Like a calm ray of Provençal sunshine beaming over a roaring sea of Galleria traffic, retail madness and battalions of businessmen, new Fig & Olive provides a Mediterranean oasis amid the city’s second busiest business district. With its clean, bright setting and devotion to the freshest ingredients, it’s a true taste of the French Riviera, smack-dab in the center of Houston.
The touted health benefits of the Mediterranean diet—one emphasizing olive oil, whole grains, fish, fruits and vegetables—are legion, and they’ve been attracting crowds from New York City to Newport Beach, Calif. At each of the concept’s eight spots, unique menus blend the refined flavors of Southern France, Spain and Italy with local influences. As the state’s first location, this spot has the designation of showing how Texas meets the Med.
Bathed in natural light from windows overlooking an alfresco terrace with potted olive trees, the chic open space flows gracefully with an expansive bar area, whitewashed chairs and linen-covered tables, blond wood floors and yards of gleaming white marble. Banquettes with fluffy coral pillows are cleverly trimmed with fresh rosemary planter boxes. Back toward the kitchen are semiprivate rooms that can be opened for regular service or closed for special events. It’s packed most nights with singles, shopping pals and families, and though the friendly staff doesn’t push for your table, it’s best to make reservations.
Executive chef Tommy Laczynski, formerly with Truluck’s and True Food Kitchen in Austin, has created many dishes exclusive to the Houston location, including a signature steak frites, which stars a 20-ounce ribeye, as well as other entrees like balsamic-glazed short ribs and cured duck. But don’t get hooked on any one dish. “We’ll be changing the menu seasonally and lightening up for summer,” Laczynski says. “Some gluten-free options [will] replace bread, and [we’re] adding whole fish and new meat entrees.”
The menu invites you on a jaunt around the Southern European coast. Servers continuously trot out the signature crostini, which come on shareable plates in combos like fig, manchego and marcona almond or smoked salmon with creme fraiche and caviar. They’re ideal small bites to wash down with a crisp Sancerre, one of the many good wines by the glass. Or hold out for the gratis rosemary focaccia delivered with three olive oils for dipping, including a lovely blood orange-infused option. The octopus carpaccio—also great to share—will convert anyone who doesn’t like the texture of octopus. Shaved tissue-thin, the dazzling mosaic of marinated octopus with a captivating black olive dust, fried capers and piquillo pepper puree is meltingly tender.
Moving on to Italy, the al dente truffle risotto demonstrates Laczynski’s deft hand with risottos and pastas. This warm bowl, fragrant with wine broth, organic wild mushrooms, a touch of truffle oil and shaved Parmesan, proves that less is more. Simple-sounding primavera risotto is elegantly framed with a mélange of asparagus, green peas and pea shoots, then seasoned with garlic, shallots and Parmesan. Tempting as those are, figure-conscious guests will likely gravitate toward never-boring salads like the virtuous quinoa bolstered with pomegranate, oranges, Brussels sprouts, sunflower seeds and citrus dressing.
Fans of balsamic vinegar will be all over the meaty short rib entree, so rich and gooey with 18-year-old balsamic that it looks like slab of dark chocolate cake. A lacy frisee salad drizzled with tart apple cider vinaigrette, crispy polenta and salty lardons of smoked bacon balance out the impressive dish. If you want the entire meal on one plate, Riviera Salmon has it going on. The expertly pan-seared filet is perched over a mound of Swiss chard alongside roasted cauliflower with garlic emulsion and an intense French tapenade. Or hit Madrid with the unique paella noir (squid ink rice, seafood, chorizo and saffron aioli), served in personal skillets to keep it piping hot.
For the finale, what could be more appropriate than olive oil cake? The darling mini Bundt cake sprinkled with blood orange dust gets artful drizzles of Moroccan syrup, olive oil, fresh thyme and a scoop of citrus mascarpone. If you can’t part with the golden nectar that anoints almost every dish, you can buy a bottle of the signature olive oil to take home. Maybe you can’t cruise through the Mediterranean this month, but you can eat as if you are.
FIG & OLIVE
5115 Westheimer Road, Ste. C2500
PRICES Appetizers, $13-$46; entrees, $24-$53; desserts, $10
HOURS Mon.-Thu., 11am-11pm; Fri. 11am-midnight; Sat., 10am-midnight; Sun., 10am-10pm