My interest in Figa restaurant began before they opened their doors. Last spring, when walking around Portland's East End, I noticed that a new restaurant was going into a strip that is filled with lovely little independent shops. Figa reminded me of the luscious fresh fig I had eaten a few years ago at an open market in Barcelona, and thus immediately caused me to associate the restaurant with good tasting food. However, the true name is inspired by a good luck symbol of a fist brought to Brazil by the Africans. The relaxed fist is supposed to push away negativity while ushering in good luck. I'm sure chef and owner Lee Farrington doesn't need any luck to make her cooking well-known to Portlanders -- it speaks for itself.
For my birthday, I wanted the day to be filled with fun things and amazing food. Andrew made me a lovely and filling breakfast and lunch, and I supplemented the day with my Membrillo Cake, but what I was really looking forward to was dinner. We had planned in advance that I would get to choose where we ate on my birthday. Since we only go out to eat on special occasions like birthdays, it was definitely something special that I looked forward to for at least a month before the actual date of our dinner. I had only heard good things about Figa, and loved the sound of their menu. And so, a little before 7 pm, we headed over to the restaurant.
We were warmly greeted by our waitress, who asked us where we would prefer to sit. The patio was open, and it was too beautiful of a day to pass up eating outside. Once we were seated, we immediately got a pitcher of water to refresh ourselves with. It was so nice to have water on constant hand, and not to feel like I needed to ask the waitress for more water throughout my meal. We were then presented with the menu, which is set up into three different sections depending on portion: spoon size, fork size, and knife size.
Their menu is pretty fantastic. It felt so nice to know that the vegetables I would be eating were sourced from organic New England farmers, and Andrew chose one of the meat dishes because our waitress knew exactly where everything came from. I was also impressed by the wealth of vegetarian and gluten free options available. Ahead of time, I knew I was going to order the black bean quinoa cake and the warm beet carpaccio salad. I selected the bharta with excitement because I had just read a recipe for the dish in my Madhur Jaffrey book, and the Kim Chi was nicely made into a spoon size upon request -- it was originally part of a larger dish that wasn't vegetarian, and the kitchen had no problem making up a separate serving for us. Andrew ordered the wild boar out of sheer curiosity. When else would he be able to eat wild boar again? The waitress was very helpful with describing the dishes and with offering suggestions when asked, in the most unobtrusive way possible.
The first two plates to come out were the wild boar and the kim chi. I haven't eaten red meat in over 12 years, so I'm relying on Andrew's description and opinion of the boar -- besides scent. As a vegetarian, I can honestly say that this dish smelled absolutely amazing. The sauce seemed to accent the aroma of the fresh meat in a complimentary way. Andrew agreed, and said the same about how the sauce added to the taste of the boar -- it was well done and not overwhelming. With a feel similar to pulled pork, the meat was tender and satisfying.
While Andrew enjoyed the boar, I happily became acquainted with the kim chi. In the past Andrew and I have made kim chi, and our version sort of hits you in the face with spice, which we don't mind. What I liked about figa's kim chi was that it forced you to slow down, chew, ponder the taste, and enjoy as the spice amped up towards the end of each bite. I love when a nice wine does that -- you need to sip and linger over each bit, and I had that same experience with this dish. The cabbage had a delicate crunch to it that was so fresh and lively, and definitely whet my palette for the rest of the meal.
With wonderful orchestration, the waitress brought out our next three plates a bit after we had enjoyed the first two, letting us have just enough anticipation for what was to come with neither overwhelming us nor depriving us. The black bean quinoa cake came accompanied with freshly cooked greens, and was drizzled with a red pepper coulis sauce. The pairing of the cake with the greens made everything seem fresh, and the cake felt like it had been pan-seared: it had the most incredibly fine crunch to the outside, while the inside was soft and luscious. Both Andrew and I agreed that while the cake was wonderfully done, the sauce didn't add much to it. We wanted a bit more of a kick from the sauce, a classy version of a ketchup, perhaps. It didn't ruin the experience of eating the dish, but it didn't add to it in any way either.
The black bean cake was paired with a bright warm beet carpaccio salad. Garnished with the perfect amount of truffle oil and a goat cheese cake that had the same mouth feel as the quinoa cake -- a lovely crunch on the outside countered by a softness inside. When eating this, I wrapped little bits of the cheese in each beet slice with my fork, and each bite was a little explosion of joy in my mouth. The freshness of the beets popped alongside the goat cheese, and had a light earthy taste that became even more pronounced by the truffle oil. We agreed that if we were to get drinks at the bar, this dish would make an excellent tapa to accompany some nice wine.
The last part of this course was the eggplant bharta. This dish was so comforting, overflowing with softness that embraced your tongue like a mother's hug. It also was similar to something I would make at home, which made me extremely happy -- at a lot of restaurants I feel like I could cook a dish better or fresher, but this meal was right in line with what I would want to eat and how I would want it cooked. The eggplant, pepper, zucchini, squash, onion, and garlic combined flavors in a way that led you to believe that the vegetables were good friends who had known each other for a while and were completely comfortable and open with their personalities. Each bite was a bit different, but equally lovely.
What I treasured most about this meal was being able to share tastes of a variety of food with Andrew. Sharing little tapas makes me feel like I have eaten and experienced so much in one meal, and is my favorite way to eat. As we walked out of Figa, we were left with smiles and happy wishes from everyone on staff who we walked by. Andrew and I were smiling too, and were greeted by a stunning pink sunset when we looked to the west.
Although the ice cream and other desserts sounded lovely -- especially the gluten free pie -- we opted for going home to a bit of my membrillo cake, warmed up on the griddle with a bit of ghee. Paired with some tea, we ate it while watching the Triplets of Belleville, a lively French-made almost dialogue-less animation. It was the perfect way to end a lovely birthday.
NEXT POST: A peek inside of Honeymaker Mead Works, where we tasted local fermented delights.
Don't forget -- there's still time to take part in my Veganomicon cookbook club!
I hope you all have had a great weekend -- Cheers!