If you are downtown and head toward Lake Michigan, beyond the retail shops, you will find Fig & Olive (104 E. Oak St.) — a Mediterranean cuisine-inspired restaurant with an open lounge and bar.
A seafood-heavy menu, well-lit dining room and seasonal garden terrace attracted me to the Mediterranean joint. I’ve come to find that if a restaurant has a vibrant décor, natural light and large windows, the food will most likely be delicious. There are two dining rooms at Fig & Olive: one on the second level with more couches and a main bar and one on the third level that offers more tables and a smaller bar.
Right near the large open windows and flowing white curtains, we sat down on a large chair and couch filled with enormous pillows. Although I was not initially pleased to be sitting on a couch, the lighting made up for the overly relaxed environment and the couch ended up being extremely cozy.
The menu at Fig & Olive focuses on executive chef Pascal Lorange’s love for high quality olive oil and its incorporation into shareable dishes and larger plates. During brunch on weekends, soup, carpaccio, crostini and an assortment of cheeses and olives are available as small plates to share. There are also organic egg options, French-inspired cuisine, even Italian items such as bruschetta. Because I’m more of an eggs-for-any-meal-kind of girl, the menu’s egg selection worked for me, and the overload of shrimp, lobster and crab dishes fulfilled my dad’s passion for seafood.
It was love at first glance when my eyes noticed the trio appetizer crostini ($12). Out of the 11 different crostini options –– ranging from a burrata and tomato to a manchego and fig –– I went with the heirloom carrot, charmoula (a Moroccan marinade) and carrot tapenade; the crab, heirloom tomato, avocado and apple aioli; and the shrimp, avocado, cilantro and tomato. The three arrived to the table beautifully arranged and full of colorful ingredients.
Each crostini was too big to eat without cutting into two, which surprised me since most crostinis I’ve had tend to be bite-size. Each piece of bread was slightly softer than bruschetta would be, making them easy to bite into. Picking a favorite was extremely difficult, but the crab was probably the tastiest. The apple aioli was solely apple-based, not mayonnaise-based like I would have imagined it to be.
For our entrées, I chose the south of France poached eggs with salmon ($16) and my dad ordered the Maine lobster roll ($16). I decided to do without the cream cheese ricotta and pimentón spread that the poached eggs came with (I am not a fan of creamy sauces), but when the dish arrived at the table, it had both on the side. The poached eggs were laid on a bed of smoked salmon and crostone bread with a sliver of avocado, mesclun salad and thick potato fries on the side. The eggs were thicker than I imagined them to be, but still were as runny as I’d hoped for, just the right amount that didn’t completely drench the bread and make it soggy. I ended up dipping my roasted potatoes into the cream cheese spread and couldn’t get enough of its thick texture and light flavor. It surprisingly did not taste like cream cheese at all.
As I savored every bite of my smoked salmon and eggs, my dad quickly ate his lobster roll. He asked the waiter to hold the olive oil mayonnaise, so when his meal was delivered, it came with just tomato, apple, celery root scallions, harissa and baby arugula. A ramekin of skinny matchstick fries with ketchup came separately. Instead of being on a long horizontal bun as most lobster rolls are, this dish was on a shallot thyme brioche bun similar in size and shape to a hamburger bun.
My dad raved about the flavor of the large pieces of lobster, but when I took a bite, I was disappointed at the bun-to-lobster ratio. Maybe it was just a poor bite, but all I could taste was the sliced celery root pieces and bread. Even though I disapproved of the dish, my dad was thoroughly pleased with it.
The olive oil-infused menu will leave you feeling light and satisfied when you walk out of this clean space. Even if it’s not advertised as a healthy restaurant, all of the menu items have fresh, high-quality and healthy ingredients, loaded with large amounts of protein and vegetables.
When choosing from sides to order, you can decide from an array of vegetables ($8) ranging from caramelized Brussels sprouts and onions to a mixture of sautéed spinach, fig, garlic and almond. Burgers, paninis and salads are more simple entrées to choose from. There is also a raw bar featuring a seafood tower ($75-$125) with chilled shellfish and fresh seafood on ice. You’re guaranteed to find it all at Fig & Olive.
For hours of operation, go to www.figandolive.com/menu/chicago