Fig is a splendid farm-to-table-themed bistro in Santa Monica's Fairmont Miramar Hotel. One of the country's best farmers markets sets up shop a few blocks away every Wednesday (with a smaller, mostly organic version on Saturdays), but chef Ray Garcia and his "forager," Kerry Clasby don't just shop there; they seek out produce, meats and poultry, and other foodstuffs from farms and small producers around the whole state and sometimes beyond. Frog Hollow Farm, Kenter Canyon Farms, Carlsbad Aquafarm, Dates by Duvall, San Luis Sausage Co., Hobbs' Applewood Smoked Meats, Glaum Egg Ranch, Mary's Free Range Chickens, Churchill Orchard…The list goes on.
Garcia's first restaurant job was as a busboy, at 16, in a little Mexican place near where he grew up, in Glendale, Calif. He was on his way to law school when he took a part-time kitchen job at Belvedere, the fancy dining room at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, for spending money — and ended up falling in love with cooking. Instead of law school, he headed north to work at the French Laundry and Cyrus, then, at the age of 30, got hired to open Fig.
It's sort of a strange-looking restaurant, in a barn-like room, with a big communal table as you walk in and a curving bar in a space filled with cocktail tables in various configurations, leading into a crowded, almost cramped space that in turn gives onto an almost-poolside patio. It just seems sort of confused.
Not so the food. The menu is ample, offering all sorts of simple things like cheeses, charcuterie (the nduja with grilled bread is spectacular), and snacks like stuffed dates and manchego with olives and almonds; a range of starters that includes everything from a richly flavored roasted tomato soup with mascarpone and a pretty interesting farmers market salad to a dish of tongue long-braised in tomatillo sauce and garnished with shredded radishes and red onions that is one of the best things I've eaten all year; and an array of main dishes, from beet risotto with asparagus and crème fraîche and scallops with cauliflower and tangerines to an imposing California-raised prime côte de boeuf for two, with blue cheese butter. The flavors are bright and true, the cooking is precise, and about the only thing I can criticize is the embarrassment of choices offered.