There’s no escaping the ever-present existence of the fleeting trend when you live in a city that thrives on the fickle allure of perpetual shining facades like Los Angeles does. Although there are many places steeped in history, depth and complexity, it’s all too easy to find the shallow flickering on every corner whereas you may have to hunt a little deeper when seeking out the rich. Fads are a plenty from skirt lengths to nose job styles to tints on a car window – and always inevitably end up somewhere on the dinner table as well.
Recently, the Cute Gardener and I decided to try Fig and Olive, a place that had been on my “to try” list because of its description of offering new twists on Mediterranean food classics. We were smart enough to try it during DineLA, knowing that if we were disappointed, the price tag on our woe would be lower than normal. Walking into the joint, we had a feeling that it was more pomp than grit just by presence of huge male bouncers scattered throughout the two story dining room filled to the brim with flashy patrons dressed to see and be seen. We immediately chose the top floor, more private balcony area to sit knowing that we’d have less of a chance to be in the midst of the annoying starlight and fanfare from the crowd vying to be front and center below. We then proceeded to be assaulted by a line of the latest food trends.
Trend #1 – The Olive Oil Tasting Bread Course
Fig and Olive prides itself on using olive oil in everything, replacing butter and other fats in all the dishes. So it was no surprise that we were served focaccia with three pots of various oils to sample for our bread course. Although there was a nice lemon tangy version in the center, the product sold in house was not something I would go out of my way to purchase.
Trend #2 – Reconstructing a Classic
People typically order beef Carpaccio because they crave the simple and pure taste of raw meat. Not raw meat laden with a salad. Not raw meat buried under a puddle of fontina cheese. Not raw meat mucked up by flavors and spices that completely disguise the fact that there is any protein on the plate. But many restaurants get nervous presenting the classic dishes because in their simplicity there is sometimes more room for error than in the more convoluted recipes so they try to recreate the dish and make it their own. Fig and Olive’s reconstruction included juicy cherry tomatoes and many flakes of sharp Parmesan cheese, making it a yummy fresh salad but left us wondering “where’s the beef?”
Trend #3 – Deconstruction
Perhaps the most annoying food trend is the deconstructed dish. The CG always says if he wanted to cook his own food at the table he would have stayed home and I am beginning to agree. We ordered a chicken tagine, which is one of my favorite Moroccan dishes. But the beauty in the dish is the way the myriad spices and fruits and liquids sit underneath a roasted chicken and blend into an exquisite broth of layered flavors that furthermore accentuate a bed of fluffy quinoa or other grain. The mingling of all these elements takes time and produces something sweet and savory simultaneously. This melding simply doesn’t happen when you are brought chicken parts, steamed vegetables, sliced figs and apricots, olives, tapenade and other sauce components in bowls to mix yourself at the table. There is no time to steep the entree properly when your waitress is whisking away bread plates full of half eaten bread as you wait. (Which points to yet another annoying trend: restaurants that push shareable small plates at tables too tiny for the multiple pieces of glass and dining ware.)
Trend #4 – Pot de Crème
Chances are if you are in a restaurant in Los Angeles, you are going to find a basic pot de crème on the dessert menu. In the beginning of this onslaught I was hardly complaining. It’s hard to get tired of a perfect mug full of creamy chocolate cream and a nice swath of whipped cream on the top. It’s hard to mess it up and the texture alone is rather heavenly no matter where you try it. As a matter of fact, Gjelina’s decadently thick, butterscotch version remains on my top ten favorite desserts list. But I have to admit that now after eating so many versions, I am less prone to order one. Fig and Olive’s was ordinary and because olive oil is used in everything instead of butter or cream, both the bottom and top layers were extra watery and less satisfying. The shortbread wafer cookies that came with mascarpone cream and cherries were exquisite and buttery delights though that ended the meal on a much-needed good note.
Upon leaving, I admitted to the CG that I had learned a lesson not to glom on to the new and flashy eateries that I read about so consistently in my food scene email newsletters but to try and seek out the tried and true gems twinkling just below the surface of a city bathed in fifty shades of bling.