff pastry.

Now that your appetite has been whetted, you may find yourself taking in the scene. The main dining room is spacious, with tall ceilings, fans and high windows that welcome in natural light. The wall by the kitchen is covered with olive oil bottles, creating a liquid gold effect. The bar is set off from the main room by rosemary plants. A private dining room resides beyond a glass wall and a balcony lounge exists above the bar. Lively but soft music is diffused evenly throughout.

If your attention hasn't turned to the wine list already, it should have by now. And here, you'll find nearly 40 labels available by the glass or bottle, in addition to the sommelier's list, which includes a showcase of fine bottles. The list is in perfect harmony with the menu, with offerings from France, Spain and Italy. The list fits on a single page and classifies the wines into their different levels of body, type of grape, etc., and offers a brief description in terms of the notes of each. And as if that weren't enough, manager and master sommelier Henri Marquis is a perfect guide, who explains that his art is simply the art of listening. Simply put, if you know what you like, Marquis can tell you what you want.

In addition to his extensive knowledge on wines from around the world, Marquis is also something of a philosopher. On Champagne: "You either need it or you deserve it." His knowledge and conversation are themselves worth the price of admission.

Although there is a wine here for every palate, choosing an entrée is not quite as simple. Fig & Olive is not for everyone -- and that's a compliment. If you've got a large group of disparate relatives visiting from out of town, there are safer gastronomical choices out there. I'm not suggesting that this cuisine is more of an acquired taste. Actually, that's exactly what I'm saying. The more sophisticated your palate, the more you'll appreciate a restaurant like this. That's not to say that any Big Mac-eater wouldn't drool over the Mediterranean Branzino -- a delicate fish that takes on new dimensions when drizzled with balsamic vinegar. My point is simply that a dish like the Moroccan-spiced fig & olive tajine, with its rich complexity of pungent flavors, would probably be wasted on inferior taste buds.

Having said that, dessert is more universal in nature. The crème brulee and the pot de crème are both crack-like in terms of addiction-inducing. The pralines with lemon zest are exotic, but more exotic still is the marzipan cake with olive oil gelato. Wow. This is an incredibly sweet dish, with flavors that burst in your mouth like a first taste of bubble gum. Desserts are offered in the form of a sampler platter, with appropriately small bites of different items.

 

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