Thursday, March 21, 2013

FIG (Food Is Good) - Charleston

Our second day in Charleston, South Carolina, we ate at FIG (acronym for Food Is Good) located at 232 Meeting Street (843-805-5900). The Food Is actually GREAT. FIG gets 4.5 stars on Yelp (rated as the second best restaurant in Charleston by Yelp) and is rated #5 out of 527 restaurants in Charleston by Trip Advisor. The James Beard Foundation named Mike Lata of FIG the best chef in the southeastern U.S. in 2009, the year after Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill got the same award. FIG is also named in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, by Patricia Schultz, under Lowcountry Cuisine, as having a "farm-to-table menu" that pays "homage to the bounty of the lowcountry with an updated twist." I tried making reservations three weeks in advance and was unable to get them, but comments on Trip Advisor recommended sitting in the bar. So we went ten minutes before it opened (5:20, it opened at 5:30), got our seat at the bar, and spent the next two hours in food bliss. 

Our bar tender/waiter recommended the marinated razor clams with fennel, pine nuts and golden raisins as an appetizer. He described the razor clam as long and thin,
razor clam
julienned into long thin strips and mixed with the above items along with olive oil and lemon. 
This was my favorite dish of the night. It seemed to have a different taste with each bite. Bites with raisin had a mushy sweetness. Some of the strips of clam were moist and spongy, some were a little bit crunchy, much like octopus. But my favorite bites were those strongly fused with olive oil and lemon. I savored those bites for several seconds, much like Snuffles, the treat loving dog from Quick Draw McGraw, who clasps his arms around his chest, moans "MmmMmm" and floats up in the air when he eats a biscuit. Those bites are the things of dreams. It brought back the memory of the wonderful Greek salad we had in  Delphi with a dressing of olive oil and lemon. Perfection. 

Judy got the ricotta gnocchi and Border Springs Farm lamb Bolognese. Gnocchi are soft dumplings traditionally made of potato, but these were made of ricotta, an Italian whey cheese. They were very soft and melted in our mouths. Bolognese sauce is a meat-based sauce slowly cooked using vegetables such as onion, celery and carrot, finely chopped meat (in this case, lamb), wine and a small amount of tomato concentrate.
Judy, who is more of an Italian fan than I am, and particularly a gnocchi fan, announced that this was the best tasting gnocchi dish ever, even better than the gnocchi with Gorgonzola she ate in Rome. So, while I was doing my Snuffles routine over the razor clams, Judy was doing her own over the gnocchi. Border Springs Farm is actually in southern Virginia, not what I would consider locovore, but the sheep are humanely raised and it appears that their lamb is used in fine restaurants all throughout the east. 

For my entree, I got Caw Caw Creek suckling pig confit with roasted beets, sauteed greens and mustard jus.
Our bar tender described the confit as a suckling pig, including all parts of the pig, including the head,  slow cooked in its own rendered fat. Caw Caw Creek is a 100 acre farm located near St. Matthews, not too far outside of Charleston, where the pigs are allowed to live and sleep in one herd and graze and forage on their own. I love the locovore movement and this naming convention that allows one to actually look into where the food comes from. The pig confit came formed as a brick of pig parts and pieces and, like the razor clams, produced bites with varying taste and consistency. I like the concept of the pig brick, and enjoyed it, but I think I would rather eat the suckling pig pieces straight off the suckling pig so that I would know what I was getting in each bite. That's what was in my mind as I was eating it. I'm not sure what the greens were, they were slightly bitter and just okay. The beats were very nice, tender, but still firm. I liked them a lot. 

Judy got the Painted Hills hanger steak with Anson Mills wheat berries and purple cape beans, roasted tomato, and sauce bordelaise.
Painted Hills Natural Beef is located in Oregon, so my locovore image is shattered. Mike Lata, on the FIG website, says, "When you eat at FIG, you taste produce grown in the Lowcountry's distinctive sandy soil, fish caught in our briny waters, and livestock raised on our pastures, all of which is grown and harvested by people I have grown to know and love." I hate to quibble over lamb raised in Virginia and beef raised in Oregon, but if you're going to advertise yourself as serving local fare, it would be nice for it to be local. But quibbling aside, at least it tasted good. Wheatberry is the whole wheat kernal, less the hull. It is what we sometimes eat at home when we're eating our food storage - whole boiled wheat. Anson Mills is located in South Carolina, so I like that it is  closer to the restaurant. The wheatberry was just okay for me. It was unusual, something I have never seen on a restaurant menu before, so I do like the originality. Cape beans, which I'd never heard of before, are native to the Stono River valley south of Charleston. I love that local and unusual ingredient. Sauce Bordelaise is made with red wine, bone marrow, butter, shallots and a demi-glace sauce.  The steak was nicely seasoned, cooked medium rare (or less). Overall it was an unusual and good meat presentation, something we enjoyed, but would not order again because there are so many other options to try.

We shared a vegetable: Ambrose Farm Brussels sprouts bagna cauda and walnuts.
Bagna cauda is a dip typical of Piedmont, Italy. It is made with garlic, anchovies, olive oil, butter and often with walnut oil. It is eaten by dipping vegetables in it. Ambrose Farm is in the Charleston area, so I like the local connection. The Brussels sprouts were firm, mixed with a lot of walnuts and the sauce was yellowish and to me seemed to have more than a hint of mustard to it. It may have been the anchovies which gave it the strong taste, but whatever it was, I loved the sauce with the Brussels and I loved this dish. I would order this again, and again, and again. 

Finally, dessert was a chocolate-hazelnut budino with olive oil croutons, caramel and sea salt.
Budino is the Italian word for custard or pudding and is rich and creamy. That dessert was off-the-charts good. If you look closely you can see the chunks of sea salt resting on top. That chunk of salt would rest on my tongue and completely overwhelm the layer of caramel that was still roaming around in my mouth. The contrast was wonderful. Sweet and salty in the same bite. The chocolate-hazelnut flavor was extremely rich, very smooth, kind of a milk-chocolaty rich flavor that I loved. I'm glad we shared the dessert because it was too rich for one person. But absolutely a fantastic, fantastic dessert. We never could figure out the olive oil croutons. It was not something we noticed as part of the presentation. 

FIG did not disappoint in the least (despite some quibbling above). By far the best meal of our trip. One of the better restaurants I have been to. I had to sit down with a dictionary to understand what many of the dishes are because I have not been exposed to the sophisticated sauces and preparations, but that is part of the fun. I would love to try each dish on the menu. In particular, I wanted to try the sticky sorghum cake dessert. Judy ruled it out, but I would travel a long distance again just to try that. I was intrigued by a nine vegetable salad, something close to my mostly vegan heart. Wagyu beef tartare and chicken liver pate appetizers also called my name siren-like from the kitchen. There, I'm about ready to book another flight. Top notch. Can recommend it without any reservation whatsoever.  

1 comment:

  1. I would go back for the gnocchi and budino in a heartbeat. The steak was good, but not a standout like these dishes.