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A Bistro for All Seasons: FIG Restaurant Santa Monica

Jun. 1st, 2009 | Comments 0 | Make a Comment   
Fine Living: Food & Spirits: A recent trip to Santa Monica led me to one of the region's newest and, dare I say, most impressive restaurants - FIG. While the location within the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and Bungalows may not presage the free spirited ways of this socially responsible, evolutionary eatery, one step in the door and it's immediately evident that an experience - not just a meal - awaits.

The restaurant's décor is extremely warm and inviting, with more of a chic and trendy café feel than a stuffy fine dining ambiance. Neutral tones of beige, coral, brown and various woods and metallics serve as a warm, natural back drop for the bold touches of red thoughtfully interspersed throughout the cozy modern interior, including monochromatic arrangement of fresh flowers at the entrance.

I immediately found the FIG's atmosphere to be lively and easy going, the staff extremely engaging and conscientious, and the oversized furniture decidedly comfortable. The night was off to a fab start and I hadn't yet eaten a thing!

I was originally drawn to FIG for its steadfast use of sustainable, organically-grown, and local ingredients upon which its fluid seasonal menus are constructed. Indeed, with Executive Chef Ray Garcia at the helm, this restaurant lives and breathes an "ingredients first" philosophy in all aspects of its operation. To his credit, Chef Garcia visits the local Santa Monica Farmer's Market twice weekly to stay abreast of what's currently and soon-to-be in season so that he may plan his menus in kind. He's even hired an official "forager" to help track down the absolute best ingredients throughout the entire state California. Other provisions, such as an array of herbs and peppers, are grown in the restaurant's own garden.



To give you a sense of just how committed Chef Garcia is to the sustainable restaurant concept, FIG incorporates up to 90 percent of its ingredients from farms, ranches and fisheries that employ responsible practices. For example, their mussels, clams and oysters are aqua-farmed in Carlsbad, California. FIG also participates in La Quercia Acorn Edition - an innovative program through which Chef Garcia acquires acorn-fed, pasture-raised, organic Berkshire farm pigs. I personally found the "Just Arrived", "In Peak Season", and "Coming Soon" ingredient lists at the bottom of the menu helpful in understanding the methodology and timeliness of the dishes offered.

Once settled into my seat with a cocktail in hand, single serving-sized fresh, warm baguettes arrived with an olive oil-based spread and, shortly thereafter, an amouse-bouche of fresh mango topped with a chili pepper oil. A pleasant surprise that did not disappoint.

FIG's dinner menu is elegant yet unpretentious simplicity, with bistro-inspired dishes showcasing Mother Nature at her best. A tantalizing array of starters from $5 and up are offered to kick start your culinary adventure, including bite-sized "snacks" such as curried lamb ribs with raita or, my selection, the fried oysters with chorizo remoulade; handcrafted local and imported cheese flights such as "progressive," "challenging" and "rare"; charcuteri including a salami or pate plate featuring rabbit, chicken liver and foie gras; delectable salads such as dandelion greens with cherries and marconas, and starters including the afore mentioned Carlsbad oysters by the half or full dozen, 3 onion soup gratinee or the tarte flambee with fromage blanc, blue cheese and lardon.

Entrees, including 3 all-natural 28-day aged California prime beef options, range from $19-$34, also proffering poultry, seafood, meat, and vegetarian selections. An assortment of seasonal produce-based accompaniments round out the menu. For dinner, I opted for the Maine diver scallops with savory chorizo, the largest and plumpest butter beans I had ever seen, and leeks. The dish was perfectly seasoned and well balanced, and the scallops were cooked to perfection. I did also taste the twelve ounce New York strip ordered by companion, which was as soft, supple, tender and flavorful as any steak that's graced my cynical palate.

The dessert menu is equally fresh and inviting with an array of options that won't leave you feeling weighed down. From creative picks like the CB&J Sandwich of house-made cashew butter, strawberry jelly and blue cheese to lighter, straightforward fare such as the meyer lemon curd, strawberry shortcake or the anticipated FIG bar, the desserts further substantiate restaurant's philosophy of offering graceful renditions of traditional dishes using all-natural, healthy provisions that offer ingredient-inspired twists but are not overworked.



Whether as a starter, an entire meal, or for dessert, FIG's Cheese and Charcuterie station offers an impressive selection of local cheeses, mortadella, nostrano, soppressata, and salami. The restaurant also has a separate cheese menu that features cow, sheep, goat, and blue-veined varieties alongside a special section devoted to local cheese makers from throughout California. A fromageur cheese expert is also on-hand to provide explanations and recommendations.

For my fellow oenophiles, the wine list is inviting and conducive to all budgets. It features wines from all over the world, including those from well-known and local boutique vintners. There's also an extensive wine-by-the-glass menu allowing diners to sample a number of varietals and vintages during the course of their meal. An extensive cocktail menu is also available.

The ambiance at FIG is airy, open and fairly communal, and it wasn't long before my companion and I were conversing with the patrons at the table next to us. Our waiter, Raul, was attentive without being overbearing and he had a terrific sense of humor that enhanced our overall experience. It's no wonder that, even on a weeknight when I was there for dinner, the restaurant was abuzz with business. But it's no wonder. Eating at FIG exemplifies the extent to which fresh, organic, sustainable and indigenous ingredients, used in thoughtfully conceived and skillfully prepared recipes, can make a world of the difference - literally and figuratively.

FIG is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday, 5:00pm-10:00pm. Reservations are recommended and can be made online or by calling the phone number located on the restaurant's Web site located at www.figsantamonica.com. FIG is also open for breakfast (7:00am-11:00am) and lunch (11:00am-2:00pm) daily.

The Luxe List product, service and travel review editor Merilee Kern scours the luxury marketplace for new and captivating "musts." Product submissions accepted via e-mail at Merilee@JustLuxe.com.

- Merilee Kern
JustLuxé.com's "The Luxe List" Executive Review Editor
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