After five years I finally came into a bit of money, and shocked by this forgotten feeling, I had absolutely no idea what I should do with it. So, not being particularly interested in much of anything, I chose to do something nice for my long suffering gal and took her out to a fancy dinner.
Something as seemingly simple as this proved to be a bit of a problem right from the start, as I had little idea of a good place to eat. To be fair, I eat out at restaurants somewhat often, but usually in the $15-$20 range. This had to be different. Valet parking, endangered animals on the menu different. Well that was the benchmark I set anyways, and after doing little research it dawned on me: why not go to where the prez just ate? The, um… oh right, the “Fig and Olive!” I’d heard nothing about this place (other than it’s “trendy” but what the hell isn’t nowadays) so I fired up the modem and hopped on the World Wide Web with the best intentions of setting up a night to remember.
First off, it’s a chain. Well maybe not a chain chain, per se. but the kind of place that opens up in New York, London, Tokyo and Los Angeles and that’s it. Shit. Ok, the food looks decent… olives, figs, pasta, grilled meats. Cheese. Standard fare, a little expensive but what the hell. I decided to make the plunge and clicked the “open table” icon to see what was available, settled on 7:15 and was ready to find out what the hype was all about. Throwing caution to the wind, as I’m sure I won’t get paid for another five years, I made the commitment. My girl and I were going to rub elbows with L.A.’s finest.
We got to the restaurant just in time for our reservations. A polite Mexican took eight bucks and the keys to the Volvo and in hindsight, that’s where the night should have ended. As we walked through the door, we were greeted by a wave of noise. To my horror I observed that the tables were about 9 inches off the floor, and the bar was clogged with Persians. The noise was unbearable. Making our way to the hostess stand, I wasn’t surprised to note that she was really annoyed that we were here. She checked our name off the list and then an equally put-out girl walked us to our table.
Winding through the cackling, perfume-drenched crowd I saw a light up ahead. What’s this? Could there be actual tables? Is there a restaurant component that I had overlooked? Was I once more far too quick to judge? Sure enough, we passed into another room, and I spied some regulation height tables. OK, this could go…fuck. FUCK. Really? Yep, there were tables all right, but we get to sit against the far wall, cafeteria style. My momentary feeling of relief gone as quickly as it came.
Now, for those of you that may not know what I’m talking about, let me savvy you to what “cafeteria style” dining means. This is where a bench runs along the wall, small tables are lined up in front, and on the other side are free standing chairs. The idea is to create a socially interactive environment and start chatting with whomever you get stuck next to. It’s cramped, uncomfortable, and for a misanthrope like myself, is the worst possible situation to eat in. Sure as shit, we get shoehorned next to another couple (struggling actors, yay) and being a gentleman, I take the hard wooden chair and the splendid view of a concrete wall. So I have my back to the restaurant, and I don’t feel comfortable talking because I don’t need strangers up in my business. This was gearing up to be a great dinner.
The waitress comes over and starts spouting the specials, the one that sticks out is the Julep. Whiskey sounds like the right cure for what’s ailing me, so I go for it. She explains that it’s an experimental drink and she would love feedback on it. Agreed. She points out some food choices and goes off on her way, returning shortly with the julep which looks like pond water with a splash of bourbon presumably in there somewhere. I take a sip and the flavor is ok, but the fig seeds, mint leaves and walnut chunks give it the pond water texture I may have assumed from the initial observation. So, I decide to give her my criticism: this isn’t much of a julep. I point out the unpleasantness of all the debris in the drink to which she replies: “well that’s our spin on the classic julep. We crumble walnuts into it.” I see my date start to get uncomfortable, so I leave it at that.
Perhaps against my better judgment, we take some of the waitress’s recommendations and place our order. Just some assorted small plates. After all, we can always order more, right? Wrong. “The chef requests you place your entire order at once. I can bring out some marinated olives for you if you’d like.” Sure, but I think we’re ready to order the whole shebang…
The food was tasty, but unremarkable. The whole place smacks of gimmicks (no one’s tapped into the Mediterranean market yet, so kudos) and the crowd is insufferable. I can recommend the scallops, which were perfectly cooked, and the crostini assortment was fine (not sure how one would fuck up toast and cheese). There was plenty more on the menu, but I don’t believe I’ll be going back any time soon. When the bill came, I was pleased to see that my handful of trash and bourbon came to $15. All in all, the total for dinner was about what I expected; best $200 I’ve ever spent.
Fig and Olive, welcome to the ranks of Nobu, Bazaar and every other money-faking overly hyped Hollywood eatery. Looking forward to the “for lease” sign in the window six months from now. If you want to try a good restaurant that successfully pulls off what Fig and Olive was attempting, save a bunch of money and go to Cobras and Matadors. It’s BYOB (with a reasonable corkage fee, but you can bring beer and presumably cocktail fixins’ as well) and infinitely better. Just go early, because around 7pm the cafeteria seating will take its toll, and the space is much smaller than F&O so consider yourself warned.
On a final note, apologies to my girl for my incessant complaining about everything. I wish I didn’t feel contempt, disappointment and disgust almost every time I find myself in a public setting. Perhaps next time we’ll go to the Beanery, where for the amount spent at Fig and Olive five of us were able to eat and drink in the comfort of a booth for nearly six hours straight.