Sunday, May 11, 2008

Figs, Olives, and Carrots

On Saturday, my mother came into the city for a mother-daughter shopping excursion in honor of Mother's Day. She always leaves the logistics up to me, so I chose the midtown/upper East area as our shopping location. And we all know what that means: for lunch, we got to experience Fig & Olive, a restaurant that has been on my List for a while (remember the List? Sure you do...).

We arrived at the new 5th Avenue location on the early side, shortly after it opened for lunch. The place (not surprisingly) was almost empty, so we were seated right away. As the host led us to our table in the back, we passed the takeout lunch counter, groaning with premade baguette sandwiches and tempting apple tarts.

Gourmet sandwiches to go

The restaurant itself is light, bright, and airy, with the olive oil bottles decorating almost every spare surface. There's a cool semi-open kitchen, with a matrix of olive oil barely obscuring the work taking place behind.

Olive Oil as wallpaper

After we perused the menu, the waiter came to take our order. While he was a nice guy, he wasn't really able to answer the one question I asked about my prospective dish (question: what kind of vegetables are in the "provencal vegetables"? Answer: "uh, it'll be like, roasted peppers, yeah, peppers...some artichokes..." Reality: Asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini. No peppers. No artichokes.). No matter; we were in a good mood, and soon we had a plate of rosemary-scented bread to dip in a flight of three olive oils while we waited for our food to arrive.

My mother had chosen three crostini to start: one salmon, ricotta, citrus, cilantro; one eggplant caviar, sundried tomato; and one manchego, fig spread, almond. She took enthusiastic and eager bites of each, declaring them delicious and savoring every last morsel.

From left: Manchego/fig, eggplant, salmon

While my mother was working on her crostini, my Provencal Vegetable Tasting Plate arrived (a minor error in meal pacing, as my mother still had a salad coming, but it ended up not mattering much). From the description on the menu, I had envisioned a large plate of food, dominated by Provencal vegetables accented by other garnishes. What arrived was, well, not exactly that:

My "tasting plate"

Those are the Provencal veggies in the top left corner-- a small, restrained pile, although they were incredibly tasty. The bottom left corner was a dish of goat cheese mixed with fruity olive oil. The bottom right is "eggplant caviar" and olive tapenade, both of which were incredibly delicious (if not the most photogenic of foods... I had a closeup but deleted it because it looked like poop). The final quadrant was mint, lemon and olive tabbouli studded with scallions. Frankly, it looked quite bland but was surprisingly tasty, the citrus dancing on the tongue. The dish came accompanied by a plate of grilled bread squares, which were perfectly toasted, crunchy and delicious. This was a fun plate of food to eat; I alternated among the quadrants, smearing first this then that on the bread, combining tastes and eating things separately. Before I knew it, all quadrants had been cleared, and I was using some of the pre-meal rosemary bread to sop of the vestigial olive oil.

Thinly-sliced rosemary bread

As I was finishing up my entree, my mother's salad arrived. She had chosen the chicken salad, which came with seasoned chicken, avocado, hard-boiled eggs, and homemade croutons atop a bed of mixed greens.

Chicken salad, with artful avocado

Although she opted for the dressing on the side and took off most of the avocado (it's no mystery where my peculiar eating habits come from), she really liked this salad. She declared the chicken to be very well seasoned and remarked upon the croutons as well. She also liked the sprinkling of sea salt, which gave the salad both extra flavor and texture.

So my mom didn't feel awkward eating alone (oh, okay, more because I wanted it), I ordered a fruit salad. Well, first I asked the waiter what was in the fruit salad (Answer: "Blueberries. Yes, blueberries, strawberries, apple, some figs." Reality: cantaloupe, honeydew, a few strawberries, apple, three stewed figs.), and then I ordered it. It was premade, so it arrived quickly. As fruit salads go, it was on the good side of standard, definitely too heavy on the melon (as all restaurant fruit salads are), but with the creative and welcome addition of preserved figs, which definitely made the salad unique.

Fruit salad. Note the lack of blueberries.

We finished our meal at Fig & Olive with tea and coffee. I didn't get any pictures (a cup of tea is a cup of tea), but my mother nearly swooned when she took a sip of her cappuccino. She said it was the best she's ever had. Huh!

Fig & Olive was a big hit-- a bright, welcoming ambiance and very, very good food. It's a little pricey and the portions aren't extravagant; aside from that, the only noteable drawback was the fact that our waiter didn't really know much about the food. But he was certainly affable, and that counts for a lot. I would definitely return to Fig & Olive, especially with a group of people who appreciate quality (and aren't necessarily fixated on quantity).

We left Fig & Olive and proceeded to stimulate the economy-- i.e., shop-- before our planned dinner (that's my next post). But there was one notable midday stop: Forty Carrots in Bloomingdales. I've never been before, although I had heard that it's arguably a strong contender for the crown in the NYC Fro-yo wars.

When we arrived, there was a short line, but it moved quickly. While we waited, I examined the interior of the take-out area (there's also a sit-down cafe); it's a bit Pinkberry-esque, a fact that didn't escape me. I was still very full from lunch, so I didn't get my own dish of frozen yogurt, although I did try a taste of the plain flavor. It had the signature yogurty tang of Pinkberry, with the welcome addition of a distinct creaminess. My mother ordered a small cup of the chocolate flavor (there was also butter pecan), and this is what she got:

Chocolatey, melty goodness

That's a SMALL, mind you. Sure, it cost about $4.50, but that's about what a Pinkberry costs, and you definitely get your money's worth here.

I'll reiterate: I was full, and I don't even like chocolate ice cream, but I ate about a quarter of this dish because it was so. damn. good. Even with my help we only finished about three-quarters of the whole thing, tossing the rest before heading back out into Bloomies to shop vigorously for the few short hours remaining before dinner. Stay tuned...

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