A few weeks ago I passed the Fig & Olive on Fifth Avenue on my way to work. Intrigued by the decor, subtle curbside appearance, and simple looking menu, I did some research during my lunch hour. The site definitely spiked my interest. Under “Philosophy,” founder Laurent Halasz describes his background and upbringing, owing his inspiration to his mother Francine and the French Mediterranean food that he grew up with. Over and over again on the site, both the founders and Chef Pascal Lorange seek to describe a restaurant that evokes the Mediterranean lifestyle and culture as well as it’s food. Ever present on the menu are figs and olives– go figure– showing up in various forms. For me, the selling point on the site was the vivid description of the olive oil collection that Chef Lorange prides himself on. After reading every fact-packed tab I excitedly made a reservation for that week’s date night. I read reviews the days following and became more and more excited as the week wore on to try this awesome find. The reviews were not stellar, but I paid them no mind having utter faith in what was to come Thursday evening.
Finally, Thursday arrived; and alas, this is where my story turns sour. Upon entering the restaurant I was hit with a onslaught of club music, ushered to a small table in-between two large parties and hastily asked what I was drinking. I immediately tried to slow down the pace a little and just asked to see a wine list. A few minutes later, bread and olive oil were on the table. The olive oils– three types of varied clarity and color– were served with some warm rosemary infused flat bread. I have to admit, the oils and the bread were so simple and yet, complex and delicious. However, the waiter couldn’t even tell me the names or origins of the oils, thus making an olive oil tasting pointless. Needless to say, this was definitely an unexpected disappointment.
Well, that was only the first disappointment. I was very impressed by the both the menu and the wine list, but found it difficult to try and pair dishes. Here, the waiter was also very unhelpful. In the end, Michael and I ordered the Zuchhini Carpaccio, the Fig & Gorganzola Tartlet, and 3 Crostini– Roasted Red Pepper, Ricotta and Caper; Bresaola, Goat Cheese and Black Olive; Salmon, Ricotta, Citrus, Cilantro. We also ordered two glasses of wine, an ’05 Tempranillo and an ’07 Sangiovese.
The wines were delicious, and went especially well with the bread. But when the Crostini came out everything changed. Upon reading about the ingredients, and seeing the Crositini, I could immediately see the Chef’s vision. However, the execution of the Crostini was brutal. First off, I am almost positive that they had all been pre-made and refrigerated. The texture of all three Crostini was cold and grainy. They were also overwhlemingly flavorful and not at all delicate. The flavors fought each other off, as did the textures. I was sad to realize that there could have been simple solutions to these malfunctions. All the Chef had to do was prepare each Crostini to order, with crunchy bread and fresh prepared ingredients. Then, rather than haphazardly tossing together the Crostini, the Chef could have at least used some sensibility and made a small, delciate, light appetizer.
Next, the Carpaccio and the Tartlet came out. While the zucchini itself was lovely, it was bomarded with pine nuts. Pine nuts are an extremely powerful flavor, and should be used sparingly on dishes. In this case, the Chef poured them on as if they were cheese, or cracked pepper (here, I would like to note that a Chef should never pour on an ingredient, even so). After the first bite it was hard to get past the oaky oils from the pine nut, and even harder to enjoy the delicate zucchini because of it.
I had a similar experience with the Tartlet. While the bread, cheese and prosciutto were lovely, the fig was much too intense. Rather than using small bits, or even shavings of dried fig (which is a very potent flavor by the way) the Chef put four entire figs into a Tartlet that was barely 4 inches wide. Thus, as I bit into the first piece, I couldn’t taste anything but rich and sickly-sweet fig. I was full within two bites and not the least bit satisfied.
All together I can say that I felt overwhelmed by the food and the experience. Each dish was too powerful, and not carefully or craftily prepared. The ingredients that were used in each of these dishes were very potent and flavorful. In my experience, less is always more with figs, olive oil and other rich foods. I am sourly disappointed to report that no such care, delicacy and artful understanding for these rich and wonderful foods can be found at Fig & Olive.
Better luck next time!