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European Tastesby Jamie Gwen | Photography by Andrea Bricco | Riviera Orange County magazine | March 7, 2014
It’s like dining in St. Tropez, surrounded by beautiful people and a luxe atmosphere, with plenty of food to savor. Fig & Olive (a sister to the acclaimed New York and L.A. restaurants of the same name) has planted its roots at Fashion Island—and it’s to the delight of many. Word from the kitchen suggests business is good—the team served 800 people in one night during the first week of operation.
There’s much to talk about, so let’s start with the decor. It’s gorgeous—white on white (marble, limestone and travertine), with foliage adding color to the space, which includes a terrace garden, a white room, a wine room and a happening bar. A shimmering wall of olive oil bottles casts a glow over the interior—and the main room is stunning. Olive trees separate cozy booths and clusters of tables. In all, it’s an oasis of beauty, with a menu that tackles brunch, lunch, dinner and French-inspired desserts from a lauded chef. Pascal Lorange’s roots are with Michelin-starred establishments and European celebrities. His recipes are ingredient-driven, light and luscious.
The dining experience begins with an olive oil tasting featuring three varieties and freshly baked focaccia. Dip the bread to enjoy the fruitiness of all three. Then order a cocktail. Choose the piscine, the classic drink from the South of France—sparkling wine is infused with sliced strawberries and served over ice in a wine glass. Or there’s the dirty martini: This place is big on briny olives, and the team cures its own for the drink. It’s a true winner. The Eurocentric wine list is stocked with selections from France, Spain and Italy, and all are paired to match the Mediterranean cuisine.
On one of my visits, I dined with my ladies who lunch. Then I had dinner with couples. And on a third occasion, I snacked with a friend at the bar. The food was superb each time. The service, unfortunately, didn’t always follow suit. (But more on that later.)
For lunch or dinner, graze from the tastes that are listed at the top of the menus. The salmon crudo at lunch stands out as the most outrageous. It’s seasoned with orange and grapefruit, and finished with a French olive oil that’s simply to-live-for. The beef tartar is another must—chopped filet mignon is tossed with capers, minced shallots and a touch of Dijon. Consider a mélange of crostini to snack on; the prosciutto, ricotta, fig, olive and walnut was my first pick. Appetizers include a few palate indulgences too, like the truffle mushroom croquettes—these crispy balls of chopped mushrooms and Parmesan are topped with a truffle olive oil aioli. Or indulge in the fig Gorgonzola tartlet. The puff pastry square is crowned with Italian prosciutto, dried figs, arugula and roasted tomatoes, and it’s unforgettable.
The Mediterranean flavor profiles here are delightfully designed, and each dish that arrived (on all three visits) was stylistically superb. The salads boast diverse textures and beautiful colors. The Riviera shrimp and salmon salad is an elegant composition of prawns and chopped homemade gravlax set atop greens, shaved fennel and avocado, with a ricotta toast for texture. And the dressings are all created using a regional olive oil that complements the essence of the dish.
For main courses, the paella del mar is a lovely mix of calamari, black tiger shrimp and mussels seasoned with pimento and fresh oregano, and embedded in a saffron-infused braise of rice, artichoke and red bell pepper. The seafood is perfect—it’s tender and sweet, and tastes of the sea. The Piedmont burger is the best I’ve eaten in some time. Caramelized onions and sauteed creminis deglazed with red wine blanket a hand-packed patty, and it all rests on a toasted brioche bun that’s worthy of cheating on your low-carb diet. The steak frites and the penne funghi tartufo (the chef has a way with mushrooms) are delicious as well.
And that brings us to dessert. Imagine a small square of pistachio shortbread laden with mascarpone and topped with luscious Amarena cherries. It’s the dessert crostini, and it mixes classic flavors, is beautifully appointed and is divine.
Now, back to the service. It fell short. I attempted to discern whether it was me being too nitpicky, and I’ve learned that other gourmands struggled with the same puzzling issue. Why did the service fumble when the food is so fabulous? The answer is understandable: The overwhelming welcome that Fig & Olive received upon opening set the service training back a bit. I hope the staff rises to the excellence of the food, making this stunning setting and gastronomic success a spectacular all-around experience. You’ll find me here again soon, sipping sparkling wine and slurping lobster bisque—and looking forward to my favorite dessert.
Who Goes There
Sophisticated gastronomes and those who like to see and be seen
Best Seat in the House
On the bright, comfy patio
Great for Grazing
The crostini offerings on the lunch and dinner menus are worthy of attention, but the prosciutto, ricotta, fig, olive and walnut is a standout.
You Must Order
The seafood-packed paella del mar and the Piedmont burger on a brioche bun
Good to Know
The wine list is superb, offering Eurocentric selections from France, Spain and Italy—all paired to match the Mediterranean cuisine.
FIG & OLIVE
Fashion Island, 401 Newport Center Drive,
Newport Beach, 949.877.3005
Starters, sides and salads: $8-$28
Raw bar: $14-$125
Pastas and risotto: $22-$32
Sun.-Thu.: 11am-11pm, Fri.-Sat.: 11am-midnight
(bar closes at 1am)