By Jill Weinlein, 11/29/2012
Halle Berry and I have something in common, we both enjoy dining at Fig & Olive Melrose Place. Almost every item on the menu is topped, sautéed or dressed with various olive oils. No butter is used at this restaurant.
After a trip to the South of France last summer, Chef Pascal Lorange returned to Los Angeles inspired by the produce he sampled in Mougins and Cannes. With the produce he purchases locally from Kenter Canyon Farms in Sun Valley, Lorange marries these fresh items with an assortment of signature olive oils and spices that duplicates the aroma and character of dishes from the South of France, Italy and Spain.
Chef Lorange’s Fall harvest menu offers some exciting dishes that I longed to try. I joined two friends for lunch to experience some of his new appetizers, entrées and desserts.
The restaurant is attractively decorated with a flourishing olive tree dominating the center. Planters of fresh rosemary bushes are sprinkled throughout the room.
We started with a pretty pink flute of Bellenda Rose sparkling wine with notes of strawberry and raspberry.
First, we received slices of Housemade rosemary bread with three small dishes of olive oil for dipping. The mildest olive oil was buttery with fruity notes and a hint of artichoke. The medium flavored oil from Greece was greener tasting. The most assertive tasting oil was from Portugal and offered a slight bitter finish. The restaurant sells nine different oils and infused olive oils too. There are orange, basil, lemon and white truffle oIive oils available to sample and purchase.
The assistant general manager Chris Gonzalez shared a witty description of the bread with oils. “The rosemary bread dipped into one of the olive oils is a culinary equivalent of a hot bath.”
An appetizer of six crostinis that included shrimp, avocado, cilantro and tomato that looked enticing was deliverd to a table near us . We opted to order the 3-course lunch menu offering selections of wonderful soups, salads and appetizers for the first course.
I selected the rich carrot and thyme soup made with heirloom carrots. The celery gave a zing to the carrot flavor. It was topped with crunchy olive oil croutons.
My entrée was a deconstructed Moroccan-style free-range chicken Tajine. It arrived with pieces of dark meat chicken bathing in a light broth with a few figs, cipollini onions, olives, sundried apricots, carrots and zucchini. It’s served with tiny dishes of sliced toasted almonds, cucumber couscous with cilantro and a mild harissa sauce and olive oil. One can add a little or all of the accoutréments to enhance the dish.
One of my friends ordered the three-course lunch with a tuna crudo as her starter. Thin slices of ruby-red tuna with chopped cucumber, chive and cilantro were dressed in a lemon sesame and Coratina olive oil.
Her entrée was a fig and balsamic vinegar glazed Mediterranean branzino that arrived in three pieces. A small side of olive oil mashed potatoes sat next to the grilled fish. Sliced figs resting in tiny pools of Greek Koroneiki olive oil gave the dish a sweet touch.
Our other friend tried the thick Northern Italian mushroom soup with a thyme white truffle olive oil. Her Paella del Mar entrée tasted as beautiful as it looked. Its bright colors and variety of fresh produce included sea scallops, Black tiger shrimp, fresh calamari and mussels mixed with saffron rice. Pieces of chicken, green peas, red bell pepper and artichoke are topped with a drizzle or two of a Spanish olive oil offering floral and apple notes.
The three-course lunch is served Monday through Friday for $28.
Chef Pascal Lorange offers a similar four-course dinner Sunday through Thursday for $45. Next time I will come for dinner to enjoy his pumpkin sage ravioli with a Charmoula pumpkin olive oil emulsion and toasted pumpkin seeds. Another appealing dish is his short ribs with roasted apple dolce gorgonzola and a fig with red onion chutney. Dishes on the new menu range from $8 to $57.
Dessert is worth every calorie, especially the marzipan cake with a scoop of refreshing olive oil gelato and decorated with a sweet candied orange olive oil. Andrew’s Tasting & Sharing plate offers four smaller versions of the signature crostini, chocolate pot de crème, crunch praline (tasted like a homemade Kit-Kat bar), and mango sorbet with a dollop of coconut mousse. We paired our desserts with one of the talented barrista’s cappuccinos.
Another opportunity to try some delectable plates is during Fig & Olive’s prix-fixe brunch at noon on Saturday and 11:30 a.m. on Sunday. The bread and Viennoiseries basket is an ideal starter for the supplemental $9. It’s filled with multigrain bread, French baguette, a croissant and chocolate croissant with orange or strawberry jam. Brunch bellinis, sangria, mimosas, bloody Mary or vodka soda are $8 with the prix-fixe brunch. $8. Brunch is $28 per person.
As we walked to our car, we saw the pastry chef through the window assembling apple tarts. She was preparing the caramelized crisp puffed pastries on the dessert menu for the evening. They looked divine. That will have to wait until my next visit. $$$ 8490 Melrose Pl. (310)360-9100.