The Gossiping Gourmet: Fig comes to Fashion Island

The Fig & Olive has opened in Fashion Island in a freestanding building just across from the Red O. The building is surrounded by fig and olive trees, and the motif is carried out in the decor.

This is one gorgeous restaurant. It welcomes diners with a large outdoor patio with a huge four-sided fireplace in the middle, an elegant lounge area next to the bar, another more casual dining area on the other side of the bar and two very large dining rooms at the rear.

High ceilings, two olive trees, huge windows, thick wood beams, a wall of tall and thin golden olive oil bottles and comfortable upholstered chairs and banquets make up one room, while the other features white linens and domed skylights. Rosemary plants line the walls behind the banquets.

The kitchen is under the guidance of executive chef Pascal Lorange. Instead of being served with butter, focaccia bread comes with a little tray of three different types of olive oil. The Fig & Olive salad features, of course, figs and olives, along with slim batons of apples, a scattering of walnuts, sweet cherry tomatoes, cubes of creamy gorgonzola dolce and two big triangles of Manchego cheese resting on a mound of mixed lettuces and perfectly dressed with an excellent mix of fig balsamic and good Arbequina olive oil. It was exceptionally tasty.

The restaurant's tuna crudo was notable for the excellent quality of the tuna, mixed with tiny cubes of cucumber, cilantro leaves and chives in a slightly spicy lemon, sesame, Picual olive oil dressing.

I had the primavera lobster risotto, which was loaded with al dente vegetables: caramelized carrots, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, baby zucchini and asparagus accented with garlic and shallots. It came with some big chunks of grilled sweet Maine lobster. The risotto itself was creamy and delicious and cooked so that the kernels were still distinct. It made for a lovely mélange of flavor and texture.

The one dish that fell flat was the chicken tagine. This Moroccan stew was lacking in the wonderful spice mixture that usually defines the dish. Dark chicken meat was accompanied by toasted almonds, figs, olives, apricots, carrots, zucchini and cipollini onions The dish was served with a bowl of couscous, a small dish of cilantro sauce and another of spicy harissa. It just needed more complex flavors.

Fig & Olive has a pastry chef, Andrew LeStourgeon, and this addition must account for the quality of its desserts. Crème brulee cheesecake was served in the shape of a free-standing tube on top of a long thin praline cookie. The cheesecake was dense, smooth and creamy rich. A bit of caramelized sugar graced the top.

The cookie was crisp and delicious. Caramelized white peaches were strewn around the plate, but they were disappointing. They were cooked in caramel but had no real "peachy" taste.

My dining companion and I were so happy with our dinner that we went back for Sunday brunch. I had a delightful tartlet made with thin layers of crispy puff pastry whose edges were rolled to hold the other ingredients: roasted tomatoes, gorgonzola dolce, prosciutto and figs. On the side was a peppery arugula salad with a drizzle of balsamic dressing.

I often pass up omelets these days because they are never prepared in the real French style. We were delighted with the one served here because it was properly cooked, soft and moist on the inside. It was stuffed with thin little rounds of asparagus, fine herbs, scallions and goat cheese.

I wanted something lighter for dessert and ordered the raspberry sorbet. It was a wonderful surprise, the very best I'd ever tasted. It had an intense raspberry flavor heightened with just a soupcon of tartness. Equally good was the chocolate pot de crème, with its dense texture and deep flavor.

These two new eateries are attracting big crowds and helping to make Fashion Island a culinary destination.

TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at m_markowitz@cox.net.

Fig & Olive

Where: 151 Newport Center Drive, Fashion Island, Newport Beach

When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Prices:

Appetizers: $6 to $28

Entrées: $22 to $58

Desserts: $8 to $12

Wine:

Bottles: $50 to $955

By the glass: $12 to $26

Corkage fee: $25

Information: (949) 877-3005 or http://www.figandolive.com

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