My epicureanly enlightened son proclaimed at age 7, “I could not live without olive oil.” And so it has been. Almost daily we find a use for olive oil in our diet, and when we dine out, it is olive oil, not butter, in which we douse our bread. So imagine my delight to find a new favorite restaurant that shares our enthusiasm for this “liquid gold,” elixir of the gods, Fig & Olive.
The restaurant’s concept is one of pairing its food dishes with olive oil, its menu’s main ingredient. Offerings include a sweet and delicate olive oil from the French Riviera that pairs well with a Steamed Lemon Sole Papillote to an assertive Spanish Picual or a Tuscan olive oil that holds its own with Seared Salmon with Fennel and Green Olives, or Grilled Branzino glazed with a fig balsamic vinegar, served with figs and snow peas finished with a sweet Picholine Olive Oil and a green-fruit Provence olive oil served with a Green Apple Sorbet.
The restaurant’s expansive assortment of over 30 varietals of extra virgin olive oils are imported from the Riviera and coastal regions of the South of France, Italy and Spain. Each is selected to pair with specific flavors and dishes, and guests are offered an assortment of oils for tasting at the beginning of each meal. If you fall in love with an oil, you can take it home for $12 to $32 a bottle.
If I were to put together the elements of a restaurant to love — besides one themed around olive oil and the healthful Mediterranean diet — it would look like Fig & Olive: an open space that is bright with natural light, filled with live plants integrated with the decor, and decorated elegantly yet comfortably, creating a relaxed intimate atmosphere for dining with friends and family. It is this is as if Fig & Olive read my mind.
It’s dining room, designed with limestone stucco walls, a terra-cotta ceiling, and green rosemary and olive trees, along with olive branches crafted in black wrought iron and lit with candles, exudes the warmth and essence of the Mediterranean. When entering the dining room, guests are greeted by a long, white marble communal table and tasting bar that stretches across the dining room, lit by pendant lights and bookended by glowing illuminated shelves of extra virgin olive oils and wines, a display that welcomes and impresses at once.
The restaurant not only is pleasing in its atmosphere, but when just after we were seated our server brought us an assortment of all of olive oils, along with breads and veggies for dipping to start off our dining experience, I was sold. They had me at, “Welcome.”
Fig & Olive is a place where olive oil aficionados, like wine snobs, can sample various formulations and describe them in similar terms, like, “This one is pungent and self-assured with woody edges and a touch of mint.”
And speaking of snobbery, I would not speak in those terms in association with this fine restaurant. While its eight locations nationwide reside in tony neighborhoods in DC, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and it attracts a well-heeled crowd for power lunches and dinners, the atmosphere is not stiff or cold. The wait staff are friendly, and the tone set by the environment, which is tranquil and hospitable.
When my dining partner and I recently dined at Fig & Olive, before we knew it hours had passed and we had well overstayed the restaurant’s lunch hours. We had been happily engaged in conversation, and not once did we feel rushed or pressured by our server. In fact, quite the opposite. When the place was nearly empty and the staff was resetting the restaurant for dinner, we requested our check, which the server delivered but assured us, “Take your time.”
Indeed, among the olive trees, aroma of rosemary and the treat of a variety of flavorful olive oils on the table, I never wanted to leave, and I eagerly await my next visit to the Mediterranean, if only for a meal.