Fig & Olive offers a taste of the Mediterranean stateside

img_3563My epicureanly enlightened son proclaimed at age 7, “I could not live without olive oil.” And so it has been. Almost daily we find a use for olive oil in our diet, and when we dine out, it is olive oil, not butter, in which we douse our bread. So imagine my delight to find a new favorite restaurant that shares our enthusiasm for this “liquid gold,” elixir of the gods, Fig & Olive.

The restaurant’s concept is one of pairing its food dishes with olive oil, its menu’s main ingredient. Offerings include a sweet and delicate olive oil from the French Riviera that pairs well with a Steamed Lemon Sole Papillote to an assertive Spanish Picual or a Tuscan olive oil that holds its own with Seared Salmon with Fennel and Green Olives, or Grilled Branzino glazed with a fig balsamic vinegar, served with figs and snow peas finished with a sweet Picholine Olive Oil and a green-fruit Provence olive oil served with a Green Apple Sorbet.

img_3556

The restaurant’s expansive assortment of over 30 varietals of extra virgin olive oils are imported from the Riviera and coastal regions of the South of France, Italy and Spain. Each is selected to pair with specific flavors and dishes, and guests are offered an assortment of oils for tasting at the beginning of each meal. If you fall in love with an oil, you can take it home for $12 to $32 a bottle.

img_3551img_3558img_3552img_3560

If I were to put together the elements of a restaurant to love — besides one themed around olive oil and the healthful Mediterranean diet — it would look like Fig & Olive: an open space that is bright with natural light, filled with live plants integrated with the decor, and decorated elegantly yet comfortably, creating a relaxed intimate atmosphere for dining with friends and family. It is this is as if Fig & Olive read my mind.

img_3562
It’s dining room, designed with limestone stucco walls, a terra-cotta ceiling, and green rosemary and olive trees, along with olive branches crafted in black wrought iron and lit with candles, exudes the warmth and essence of the Mediterranean. When entering the dining room, guests are greeted by a long, white marble communal table and tasting bar that stretches across the dining room, lit by pendant lights and bookended by glowing illuminated shelves of extra virgin olive oils and wines, a display that welcomes and impresses at once.

img_3568

img_3542The restaurant not only is pleasing in its atmosphere, but when just after we were seated our server brought us an assortment of all of olive oils, along with breads and veggies for dipping to start off our dining experience, I was sold. They had me at, “Welcome.”
Fig & Olive is a place where olive oil aficionados, like wine snobs, can sample various formulations and describe them in similar terms, like, “This one is pungent and self-assured with woody edges and a touch of mint.”

img_3546
And speaking of snobbery, I would not speak in those terms in association with this fine restaurant. While its eight locations nationwide reside in tony neighborhoods in DC, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and it attracts a well-heeled crowd for power lunches and dinners, the atmosphere is not stiff or cold. The wait staff are friendly, and the tone set by the environment, which is tranquil and hospitable.

img_3572img_3570
When my dining partner and I recently dined at Fig & Olive, before we knew it hours had passed and we had well overstayed the restaurant’s lunch hours. We had been happily engaged in conversation, and not once did we feel rushed or pressured by our server. In fact, quite the opposite. When the place was nearly empty and the staff was resetting the restaurant for dinner, we requested our check, which the server delivered but assured us, “Take your time.”

img_3543
Indeed, among the olive trees, aroma of rosemary and the treat of a variety of flavorful olive oils on the table, I never wanted to leave, and I eagerly await my next visit to the Mediterranean, if only for a meal.

Fleming’s Steakhouse: a great place for a date night or girl’s night out

flemings-filet-and-ribeye-group-shot_largeFleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar has a hipper swagger than your traditional steakhouse. It has the dim lighting, crisp white table cloths and large booth seating that you expect from a fine dining establishment, but unlike the staid and almost library-like atmosphere of many steakhouses, Fleming’s feels like a party.

This energy could be partially owing to the vivaciousness of the servers, like Tyler, who took care of me and my dining companion on our last visit, but it is also the general vibe of the place, from the laughter of the well-heeled patrons mingling at the bar to the steady flow of patrons in and out of the restaurant, milling about in the entry, greeting the host and hostess as if they were old friends, maybe they were.

But of course, the ambience and atmosphere are important, but the food is essential, and here is where Fleming’s truly excels. Being a steakhouse, of course I ordered a steak. As a huge fan of the bone-in T-bone, I ordered the one and only size of its variety, the 20-ounce steak, which was a meal fit for a king, or two. Of course, with an Uncle Buck sized steak like this, I figured I would end up boxing up a good portion of it to take home, but it was so juicy and flavorful that I did not leave as much on my plate as I had expected, but still enough for a second excellent meal the next day.

As we had started our meal with the outstanding crabcakes, wading in a puddle of roasted red pepper and lime butter sauce, followed by the Flemings salad of candied walnuts, dried cranberries, tomatoes, onions, herbed crostini, lemon vinaigrette, we did not want to overdo it, and so we only ordered the shoestring potatoes as a side, though we had heard good things about the crispy fried brussels sprouts and the monstrous onion rings, but we will have to wait until next time to order those.

Tyler kept us happy, making sure all our dishes arrived as ordered, hot and fresh. He was not afraid to give his opinion on the best way to have our food prepared, such as recommending having my steak seared on both sides before cooking it to a perfect medium rare, versus broiling it. He also had excellent suggestions regarding wines, and he didn’t judge when I asked for white wine with my steak, and he selected for me a rich and buttery Chardonnay that paired perfectly with the juicy flavor of my steak.

To finish off our most excellent dining adventure, Tyler recommended Fleming’s extraordinary carrot cake. A tall layered slice of this goodness was delivered with a bowl of fresh whipped cream, which we sampled liberally with each bite of this decadently delicious dessert.

Our dinner experience was leisurely, with Tyler pacing the delivery of each course to give us time for conversation and to whet our appetites for the next course. Noticeably, many of the same folks at the bar who were there when we arrived we’re still there when we left.

Despite the festive, jovial atmosphere, full of lively conversation and activity, it did not feel hectic, nor did we feel rushed, even though it was a busy night. Our experience felt more like we were among a gathering of family and old friends.

Where the stuffy steakhouse can sometimes be, well, scene-y, Fleming’s was a nice respite, where one could be dressed up and enjoy an upscale evening out without the uppity stiffness of some restaurants in town where in the end you are just glad it’s over. Fleming’s is a place where guests want to linger, for the food and drinks, and just because it feels comfortable to be there. Fleming’s has locations nationwide, including two locations in Virginia at Tyson’s Corner and Richmond.