An L.A. website recently proclaimed Eagle Rock as the best eating neighborhood in the city, which is hard to fathom. Still, the post was thought provoking. Where is the highest density of good food in Los Angeles at the moment? Is it downtown, with its fresh wave of comfort food and nuevo Latino? Is it Koreatown, with a dazzling variety of ethnic dining? Since I’m an Eastsider, it pains me to admit that the largest concentration of exciting newcomers is probably in Santa Monica. New 2009 restaurants like Santa Monica Seafood, Huckleberry and FIG represent the best of California, drawing on market-driven produce, meat and seafood. They might not be flashy, but they all deliver some of the most satisfying meals in the city, and none is more fashionable than FIG.
FIG is Santa Monica’s least conspicuous winner, tucked away in the core of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows. Tim Zebrowsky designed the space, which features a sun-bathed tiled porch and pool views. The rest of the room houses a circular pewter bar, orange-and-dbrown banquettes and dark wood floors, to name just three interesting elements.
Chef Ray Garcia is an L.A. native who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena. He worked at The Belvedere under chefs Sean Hardy and Bill Bracken for almost seven years. He also staged with Douglas Keane at Cyrus and Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. At FIG, Garcia maintains an ultra-seasonal approach. . On the bottom of the menu, expect to find “Just Arrived,” “In Peak Season” and “Coming Soon” designations. A number of herbs come directly from the hotel’s garden.
It was impossible to ignore the similarities to FIG in Charleston, South Carolina. They’re both market-driven restaurants with comparable logos, but the Santa Monica property houses a 123-year-old Moreton Bay fig tree. The menus are also completely different, so FIG West is in the clear.
We each started with a cocktail, which were both overpowering and unbalanced. The signature FIG Mojito utilized House-Made Fig Preserves, Organic Mint, Bacardi Light Rum and Freshly-Squeezed Lime Juice. The Cucumber & Lavender drink was no more impressive, even with Muddled English Cucumber, Sonoma Lavender Syrup, Hendrick’s Gin, Canton Ginger Liqueur and Aromatic Bitters. One possible culprit: the ice, which quickly melted, diluting the drinks.
To start, we received branded paper bags containing hot, pull-apart Breadworks baguettes. The bread came with an original dish of arugula spread – arugula, olive oil, salt, pepper and a token amount of butter, which served as a binding agent.
Our amuse bouche: thin-shaved discs of watermelon radish topped with tatsoi rabe, sea salt and olive oil.
A satisfying Wild Mushroom Fricasee came with supple sweetbreads, Sylvetta (similar to arugula) chestnuts and a mix of Honshimeji, chanterelle, cremini and hen of the woods mushrooms.
A triangle of Fresh Goat Cheese with Lavender Honey was simple but satisfying, creamy and sweet.
Chef Garcia used his grandmother’s recipe to prepare luscious, thin-sliced beef tongue, garnishing the flavorful dish with diced tomatillos and breakfast radish.
Most of the seasonal sides were compelling, including skillets of sage-topped cauliflower with hazelnuts and roasted carrots with citrus segments.
The dinner-only menu features options like sweet, oversized Maine Diver Scallops with bursting cherry tomatoes in a zesty broth.
Perfectly seared slabs of venison came with pleasantly bitter Cavalo Nero and spears of undercooked kohlrabi, a rarely-seen root vegetable.
To pair with the venison and kohlrabi, the “sommelier” selected a glass of The Pleiades XVI, the sixteenth NV Italian-style blend produced by Sean Thackrey in Marin. The balanced red incorporates Syrah, Sangiovese and Viognier grapes.
The wine lists and checks come affixed to boards produced from massive fig tree branches that fall naturally. The tree is a city landmark and the hotel and restaurant can’t touch it. It’s not a fruit-bearing tree.
Signature FIG bars came with tangy yogurt ice cream, a bittersweet chocolate tuile, a smear of chocolate and port wine jelly cubes. The fresher-than-thou Fig Newtons could have done without the cubes, but, overall, the flavors were complementary and satisfying.
The better-than-usual strawberry shortcake featured a moist muffin, sweet strawberries, strawberry gelato and a streak of balsamic that set off the berries’ sweetness.
Chef Garcia displayed a deft touch in the kitchen, showcasing fresh ingredients in original and un-manipulative ways. The cocktails could have been better, but aside from that, FIG currently offers one of the better Santa Monica dining experiences.
October 23, 2011 at 3:53 AM
Hi can you please tell me where the wooden menu was made?
Im looking to have something similar, and im looking for quotes.
Could you please email me back with more information.
October 24, 2011 at 10:50 AM
I suggest you contact FIG Santa Monica at [email protected].
March 18, 2010 at 1:31 PM
[…] we don’t have time for but of course we do. Well I’ve also grown tired of using canned chickpeas …Food GPS FIG – Santa Monica, CA – March 3, 2009Perfectly seared slabs of venison came with pleasantly bitter Cavalo Nero and spears of undercooked […]