Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. The key components of the Mediterranean diet include a splash of olive oil, instead of butter, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean meat, whole grains, legumes and nuts. A glass of red wine is acceptable too.
Fig & Olive’s menu offers dishes that are ideal for the diet, as Executive Chef Pascal Lorange’s prepares his Mediterranean dishes with herbs, spices and some of the finest olive oils from the Mediterranean region to enhance his dishes.
I recently dined with a group of friends at Fig & Olive on Melrose Place to enjoy chef Lorange’s new Spring menu Mediterranean dishes. We sat in the back dining room with elegant limestone stucco walls. The restaurant has live green rosemary and olive trees offering the essence of the Mediterranean. Visually, the open kitchen is illuminated by shelves of colorful olive oil bottles.
Guests receive a plate of rosemary olive oil bread with small dishes of three distinctive extra virgin olive oils from Spain, Greece and Italy.
We each chose a glass of wine or champagne from over 30 varietals from the South of France, Italy, and Spain. I sipped a nice French Rose’ made with Grenache/Syrah from the Château La Coste “Cuvée Bellugue” Côtes de Provence. It was floral, with hints of white fruits.
The wine paired well with a variety of crostinis. My favorite was the savory caramelized onion with goat cheese and chive. I also liked the Manchego with sliced fig and a Marcona almond.
Since the Mediterranean diet traditionally includes antioxidant-rich vegetables, Chef Lorange’s includes on his new menu, a cold gazpacho Andalucia with minced tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, red onion, basil, Sherry vinegar and a splash of basil olive oil. There is a small scoop of Ayala goat cheese to enhance the dish.
Another winning dish is his rainbow heirloom tomato Caprese with luscious burrata and sliced figs to add a delightful sweetness. It’s lightly dressed with 18-year balsamic vinegar and basil green olive oil.
The crab and heirloom tomato appetizer is made with jumbo lump crab. It looked and had the texture of an elegant tuna salad.
To help promote health and prevent disease, fish is approved on the diet. Fig & Olive offers six different pescatarian dishes that include Mediterranean branzino; Chilean sea bass and yellowfin tuna a la Provencale. The Riviera salmon is also an excellent choice with seared salmon served with grilled asparagus and a flavorful braised fennel. The dish is decorated with a pea puree, Koroneiki olive oil emulsion and a spritz of lemon zest.
The most visually spectacular dish of the evening was the rosemary lamb chops served on a plate with a glass dome cover. Once the cover was released, a smokey vapor of Herbs de Provence was released into the air. The chops were accompanied with grilled polenta, braised eggplant, roasted bell peppers and a drizzle of rosemary garlic olive oil.
I’m not sure if the creamy fig and gorgonzola risotto made with Arborio rice qualifies as a Mediterranean dish, because it is so rich, yet it’s so satisfying and worth the splurge. It’s pure comfort food in a bowl.
Grains are important in a Mediterranean diet, so Chef Lorange offers a red quinoa salad with a variety of vegetables and dresses it up with a Arbequina olive oil.
All of the pasta and risotto dishes are vegetarian, however guests may add a grilled chicken, salmon or shrimp for some protein.
On the diet, poultry can be consumed twice a week. A good choice is the Provence roasted free range chicken from Mary’s farm marinated with Herbs de Provence and garlic. It arrives with a side of ratatouille and roasted potatoes.
My favorite is the colorful Fig & Olive Tajine with Moroccan spiced chicken cooked with figs, carrots, olives, apricots, zucchini, cipolini onions, tomatoes, toasted almonds and a couscous blended with cilantro and harissa. The olive oil enhancing this dish is Arbequina, an aromatic, buttery oil from Melgarejo in Andalucía, Spain.
Since red meat should be consumed no more than a few times a month, the filet mignon is an excellent choice. The 8 oz. Creekstone farm filet is marinated with thyme, garlic and rosemary before its grilled and served with farro risotto accented with black trumpet mushrooms, and two cheeses – manchego and mascarpone. The Béarnaise sauce for the steak is made with Arbequina olive oil.
For those seeking a romantic dinner, Fig & Olive offers a few tableside-for-two entrees that include a whole two-pound Branzino; 16 oz. Creekstone farm Black Angus Chateaubriand; and a 36 oz. Cote de Boeuf Creekstone farm bone-in Ribeye.
Save room for the light panna cotta a l’ orange with a cookie crumble. There is also a lavender creme brûlée with lovely lavender ice cream and a crunchy thyme shortbread cookie.
While at Fig & Olive, you can bring Mediterranean ingredients home with you to maintain the diet. The restaurant offers a retail collection of over 30 different types of extra virgin olive oil ranging from a fruity and delicate varietal from Provence to a peppery Tuscan olive oil from Villa Lucia. The restaurant also sells infused olive oils with truffle; basil, and lemon.
Open for lunch starting at 12 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Sunday brunch at 11 a.m. Dinner service begins Monday through Thursday at 6 p.m. on Friday through Sunday, dinner service begins at 5:30 p.m. $$$ 8490 Melrose Place (310)360-9100.