It’s Sunday night and Fig & Olive, one of Fashion Island’s new dining destinations, is bursting at its French Riviera-inspired seams. Hordes of OC’s finest mingle at the bar and spill into the front lounge, and harried servers carrying cocktails and olive oil samplers speed through the sprawling restaurant. Although the freshly minted Fig & Olive flagship location clocks in at a whopping 12,000 square feet, it feels as though every square inch is pulsing with the human brethren – because it is.
No doubt, Fig & Olive’s high occupancy has been stoked by its reputation in the restaurant world. With four other locations in the trendiest neighborhoods in New York City and L.A., the restaurant has been the talk of many a travelling foodie bringing back news from afar. And now that Fig & Olive has reached the sparkling shores of OC, local foodies and the see-and-be-seen crowd couldn’t be happier.
There’s a lot to catch the newly arrived diner’s eye. Deemed a French Riviera oasis in the heart of coastal Orange County, olive trees and white stucco walls contribute to the feel of a Mediterranean getaway, and features such as an outdoor fireplace and open-concept bar make the space feel part restaurant, part social scene. But beyond all the aesthetics and hype put into making Fig & Olive seem a worthy dining destination, we were ultimately here for the food, which had yet to make its debut.
Our server, who unabashedly endorsed all that the restaurant had to offer, recommended that we start with the crostini, small bites of Fig & Olive’s signature flavor combinations, which come in groups of three or six. Our group of three – salmon, ricotta, avocado, and pimentón; goat cheese, caramelized onion and chive; and Manchego, fig and Marcona almond – were all well-executed examples of the type of fresh Mediterranean flavors we were expecting, though they didn’t lend themselves particularly well to sharing after the crostino on which all was perched crumbled under the force of a bite. Heirloom carrot and thyme soup followed as an appetizer, puréed to a smooth pulp of carrots, celery, onion, garlic, thyme, and crushed tomato, and had an appealing depth of flavor and gracious slick of olive oil.
Long on the options of fresh, Fig & Olive’s selection of salads left little to be desired by the lettuce-seeking among us. The salade de laitue, consisting of butter lettuce, Kumato tomato, shallot, and Champagne vinegar with Cobrancosa olive oil, was a study in restraint, and its simplicity and focus on quality ingredients was a refreshing departure from the kitchen-sink approach to salads.
Main courses were numerous and varied, ranging from pasta and risotto to fish, poultry, meat, and even a raw bar should one be so inclined. Never one to pass up an opportunity to sample a dish’s advertisement for truffle, we went with the penne funghi tartufo – penne pasta with cremini and black trumpet mushrooms, parmesan, parsley, scallion, and white truffle olive oil. Promising as it may have seemed, the dish lacked flavor and any discernible aroma of the longed-for truffle oil despite the puddle of what looked to be olive oil at the bottom of the bowl. But disappointing as the lack of truffle essence was, the more problematic part of the dish was its plasticky top. Likely the result of a botched attempt to melt the cheese on top of the pasta, the outcome was more food court than fine dining, and the majority of the pasta languished uneaten. Riviera salmon fared little better. A seared salmon filet atop grilled asparagus and accompanied by braised endive, cauliflower purée and basil-infused olive oil felt as if it were going in the right French Riviera-inspired direction but fell flat with dry fish and a bevy of soggy, incongruous trimmings.
But there’s always dessert to clear the mind and palette of such culinary transgressions. Creme brûlée cheesecake was a classic and had a delightfully silky texture, which contrasted well with the olive oil crisp base. Caramelized peaches brought brightness and levity. The star of the evening, chocolate pot de creme, calibrated sweetness perfectly and added a whipped cream top for extra smoothness. Crunchy praline financiers and vanilla ice cream on the side put it over the top.
Final verdict: Go for the people-watching, stay for the small bites and linger over dessert.
Bites and Pieces
Bread and butter Restaurants have been trotting out bread and butter for as long as we can remember (not that we’re complaining). Fig & Olive takes the tradition in a different direction with housemade focaccia and a selection of three olive oils, ranging in flavor from light and fruity to peppery and spicy.
Celebrity chef Pascal Lorange, Fig & Olive’s executive chef, trained under three-Michelin-star chef Georges Blanc in France before continuing to hone his craft as a private chef for the likes of Julio Iglesias, Oscar de la Renta, Princess Stephanie of Monaco, and the Clintons.
You taste it, you buy it Like what you ate? Chances are you can buy the olive oil that gave your favorite dish its flavor from Fig & Olive. The restaurant’s retail collection has over 30 extra virgin olive oils to choose from, as well as aged balsamic vinegars and other specialty items, ranging in price from $12 to $32. Buy from the restaurant or online.
Go raw Cooked food not your thing? Fig & Olive’s raw bar is stocked with a variety of oysters served with a trio of mignonette; a fruits de mer tower; refreshing tuna and salmon crudos; and classic beef tartar made with filet mignon.
Show me the money Starters and small plates: $9-$28; raw bar and seafood: $14-$125; salads: $12-$26; main courses: $22-$58
949.877.3005 :: figandolive.com