From the moment you enter Fig & Olive Restaurant in Scarsdale, you know you’re in for a superb dining experience. The greeting is warm and friendly, and the décor is both modern and elegant. Lining the walls are bottles of fine European wines, and golden olive oil from around the globe.
There are so many wonderful little surprises here. Danielle, the floor manager, has an extensive knowledge of wine, and agrees to do our pairings. She also suggests starting with a cocktail that’s a house specialty; my Cucumber Cosmo is a refreshing alternative to a Mojito, and it’s so pretty, I opt to keep it on the table throughout dinner.
There’s definitely a hip, young vibe to this eatery, largely because of twenty-five year old chef Brendon Cohen. The oldest member of Cohen’s kitchen staff is twenty-nine, a real advantage in a business where high energy is a must. Cohen runs things not with an iron fist, but rather, with an appreciation of those both preparing the meals, and those serving the customers. His idea of fun is to go to other restaurants to check out his colleague’s food, and during his down time, he watches “Chopped.” When I suggest he’d be a natural for this TV show, he smiles affably, and agrees that speed is always essential to make sure the food arrives hot and in good time.
In fact, he cheerfully admits his interest in his current career stems from a true appreciation of good food, and “because my mom didn’t cook.” He admires Chef Anthony Bourdain, and the way he’s able to discuss food. It’s obvious that Chef Brendon is eager to have us enjoy his cuisine.
Before the meal, we sample tasty rosemary focaccia, served with three different olive oils.
For starters, we try both the Provencal Carrot & Thyme soup, and the equally luscious Piedmont Mushroom & Truffle soup. Both are hearty without being heavy, and have a velvety texture. Our server Heidi informs us that, amazingly, they’re completely dairy free, and vegetarian friendly. We drink Bava Conventi, which is a full-bodied, but not overly oaky, Chardonnay.
There’s a choice of ten Crostini available, each with a different spread or tapenade. The ingredients include avocado, truffle artichoke, and, yes, fig.
The Carpaccio is out of this world, thin slices of filet mignon, with parmesan, balsamic vinegar, and truffle olive oil. With it, we drink Barbera d’Alba, which is high in acid to balance the richness of the beef, but low in tannin.
For the main course, we are treated to Rosemary Lamb Chops from New Zealand. This is cooked a la minute; just before being served, the rosemary is ignited, then quickly extinguished. A cloche is then immediately put over the dish, so that the smoked rosemary infuses the meat. It’s cooked to perfection, a delicate pink, and quite simply, the best lamb I’ve ever experienced. With it, we drink a Tempranillo, a balanced, jammy red wine.
Not to be ignored is the untraditional Paella Del Mar, made with saffron rice, garden vegetables, and artichoke tapenade. Even in the best restaurants, shrimp and scallops are often served overcooked. Here, they are done just right, succulent and not at all chewy.
We doubted we could manage dessert and coffee, but the cappuccino is frothy and delightful, and the desserts are pure heaven. The Raspberry sorbet, served with melba sauce, lemon yogurt mousse, and crunchy meringue, is light and delicate. In contrast, the Chocolate Pot de Crème is rich, dark, and downright sinful. If you’re sharing, try both.
As impressed as I am by the quality of food, I am equally impressed by the staff. Questions are expertly answered by whomever you ask. The Assistant General Manager, Patricia, stopped to inform me that except for dessert, no butter is used in the cooking. I’m not sure which I admire most, the fact that such tantalizing food can also be healthy, or that a part of the team with whom you’d normally converse only if you had a complaint was out on the floor talking with the guests.
It’s no wonder that local celebrities like Tiki Barber and Meredith Vieira frequent Fig & Olive. It’s that rare restaurant that combines neighborhood warmth with city sophistication. Soon the outdoor area will be open for al fresco dining under the stars. We’ll definitely be back.
Photos by John Warner
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist, and an unrepentant Foodie. She writes extensively about restaurants and food, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. www.michalljeffers.com