Monday, May 9, 2011
FIG in the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica is a restaurant that isn't shy about proclaiming its focus on local and seasonal ingredients. The bottom of the menu lists which produce is "just arrived," peak season," and "coming soon." When I dined here on Friday, Chef Ray Garcia was away at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival, so I hoped for the best. On a previous visit, for my birthday last year, I found the cuisine to be competent but boring. Nothing got me excited to take another bite. I am happy to say that on this visit, the food was well seasoned, flavorful and had my party eating with gusto.
We began with a sampling of charcuterie and cheese (above) which was a gift of the house. A dining companion of mine had hosted an event at the hotel several months ago and the rest of us were all the fortunate recipients of this thank you. The pork eaters in our group laid waste to the meat, including a spreadable salami, while I enjoyed the various cheeses. A fun way to begin the meal.
The Foie Gras and Chicken Liver Parfait was a big winner. Decadent and served with warm toasts and fig marmalade. Spreading a little marmalade on the toast and then a thick layer of the parfait was rich and delicious. There were smiles all around the table with this dish.
We had the Queso Fundido without the chorizo and I am not sure what the point was of this dish. Melted chese and some housemade tortillas. Uninteresting and one dimensional. Perhaps the chorizo was required in order for this dish to work. A rare miss.
The Braised Tongue with tomatillo and breakfast radish was another success. It was like melt in your mouth brisket. We ordered this dish based on a recommendation from Vxronica and boy was she right. This was not a dish I would have likely selected otherwise. The radishes were a nice crunchy textural contrast to the soft braised tongue.
The Duck Rillette had a similar presentation to the foie and chicken liver. Stick to the foie and chicken liver as once you have had that, this is a pale imitation. Although I thought it was just OK, others at my table made quick work of it. There is something fun about food presented in mason jars; it feels rustic.
Buffalo Mozzarella with Hand Mashed Pesto was tangy and the pesto was top notch. It has been a while since I have had mozzarella served like this; lately burrata seems to dominate menus.
The pièce de résistance of our dinner may have been the Cote de Boeuf for Two. This monster of a prime steak was aged for 32 days before being cooked. It had real beefy flavor and was big enough for several of us to share. To accompany it we shared the Asparagus with paprika and lemon, the Brussels Sprouts, the French Fries, and Bordeaux Spinach. It was cooked medium, as asked, although with some redder slices, which I availed myself of.
We were too full for dessert. This meal won me over and I'd certainly return without reservations. I am chalking down my prior visit to an anomaly.
Note: When I went to retrieve my car from the hotel valet, they could not find it. It took them a frantic forty minutes of searching to find it in their overflow lot, by which time my dinner companions were long gone and I had to cancel the drinks plans I had for afterwards. I spoke to the manager of the hotel this week and he apologized profusely. This was not the fault of the restaurant but just be aware when you valet your car at the Fairmont that it may not come back in a timely manner.
FIG: 101 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica. In the Fairmont Hotel. Phone: (310) 319-3111. Website: www.figsantamonica.com