April in the city. Have been trying to get to New York in the Spring for some time now but outrageous airfares have kept me grounded. Even I refuse to pay $1200 for a 57 minute flight. I want to see the Highline in spring. Have seen it once before in late fall when it was glorious with grasses and daisies, I am figuring it will be quite spectacular in spring. Ottawa is having a particularly cold spring coming off of a brutally long winter, airfares are somewhat less and so we booked late and arrived this afternoon. We left gray, drizzling Ottawa and arrived to a sunny mild day in the Big Apple, where a good many of the trees are leafed out and or in bloom. The streets and parks are alive with pedestrians and markets. Saw my first tulips of the season today.
Traffic was hellish from LaGuardia, but it gave us time to soak up the sights. I think it took longer to get from LaGuardia to our hotel, The Standard in the Village, than it did to fly here. Seriously. Serious traffic. But we are here, the digs are quaint (except for the Arctic air in the hallways and the annoying housekeeping staff yelling up and down the halls to each other), time to unpack and find a light nosh and a cocktail. We need venture no further than the hotel lobby, to the Standard Plaza. The patio is full but we manage to find seating in the crowded lounge open to the patio. Drinks and food menu is relatively simple and that is exactly what we want after traveling a good part of the day.
We order cocktails to start. Baha Mama and a spicy pale ale cocktail. Both are well made and refreshing. Charcuterie and a veggie plate will satisfy until our 7 pm dinner. Noshes arrive and we dig in. The charcuterie plate is simple, good quality but ordinary, consisting of prosciutto, salami, mortadella, crostini and a very nice fruit compote with lots of sweet and clove notes. The vegetable basket was a wonderful surprise. Nothing ordinary about it. Pickled fennel and cauliflower, lightly salted carrot and celery batons, meaty cerignola olives, salted and dressed radishes, perfectly sweet red and yellow grape tomatoes, toasted nuts, garlicky red pepper hummus and served with an oiled and grilled, very thin and flaky flat bread as well as fresh herbs, tarragon, parsley, basil and mint. Great for dipping or rolling into the bread for a little sandwich. Quite simply the tastiest and most creative veggie plate I have ever had in a restaurant.
Dinner tonight is just down the street from The Standard. Fig and Olive is a bustling place at 7pm, early for dinner by New York standards, but this is a neighbourhood place. It is a bit noisy when we come in and the place exudes a rustic sophistication with a casual vibe. Tables are set with white linens and small oil lamps which add a warm glow but actually make menu reading a possibility. The walls are open shelving which houses their wine selection. Ceiling fans and wicker shrouded lights take the space casual. Friendly staff are in the familiar black pant/white shirt getup.
Rob, not one to pass up a martini, orders their signature drink, the Dirty Martini, made with house-made brines. Our waitress warns him it is a bit earthy. This only encourages him, and she brings him a damn fine drink. For dinner we decide to share their house Fig and Olive Salad, a dish of Mixed Olives, Chicken Tangine for Rob and Chicken Provincale for moi. Tonight’s wine will be a most excellent Pinot Noir, Mateo Loring.
The salad is quite sizable and we are sharing. It is lightly dressed with olive oil and vinegar which perfectly compliments the fine ingredients. Young greens, spring onions, soft, sweet Calmyrna figs, plump walnuts, tiny black, pitted olives, slivered green apples, cherry tomatoes, creamy Gorgonzola and mild Manchego cheeses combine to make a fresh, crisp, elegant salad.
Rob wins dinner tonight. His tagine is a marvel of flavours, with hints of harrissa and saffron. It was served with a perfect and fluffy couscous with a trio of add-ins, almonds, a mint sauce and a saffron oil.
I chose my chicken because I love the flavours of herb de Provence, especially the lavender. I make this dish at home and it is amazing. Fig and Olive’s Chicken Provincale is moist and golden. Perfectly roasted but without the signature flavours I was expecting. It was accompanied by what I will assume is a very excellent ratatouille. I am not a fan of this French specialty but I won’t hold that against the restaurant. I don’t care for the texture or the eggplant. Roasted potatoes and a lovely, flavourful sauce of parsley mint and olive oil round out the dish.
The olive dish we ordered as a side is gorgeous to look at. Several varieties of olive are represented. They are tossed in olive oil and oregano. A bit of orange zest and honey would have softened the flavours a bit as the oregano was a little powerful.
We decide to share a small dessert over cappuccinos and order the Creme Brule Cheesecake with Caramelized Peaches and Olive Oil Crisp. After we order, inexplicably, the music in the place gets cranked. Conversation becomes an effort. Dessert arrives. I am impressed because it is quite small — only a few bites between us. I like this. Many may not. The cheesecake was crustless, allowing you to savour the perfectly sweet, creamy, decadent mouthful of cake. Rob disagrees and thinks cheesecake, which he doesn’t really like but ordered anyways, should have a crust. The little cake sat atop a sugared olive oil crisp which served as a crust, for a nice crunch if you took a bit of both at the same time. The carmelized peaches were delicious. As a final note, MICRO GREENS IN NO WAY BELONG ON A DESSERT.
Our extremely good cappuccinos arrived after we finished dessert, which was only an issue because at this point the music and crowd made it too loud to converse. Off into the noisy New York night. We think of visiting the club on the hotel rooftop but the allure of bed is stronger. The Highline tomorrow.