With multiple branches in California and New York City, upscale restaurant chain Fig & Olive has recently expanded into Houston to further its mission to “pay tribute not only to [Provence], but also to the Mediterranean gastronomic heritage.” While Houston already has its fair share of terrific establishments with similar ambitions, Fig & Olive contributes a certain unique casual poshness via its playful innovations of European coastal classics served in a large airy dining space, flanked with sleet slate-colored banquettes and illuminated by cast-iron light fixtures.
The menu executed by Chef de Cuisine Thomas Laczynski is certainly accessible and appealing to more conservative diners, who are likely to be pleased by well-executed proteins like the steak frites and roasted Amish chicken. But the more intrepid eater, however, should opt for Fig & Olive’s more interesting interpretations of continental cuisine, for these dishes best showcase the breadth of Gotesky’s talents as well as the restaurant’s penchant for a bit of derring-do.
Our appetizer of Hamachi crudo is an apt example. Slices of tender tuna framed by petit slices of preserved orange and clouds of basil olive oil were startling good for its interplay between warm citrus sweetness and butter herbal notes, both of which functioned beautifully to adorn but not overwhelm the naked taste of the raw fish. My companion and I paired this starter with the chef’s selection of crostini, a trio of mignon toasts topped with foie gras and fig jam, Iberico ham with smoked tomato concasse, and artichokes dressed with parmesan and truffle dressing. These three bites perfectly encapsulated those ingredients I associate with Aix, Madrid, and Rome, respectively, making the plate a lovely metaphorical tour of these culinary powerhouses.
Our main courses were more of a mixed bag. The rosemary lamb chops could have used more rosemary, or well, any seasoning, for that matter, though I did very much enjoy its chickpea panisse accompaniment. Much better was the Chilean seabass, prepared to a delicate, flaky perfection and livened with a rapini, sunchoke, and romesco-marcarpone sauce and dotted with almonds and hazelnuts. From glancing at the satisfied expressions on guests at other tables, I could tell Fig & Olive’s seafood risotto with caramelized fennel was also a crowd-pleaser, so it will certainly be on my to-order list for a subsequent visit.
Rounding out dinner was a tasting of miniature versions of a quarter of Fig & Olive’s desserts: the Amarena cherry “crostini,” chocolate pot de crème, peach crumble, and pralines. Of the aforementioned, I was most smitten with the pralines, whose bold hazelnut flavor and resounding crunch were straightforward but delicious, while my friend raved about the pot de crème.
Looking to try Fig & Olive for yourself? You should be forewarned reservations are a must, for its see-and-be-seen location in the heart of the Galleria means large crowds even relatively early on a Friday. Unfortunately, this also means the noise level in the large dining room can make it necessary to repeat yourself to your dining companion more than once during your dinner conversation. However, this minor flaw is worth tolerating for the impeccable service and Laczynski's notable creations.