Chef-owner Mike Lata has developed a national reputation for his seasonal, local market-driven cuisine. This year, he was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Award, in the Best Chef Southeast category. After tasting his food for a second time, it’s surprising that he didn’t claim the medal. The restaurant’s name is an acronym – Food Is Good – and at FIG, it sure is.
FIG is situated on Meeting Street, on the perimeter of Charleston’s historic core. Inside, colorful chalk-drawn fruits and vines bracket market vegetable and dessert offerings. The decor is fairly simple, but features a staggering series of stylized photographs, colorful blurs that are recognizable as images of local marshland and other Lowcountry scenes.
Sauteed roe shrimp ($11) topped spaghetti, cherry tomatoes, basil, pesto and nicoise olives. According to our waitress, the shrimp are caught three miles off the coast, during their spawning stage. The roe is undetectable in the bowl, but produces sweeter, more delicate shrimp.
Sweet white shrimp were paired with radicchio ($10) and pancetta vinaigrette and topped with a disc of crispy pancetta. It’s no wonder this item has endured on the menu.
Beef short rib ravioli ($9) were luscious, with thin-wrappers, partnered with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, shavings of pecorino, and a slightly sweet sauce. Berry?
Roasted beet salad ($8) featured two varieties of beets, mache, creamy goat cheese and walnuts.
This filet of pan-roasted local black grouper ($24) arrived with caramelized Wadmalaw sweet onions and smoked bacon butter. Wadmalow is a nearby island. The fish was topped with crisp bacon and chives. With bacon and bacon butter on one plate, this dish was a lock for greatness.
Roasted Keegan-Filion Farms chicken ($24) was plated with potato puree, morel mushrooms and natural jus. The chicken was unusually succulent, with crisp skin.
We shared a couple of market vegetables, including sauteed spinach ($7) with golden raisins and pine nuts.
Lata drizzled pan roasted cauliflower ($7) with mustard butter, to good effect.
My father wanted the table to share three different desserts, but after I read the late great RW Apple wrote last year that Chef Lata’s rice pudding ($7) “puts other local versions to shame,” I needed an order to myself. The Carolina Gold rice pudding was mixed with cherries and crumbled black walnuts and featured big flavor. My father decided the slightly soupy rice pudding would benefit if I “make the top the bottom and the bottom the top.” It sounded good, but didn’t affect the consistency.
Espresso crème caramel ($7) was basically the best flan ever, plated with caramel sauce.
Half-baked chocolate cake ($6) was an oozing flourless chocolate cake, served with vanilla ice cream and slivers of strawberry.
I ate at FIG the year it opened, and certainly enjoyed my meal, but it was evident from this experience that Chef Lata has elevated his game. It shouldn’t be long before he scores that James Beard Award.