My family and I returned to Mike Lata’s seasonal Southern bistro for the second time in 2007. Once again, Lata proved (F)ood (I)s (G)ood.
The Charleston Stage adaptation of David Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries” let out an hour before our reservation time. Thankfully, there are certainly worse ways to spend an hour than in FIG’s spacious bar, downing wine and house-made charcuterie. Chicken Liver Pate ($9) was creamy, partnered with “traditional condiments” like shaved cornichons and mustard, plus lightly dressed daikon slaw. Country Pork Terrine ($9) was earthier, studded with pistachios, plated with crostini, roasted grapes, whole grain Dijon mustard and spinach leaves.
A scoop of Steak Tartare ($10) was joined by parsley salad and Maxim potatoes, which are nearly translucent and have the texture of a potato chip.
The Frisee Salad ($9) was fairly traditional, with garlic, bacon and a poached Sea Island farm egg. Only the inclusion of garbanzo beans was exceptional.
The velvety Autumn Squash Soup ($8) contained nuggets of sweet Bosc pears, a squiggle of brown butter and chives.
Chef Lata tossed his signature White Shrimp and Radicchio Salad ($10) with crisp slices of pancetta, cherry tomatoes and warm pancetta vinaigrette. As always, bacon makes it better, and better bacon makes things even better. Chef Lata uses better bacon.
This over-sized Duck confit lollipop featured a golden skin. It can also be said that duck fat makes things better, and when duck is cooked in duck fat: look out. The rich starter was excellent, paired with a small mound of cranberry compote and arugula dressed with light vinaigrette.
Strube Ranch Wagyu Bistro Steak ($25) was thin-sliced, rubbed with Kalamata olive tapenade and lean but luscious. The beef was partnered with arugula leaves and braised turnip slices.
Unfortunately, I pulled the short straw with my entrée. Pan Roasted Scamp Grouper ($25) was kind of like an oceanic cassoulet, with braised white beans, country ham and hedgehog mushrooms. Hold up. “Country ham” was listed on the menu, and it was one of the dish’s biggest selling points, but I didn’t see or taste any, and the texture of the white fish wasn’t to my liking.
The radiant Roasted Keegan-Filion Farm Chicken ($23) was absolutely succulent, with a caramelized but not crispy skin. The sides were also exemplary: the revered Italian grain farro, broccoli and carrots.
We ordered two Vegetables for the Table. Farro & Broccoli ($7) was stellar, with a nutty flavor similar to bulgur, but richer.
We were supposed to receive Braised Collards with sofrito and pancetta, but our waitress warned me that since it was getting late, they might be forced to substitute kale. Which is exactly what happened. The green was sautéed with thin-cut garlic cloves and tasted good, but that was the second dish that promised pig and didn’t deliver it.
The terrific Apple Crisp w/Almond Streusel ($7) featured thin-cut apple strips, which allowed the fruit’s sugars to caramelize along with the sugar. The shaved almonds supplied a nice crunch, and the scoop of honey ice cream was sweet but not cloying.
Butterscotch Pot De Crème ($6) was fluffy and sweet, topped with an oval of flavored whipped cream. Which flavor, I can’t remember. The pot de crème was rich, but even after polishing off a full meal and the bulk of the streusel, I couldn’t stop eating it.
Despite my two minor pork disappointments, Chef Lata once again delivered a flavorful meal that tasted absolutely of-the-moment.