Is there a sommelier in the house? An Olive Oil sommelier, that is?
You’ll find one at Fig & Olive. On entering, you notice a striking back-lit wall at the far end of the restaurant, with what look like wine bottles on display. But those bottles contain olive oil.
After you arrive, your server drops off a plate of soft bread and a ceramic dish with three small compartments, each containing a splash of olive oil. He explains each olive oil sample with the kind of lexicon usually reserved for wine or liquor (“buttery notes with an oaky taste and a smooth finish” — that sort of thing). The bread, “our freshly baked olive fougasse bread,” is perfect for dipping. My friend and I couldn’t exactly perceive the various tastes he had described, although we could tell the three olive oils were subtly different.
Indeed, olive oil takes center stage at Fig and Olive. Almost every dish mentions which olive oil it is prepared with. For instance, I started with a Fig Jamon Goat Cheese Carpaccio, which comes with 18 month cured Spanish ham, warm goat cheese, sherry vinegar, and Aguibal Arbequina Olive Oil (from Spain, I gather). That’s a lot of ingredients, but they go together perfectly. This was a terrific dish.
My dining partner had a French-inspired starter, Saumon Marine Aux Trois Agrumes, which comes with marinated raw salmon, lemon-orange-grapefruit, chive, cilantro, and Moulin Baussy Olive Oil. This was a nearly entrée-sized portion. (She had started with a salad, which was also an ample size, and she was quite pleased with it.)
Both of these selections ($12 each) are in a section of the menu labeled Carpaccio and Tasting Plates, priced in the $10-14 range. Salads are $12-15, soups are $6.95, Tartines (served till 6pm) are $9.50-$13.50. Various tasting plates (vegetables, crostini, chesse, meats) are available; for instance, six cheeses for $14, or four vegetables for $16. Everything seems to come with olive oil and figs.
Main courses (served after 6pm) are $15-24. I had the Salmon with Carmelized Fig and Orange ($19), which comes with Mahjoub Tunisian Olive Oil. This dish was not as successful as the starter. Initially, I was intrigued with the carmelized exterior of the salmon, but the dish had no staying power. About midway through the dish, I concluded that the fish itself was over-cooked, and dry.
Service lapses abounded. When I selected a white wine at $36, the server informed me that it was not cold, and suggested another at $10 more. Now, I am always happy when a server directs me to a better wine choice, but when I have selected a $36 bottle (and this restaurant has plenty of choices at that price point), his recommendation should be in my range. I ignored his advice and chose something else, with which we were delighted.
At another point, he brought out an olive oil, but then held it up to his nose and sniffed before describing it. My dining partner’s entrée was brought out while she was still eating her appetizer. After finishing my appetizer, I had left my knife and fork on the plate—clearly suggesting I wanted them replaced. Instead, when the plate was cleared, my dirty knife and fork were returned to me.
The no-nonsense décor gives olive oil bottles center stage. Tables are metallic and rather closely-spaced, and the noise level is above average. Fig and Olive may be a one-trick restaurant, but its considerable charm in the olive oil department, at a moderate price point, makes this restaurant worth a try.
Fig & Olive (808 Lexington Avenue at 62nd Street, Upper East Side)