At this moment I’m taking a short study break from some mid-terms I have due tomorrow for a graduate degree I’m pursuing at Texas A&M (whoop!) Enrolling seemed like a good idea a year ago, but is now the reason I dread Sunday evenings, when the week’s assignments are due. But, I’m nearly half way through the program, I just booked my class trip to China (yep, already doing research on what to eat in Shanghai and Beijing), and I don’t have to make any payments towards the $50k in student loans for a couple years. By then Bernie Sanders will get all those loans waived for me, so it’s all good.
Today was a gorgeous afternoon in Atlanta, but when I glanced at social media, I was day-dreaming about what it would be like if I were attending this week’s Charleston Wine & Food Festival, as I’ve done a few times in the past. If I were there, right now I’d certainly be freaking stuffed with all the great food they have to offer. I really can’t complain though, I had lots of good eats today – we had a fun baby shower brunch/Bloody Mary fest with friends, I had a father-son breakfast with my two year old kiddo at OK Cafe, and I repeatedly sampled leftover duck confit and bacon fried rice I concocted circa 1AM last night. It was the shit.
But I digress – the point is that Charleston lays down the food in a serious way. The festival is a blast (it’s my favorite of those large format food festivals), in part because it’s one of my favorite restaurant cities in the world. Charleston has a stellar food identity, great chefs, downtown is quite walkable, and the city has strong patronage and support.
It seems there is a never ending list of new and stand-by restaurants to visit in Charleston, but if I were there this weekend, I would do my damnedest to visit my favorite restaurant in Charleston – FIG. If you are hip to the power of transitive properties, if I say that Charleston is one of my favorite food cities in the world, and FIG is my top meal in that city, then yes, FIG is one of my favorite places in the world. I don’t intend hyperbole. It’s the kind of food I can eat all the time. There’s no stuffiness, but it will certainly fit the bill for a top-notch date. But it can also be just as wonderful and relaxed for a quick bite or drink at the bar. FIG’s competency nonchalantly exceeds every facet of most other dining experiences – at least for my tastes – and the people who work there have stellar attitudes, creating a culture that is super positive, teeming with genuine pride. Cocktails, wine, raw bar shellfish items, the Italian and Mediterranean influenced appetizers and entrees, the desserts, and even the coffee, are all so, so well done.
So you get it, I love it, I eat there whenever possible, and my meal there last week was possibly the best I’ve ever experienced at FIG. How cool is it that a tenured restaurant like FIG can still put it down like this – that after a decade they can pull off another James Beard award? They are still quite the darling of food writers and crazed eaters, who tend to jump to the latest and greatest “it” list of new venues. FIG is proof that quality, talent, and drive can continue to create a fresh and exciting experience, even in the day and age of restaurant “heat maps.”
I’ll move on to the food and wrap this love-fest up; I think you get the point.
The dish at the top of this post is a mix of rudderfish, ikura, wasabi, and uni. It’s a killer sushi rice bowl, no matter where you are.
Below, my wife had the gnocchi (usually prepared with bolognese, but here made veg-friendly) and these 100% cheese (no potato) gnocchi are so light and so ethereal, they are a swift reminder of how terrible mine were when I tried to make them one time.
Another appetizer, the photo below is tough to make out, but it’s a potato leek pie with a prune sauce. It may sound odd to some, but it was so, so wonderful. Earthy, creamy, popping with acidity from the sauce. FIG is good at that – balancing textures and vibrant sauces.
The last appetizer I sampled was the razor clams with fennel and lemon/misc. I don’t see those clams very often so I like to try them when available. It’s silly to say, because they are right tasty, but the dish didn’t stand out like some of the others. It’s just that the others were special and/or exactly the sort of thing that trips my trigger.
Another noteworthy dish on our table was the grouper with sea island peas and kale and black trumpet mushrooms. Badass.
Another photo which is tough to interpret, the below is hands down the best swordfish I’ve ever tasted. The mustard crusted, crispy specimen is so tender (so much swordfish is overcooked!) and savory, perfectly accompanied by a carrot puree, red wine reduction, and a bone marrow salsa verde. I don’t know what else to say except that it was shockingly good. I talked about it for days. I’m talking about it on the internet now. If you have an opportunity to try this dish, you must.
For wine, Lopez de Heredia is a go to of mine whenever I see it on a list. The price is always doable, and the wines, which aren’t released until at least ten years old, always deliver. They have acid, maybe a hint of fun oxidation, and lots of complexity and versatility for under $100 a bottle.
Lastly, I wanted to quick mention the cocktails. They change regularly, are often seasonal, and they are always great. I may have mentioned this before, but for years FIG has had a bartender named Andrew, whom I don’t really know personally, but after one bar visit maybe five years ago, he always remembers me and welcomes me as I walk past the bar which you pass on the way to the dining area. Upon our entrance last week, Andrew was making a couple drinks, I walked past on my way to our table, and he glanced up for a split second and said, “Jimmy, great to see you man, what has it been a year?”
How the hell does he do that? Everyone likes feeling like a regular, and I have no doubt Andrew offers that experience to hundreds of patrons. It’s a perfect example of why FIG is such a special place, one of the best out there, in Charleston and beyond.