Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fig - Fresh from the Fairmont

Another dark, cold and stormy night in Los Angeles - time to catch up on blog posts (and dream of luscious meals on warmer days)!

For my birthday recently, "Lindyhopper" and "Bicycletta" - my bestest friends ever for among other things brushing aside their own aversion to 'gourmet' - indulged me in a choice between Cleo or Fig.  We originally decided on Cleo, but since we couldn't get reservations last minute, ended up at the fanta-bulous (but a bit further away) Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica.

I had been dying to go for a long time - but held off due to the relatively high prices for casual-sounding fare. I knew that many foodies whose opinion I respected love the place though - so I was ecstatic when Lindyhopper and Bicycletta said they would bring me!!

The Fairmont Miramar is an unexpected treat rooted just a block or so from the Pacific ocean.  Though not quite beachfront, it is a lush, lovely retreat that you would never expect to find just steps away from the sea of humanity ebbing and flowing up and down Third Street Promenade.  Just off of Wilshire and Ocean, the hotel's main entrance is grand, and breathtaking - with its wrought iron gates, long cobblestoned driveway and dramatic over-century-old Moreton Bay Fig tree (from which the restaurant draws its name) serving as centerpiece.

A big part of a great dining experience for me is in the ambience, and both the hotel and its bistro are perfect in that arena.  There are private bungalows set in the garden, with lovely waves of light from the pool / fountain washing gently over their walls at night.  Just past the lobby lounge, you arrive at Fig, a relaxed, casual yet well designed space - with a long communal bar-height table and cute single booth in the front room by the bar, and pool side / patio seating in the back.  It feels unpretentious, authentic - a great reflection on their menu, which is seasonal with French influences, a strong emphasis on fresh ingredients (sourced locally from the world famous Santa Monica Farmers' Market, conveniently walking distance from the restaurant!) from Chef Ray Garcia, and uncomplicated preparation.

From the very first thing to arrive at our table, Fig achieves a great balance of fine foods served casual style.  Instead of regular ole butter, Fig serves arugula butter, with salt to be applied yourself via an adorable wooden bucket / scooper set - delicious with their fresh baked baguette, served in a branded paper bag.

There is a cheese and charcuterie bar, but I wasn't about to abuse the goodwill of my hostesses!  I did however feel compelled to order off Fig's cocktail list, which is just as mouthwatering as their menu - always seeking discoveries, I decided to go with the Rosemary & Rhubarb cocktail, which was light and refreshing and reinforced my recent preference for savory ingredients in my drinks.

For our mains, I was torn between two seafood choices - luckily, Lindyhopper wanted the Hand-Harvested Scallops with Cauliflower, Pinenuts, Golden Raisins, Tangerines ($28) too, so I got to taste hers AND order the other dish I wanted.  The scallops were probably the freshest cooked scallops I have ever tasted in LA - incredibly tender and sweet.  The other ingredients were a bit extraneous and I thought should have taken more of a backseat, to let the scallops shine on their own.  But still a great dish, though very spendy at $28 with barely 3-4 scallops on the plate.
I was so happy to see my Whole Grilled Dorade ($28) served on the plate...whole.  Not many western venues serve fish with head-on - and its not even that I eat any part of the head - but the sight of the entire fish just triggers whatever it is in my mind that thinks...this just got pulled out of the ocean.  It wasn't hacked to bits and shipped in a freezer on the back of some truck for hours before arriving on my plate.  And one taste confirmed it - the texture was unlike any other grilled fish I've had - the meat was amazingly soft, smooth and subtly sweet - so much so that if not for the deliciously salty, crispy skin enrobing the fish, I would have thought it was steamed Cantonese style.  The fish was topped by a tapenade which gave it additional flavors and nice texture contrast (though visually may not be the most attractive...).  As if this were not enough to send my taste buds soaring, imagine my surprise to find in the middle of the fish, as 'stuffing' - fresh basil, slices of lemon, roasted peppers and sprigs of thyme!  These ingredients infused the inside of the fish with incredibly rich flavor.  This might be my favorite grilled fish dish to date (and I don't normally like grilled fish, as I feel grilling takes away from the pure, fresh taste of the fish)!

Bicycletta was on a health kick and went with a Chopped Salad - which she loved. But I don't normally like raw vegetables so I didn't taste or photograph it.  But I did capture all three of our desserts!

Of the three we ordered, I actually liked Bicycletta's the best: Melrose Apple Tatin with Caramel and Sea Salt Ice Cream ($9).  The pastry base was served at just the right temperature - somewhere between warm and scorching hot - and was incredibly buttery and flaky.  The whole thing was topped with powdered sugar, then crowned by a scoop of caramel and sea salt ice cream that showed the chef's skill in restraint with sweetness.

As for me, there are a few things that have a Pavlovian effect on me that is beyond control (e.g. black winter truffle, foie gras, bacon, Parisian macarons, champagne truffles...) and Nutella is one of them.  So when I saw the Nutella and Chocolate Tart with Candied Hazelnuts, Marshmallow Cream ($9) on the menu, I went for it like a puppy going off leash on the beach for the first time.

Our friendly server brought the plate out with a candle on it - sweet! - and I loved the presentation immediately (especially the round of torched Marshmallow Cream).  Unfortunately, the tart itself was way too dense and rich, which made the beautiful toasted marshmallow an overwhelming addition. The candied hazelnuts were a nice touch, adding light crunch to counterbalance the density of the tart.

Lindyhopper, a fellow chocoholic, ordered the Chocolate Pot au Creme with Market Berries, Sable Cookies ($9).  This was rich and creamy, and delicious with the fresh berries.

All in all, a truly great meal and great for a special occasion splurge.  Though, those who are lucky enough to live / work on the Westside can take advantage of Fig's happy hour pricing - 50% off ALL items on menu between 5-6pm Tuesday-Saturday!  (Thanks to SinoSoul for the tip! Though some sites have been reporting this "Fig at Five" deal is offered daily, when I talked to the hostess recently she said the deal is only on Tuesdays through Thursdays.  So I'd recommend you call the restaurant to confirm the deal before you go!)

Anyways, thanks again Lindyhopper, Bicycletta - and Fig - for an unforgettable meal - love you guys!!!!!

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 5.5 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%

Fig Santa Monica

Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows
101 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica CA, 90401
Ph: 310.319.3111

OpenTable:  Look for reservations

FIG Restaurant on Urbanspoon   FIG Restaurant in Los Angeles on Fooddigger

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