Adam and Eve had once covered themselves in fig leaves.
And as such, figs are a protector of modesty.
Which makes me wonder why I like them so.
Beyond the manicured grounds of the Fairmont Hotel in Santa Monica, simply a stone’s throw from the chaotic beach that has a legacy of its own, a comrade and I stepped by the poolside on a SoCal day to nibble. And in all irony, the name of the restaurant in the hotel was the antithesis of our personalities in its very metaphorical definition: Fig.
A seasonal (isn’t everything these days?) Mediterranean style bistro, Chef Yousef Ghalaini made the most of California’s opulent and succulently populated farms, deriving inspiration from the Middle East. Exactly where I had savored figs (and dates) so ceremoniously. The Chef’s grandfather was from Lebanon, and the inspirations showed in the westernized take on the dishes featuring familiar ingredients.
Designed eclectically, it boasted of an opulent decor which took a back seat against the poolside views of tanned bodies and the wisp of salty sea air that floated in through tall windows and open doors.
We started with fresh mozzarella with basil and bread, for nothing is more calming than the scent and texture of freshly made cheese. Taking me back to my mother’s memories of freshly made paneer, this was the Italian equivalent, and elevated graciously by the simplicity of basil and olive oil. The cold bread, however, left much to be desired.
Being in Los Angeles, we ate healthy so as to allow for a dip in the pool and ocean later, sans clothing. The activity mandated an arugula and artichoke salad, which arrived on a plate of symmetrical, round-cut yellow beets. It was almost as if beet salads were my staple everywhere – from Vegas to Nashville, Princeton to San Francisco, Philadelphia to Chicago, and beyond – and were truly one of my favorite vegetables. While slightly overdressed with a tangy lemon vinaigrette, it was a fresh, sour and healthy bite, speckled with artichoke bits. My favorite part was sucking the juices out of the rehydrated beets, which in turn retained their crunchy texture to make up for the lack of nuts in the salad.
The main course took inspiration from Italy once again, with a buttery risotto covered in roasted cauliflower bits. The latter was naturally a nod to the Californian superfood culture and the revolution of this favorite vegetable. While a few notches too heavy for the afternoon, cauliflower bits were a burnt, bitter and tasty note of sour, similar to the edges of a well done cauliflower steak. Perhaps a dish that would have sufficed over a dinner, and in re-proportioned quantities.
And while I did not see any figs on the menu, I did spot dates, which held a similar pedestal in my mind and heart. While not as juicy, dates acted as a vehicle for other flavors better than figs. As a dessert of sorts, we opted for dates stuffed with blue cheese and chopped nuts. The marriage of the sweet, dry fruit with the creamy, pungent cheese was an unlikely one, but which worked brilliantly. A quirky juxtaposition of sorts. The textural crunch of the nut completed the picture, making this a refined, bite sized morsel that created a lasting impact.
And so we tumbled out, slightly too full for the beach, but lacking the modesty to not follow our desires. Sans figs, but with dates, we propped ourselves onto the beach and waited for sunset in the City of Angels.