Figa: No Reservations
Figa Restaurant (249 Congress Street, Portland, ME) beginnings were drama-filled and largely recorded in the blogosphere. Since it opened, Figa has had a favorable opinion from foodies and guests. I agree, Figa serves up an excellent dining experience.
My first trip to Figa Restaurant was unfortunately timed with their two family nights. In effect, I walked into a room filled with many people that all seemed to look alike. I was greeted warmly; I even recall the words "we're glad you could come" uttered by someone near the door. Since I was slow to catch on, it only took a moment for them to realize that I was an outsider and denied a gluttenous evening I was prepared to endure.
Last week I decided to revisit Figa, this time determined to dine in. We arrived a week ago Friday, sometime past 8 pm, and needed no reservations to be seated immediately. The restaurant was buzzing with couples and celebratory nights out; I spotted at least three bottles of bubbly uncorked at various tables.
There were two of us, so we went with a reasonably priced bottle of Juan Gil ($35). Figa has a progressive menu designed with small, larger, and entree sized plates; even the small ones felt generous. We shared a chicken liver pate, shrimp on a corn Bellini, lamb-chop with lentils, wild boar with coconut rice and raisin chutney, and three different desserts. The chicken liver was one which non-pate eaters can enjoy. The shrimp was tasty, but forgettable; juxtaposed against a lamb chop that left a lasting impression. The perfectly seared medallion of meat continues to resonate on my taste buds a week later. Wild boar was delicious, but it begs the question where it really comes from; Figa is not the only restaurant to offer it on their menu. Corner Room does a decadent ragu with wild boar that is also delicious.
The desserts left much to be desired. We had a trio of creme-brulees that were quite unappetizing. One tasted like window-cleaner, one was burned, and one would have been palatable if it were not for its texture. The panna cotta also suffered from textural problems. The only redeeming quality of the dessert was a sliver of chocolate cake; even though it was boring, we enjoyed it.
Overall, Figa Restaurant has a bright future. The staff appears to have been hand-picked, as are the ingredients, and the hard work of the chef (clearly visible in the open kitchen) will keep me coming back.