PEAK SEASON

BY HOLLY HERRICK | PHOTOGRAPHY BY HOLGER OBENAUS

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With a recent facelift, an unwavering commitment to locally sourced ingredients, and a streamlined wine and cocktail menu, FIG is better than ever. It’s very hard to improve upon perfection, but chef/partner Mike Lata, executive chef Jason Stanhope (both hold the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Southeast) and the entire team at FIG have done just that.

All of the parts at FIG work together in perfect tandem, providing a seamless, impeccable dining experience that flows as fluidly as water or beautiful music.

Recently, the team saw the need for a facelift. “After 13 years, the building was just not functioning properly. It needed a rebirth; we needed a physical manifestation of change to inspire our passion to evolve,” explains Chef Lata.

To achieve this, the once-cluttered, provincial décor has been removed. Now, the sophisticated bistro space is punctuated with warm bursts of color, which appear in red leather-upholstered banquettes and massive bell-shaped pendant lights. Large, smoky mirrors reflect towering displays of fresh flowers on the bar and in the center of the dining room.

The renovation, engineered by David Thompson Architect and Urban Electric Company, achieves everything that Lata was seeking. In fact, it’s a metaphor for Lata’s cooking techniques: minimalist and precise, using only the freshest ingredients. That’s harder to do than it sounds, but Lata and Stanhope (who currently runs the kitchen, with Lata providing support) excel at it.

Happily, the current menu includes long-time stalwarts, such as ricotta gnocchi and grass-fed beef Bolognese, chicken liver pâté, and suckling pig with Carolina gold rice. According to Lata, these dishes, which are not seasonally driven, are reliably delicious, and their preparation requires repetition and discipline to re-create perfectly every time, which is why they’re available year-round. The rest of the menu is all about seasonality, sourcing and freshness.

On a recent and long overdue visit, Chef Stanhope, who cooks with the precision of a surgeon and the soul of an artist, brought everything that FIG is about to the table.

The better-than-foie gras chicken liver pâté, a silky, savory slice of deliciousness, lingered lovingly on the palate with each eager bite. The plate comes with brioche toast points, a pungent pool of Dijon mustard and bread-and-butter pickles—sweet, acidic and crunchy, with a lingering hint of cumin. The crisp grapefruit notes of a Spanish Rioja cut beautifully through the richness of the pâté.

A cool, creamy ball of udder-fresh burrata was the centerpiece of the best dish of the night, a salad of burrata and marinated peppers. The cheese was layered between sweet, roasted red bell peppers and lacinato kale dressed with sherry vinegar and a fruity olive oil. A sauce created from a reduction of the juices was enlivened with a kiss of lemon.

Because no one can (or should) resist FIG’s soufflé-like Yukon Gold potato puree, we ordered a bowl of it to pair with our entrées. Poached Block Island scallops were sweet and firm, enhanced with the fresh flavors of spring peas, lemon, ramp and a licorice-like splash of fresh tarragon. All this elegance was brought back to earth with the nuttiness of a course-ground polenta. Wreckfish, slow-baked at a very low tem- perature, recalled sous vide in its tenderness. Surrounded by a cast of Lowcountry seasonal characters, like lady peas that swam in a zesty collard potlikker, this dish was quintessential FIG from start to finish.

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FIG’s service team, always strong, has grown-up in time, able to explain dishes and how they are prepared without going into overt, pretentious detail. Their down-to-earth friendliness is tempered with a measured professionalism. Our friendly server explained that the strawberries used to prepare the strawberry ice cream in the profiteroles were roasted, which helped consolidate flavor and reduce crystallization. This powerfully flavored ice cream filled three petite cream puffs, which were served with a warm, dark chocolate ganache.

The wine list features 100 bottles under $100, all handpicked from small production wineries from around the world. Cocktails are currently focused on just three spirits, bourbon, gin and vermouth. “We have a tight focus on creating cocktails that are respectful of the classics yet introduce new spirits,” says Lata.

I’ve witnessed many restaurants of FIG’s renown slip into a lazy, rest-on-their-laurels state, like an aging movie star letting herself go after years of celebrity. Not so for FIG. Like a fine wine, this restaurant just keeps getting better with time.

Holly Herrick is a former restaurant critic for The Post and Courier and a Cordon Bleu-trained chef as well as the author of eight cookbooks. Visit her at hollyherrick.comz.