The first thing you’ll want to know about Fig is that it serves bacon-wrapped bacon, which is a warning shot fired over the heaving bow of S.S. Food. Fig is the lobby-level bistro in the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, a glassed-in space overlooking the pool; low, padded chairs, lounge-height tables, Staub cast iron everywhere, and napkins made out of repurposed dish towels. The customers, hotel patrons I’d guess, speak Hungarian, Hebrew and Japanese but wear only black. The dining room looks as if it could double as a cocktail bar, and it kind of does, serving more gin muddled with things like rhubarb and rosemary, fresh blueberries and thyme than it does wine, and the cocktail snacks — crumbly beef jerky, beets with pistachios, and Little Gem lettuces tossed on a grill until they bubble and blacken into sweetness — seem a lot like evolved bar food, too.
The culinary scene in Santa Monica is governed by the rhythms of the Santa Monica Farmers Market, the institution that has become a Woodstock of horseradish, blood oranges and beets. There is not just butter with your bread at Fig, but army-green arugula butter, not just steamed potatoes with the grilled-tuna niçoise but peewee Weiser Farms potatoes, not just citrus zest with the baby broccoli but bits of grated Buddha’s hand. Small print running along the bottom of the menu, where the stock ticker would be under a CNBC feed, lists not only produce just coming into season and produce in peak season, but also produce Coming Soon, so that during a January cold snap, you can take comfort in the strawberries and green peas yet to come.
Ray Garcia’s menu is kind of brilliant, actually, satisfying to both the transgressive big-meat guys and the Gaia-conscious vegans, to the dudes who whoop it up over roast pig hearts and to the yoga aficionados, fresh from the adjoining spa, who worry that the organic eggplant isn’t quite organic enough. You can steam scarlet quinoa with apples and chard, and it’s not difficult to stuff the spicy Calabrian meat paste called njuda into squid, but it’s not easy to satisfy simultaneously two of the most disparate hungers in California. (Three, actually — there is a separate kids’ menu featuring roast chicken, steak-frites and Ants on a Log.)
Fig is mostly in the straightforward, French-tinged, organic-casual style we have come to associate with dining on the Westside, and although it is not quite a small-plates restaurant in the mode of Gjelina, it certainly can be treated as one, with well-sourced charcuterie, a big cheese board and lots of oysters, brussels sprouts with bacon and steak. You will not be surprised to learn that the restaurant’s signature dessert is a hot, homemade version of Fig Newtons
But Garcia’s cooking seems to carry within it more than a bit of aggression, and if I were a culinary therapist rather than a critic, I might take the slug of bacon in the brussels sprouts or the presence of tooth-cracking, undercooked pig’s ear in the frisée salad to be subtle cries for help. If not for the sake of perversity, why would a Westside chef worth his goji berries arrange for the most delicious appetizer to be braised veal tongue in a kind of Mexican-style charred-tomatillo chile verde? Why would he serve a snack of beef heart with spinach? Why would bacon-wrapped bacon even exist?
The seafood pot is a virtuoso display, an iron vessel half-filled with spicy broth and holding rare, seared diver scallops, a couple of banana-size white shrimp, a handful of tiny black mussels and some octopus, each cooked separately to an ideal state of doneness before being combined at the last moment in the pot, a dish that would go subtly wrong 95 times out of 100 in most kitchens but shows an unusual level of attentiveness here. The coq au vin with bacon and pearl onions, a traditional Burgundian dish of chicken stewed in wine, comes in a splendid, shiny sauce, showing every sign of careful, stepped reduction instead of a quick thickening at the end, and the bird itself seems almost to have become part of the sauce.
And as to that bacon-wrapped bacon ... the bacon, the inner part, appears as a thick, braised slab of belly fat, sweetly smoke-pungent and soft as a gentle sigh. The second bacon, encasing its brother in a mummy wrap, is crisp and thin, a bacon of texture as opposed to a bacon of substance, likely to shatter at the touch of a fork. If Alain Ducasse spent a few shifts behind the griddle at a Denny’s, something like bacon-wrapped bacon would be the result. If you have ever wished that bacon could be liquid and crunchy at the same time, this is the bacon for you.
Fig, in the Fairmont Miramar Hotel
101 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 319-3111, figsantamonica.com. Lunch Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner Tues.-Sat., 5-10 p.m.; Sunday brunch. All major credit cards accepted. Full bar. Validated valet parking. Dinner starters $9-$15; main courses $16-$39. Recommended dishes: blistered Little Gem romaine hearts; grilled-pear salad; seafood pot; coq au vin.
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