When I’m in a new town, I like to combine my pre-visit recon with recommendations from locals in the know to get the scoop on what to see and where to eat. And who would know better on where to eat than servers and chefs at excellent eateries. So it was with this approach on our trip to Sonoma, that Gail and I discovered the girl & the fig – a lower case name with UPPER CASE FLAVOR.
As with any popular restaurant, reservations are a good idea but so is bellying up to the bar if your table isn’t ready when you arrive. The girl & the fig has a beautiful long wooden one that beckons to be belly uped to as soon as you enter.
Once in drinking position comes the hard part, choosing an aperitif from their extensive drink menu. Despite the temptations of fig inspired concoctions, Champagne, and still wines, we opted for my favorite pre-dinner drink: beeeeer.
While enjoying our pints of Lagunitas IPA, we spun around to check out the comfy-looking lounge. It’s a more formal place to eat than the bar, but more casual than the dining room, sort of like eating on the couch in front of the TV. Cozy.
We opted for eating in the quaint bistro-like dining room, which had the same earthy wooden floors as the lounge/bar area, candles on every table (rather than those LCD faux-candles in so many restaurants these day), and earthy tones from the vanilla-wafer-colored table cloths and yellow walls.
The walls were adorned with pastels by Julie Higgins, who looks like she learned to paint from Diego Rivera and Paul Gauguin with Mayan subjects set in Polynesia during an orgy. Something for everyone.
Our attention turned from the art on the wall to the art on our table when a little bowl arrived filled with delicious black olives and what looked like picholines on roids but were actually the best caper berry’s I’ve ever had – meaty, oily, fresh, melt in your mouth affairs.
The bread & butter, however was a surprising misstep and could have easily been helped by warming the bread and serving it with a compound butter or just providing better bread.
The girl and the fig has an interesting Rhone-varietal-inspired wine list from CA wineries, at various price points. We knew we would be drinking well with whatever we ordered.
It’s always tempting to order a bottle you know won’t disappoint, but in a good restaurant I like leaning on the wait staff to get a recommendation of a bottle that over delivers but is under priced.
I’ve had lots of Syrahs and Grenaches, even Viogniers and Dry Roses but I’ve never had a wine that was 100% Cinsault…until now. The Frick 2008 Dry Creek Valley Cinsaut was all Cinsaut and frickin’ good.
It had an earthy/musty smell with a strong dark berry quality, a similar plate that tasted like a chocolate covered plumb with black liquorice, a bit of smoke, plus a strong but yielding tannin, and a loooong finish.
The girl and the fig describe themselves as “country food with a French passion.” So, when in a place with a French passion, order like you’re in France, which partly inspired us to order the Bistro Plat Du Jour (3 courses for $34) and something for my meat loving companion who brings out the omni in my vore.
We started with a butter lettuce salad with pickled kumquats, goat cheese, sliced almonds & a kumquat vinaigrette.
It was presented in a natural state, as if one day the lettuce was just hanging out in a local field, along came “the girl,” snatched it from its home, and presented it as is. It tasted that fresh too, with a creamy goat cheese that had the fat to cut through the delicious citrus bomb that was the kumquat dressing. For relatively few ingredients, it tasted better than the sum of its parts.
Our first entrée was pan-seared arctic char which was a circle of potato purée, surrounded by a circle of port reduction with a bulls eye of baby fennel, pears, asparagus and fish served skin up.
The baby fennel was al dente, juicy with a fresh just-picked taste, a bit fibrous but not unpleasant. The pears were nicely sweet and soooo fresh. The fish was a combo of delicate Meyer lemon citrus flavors with an earthiness and meatiness that was substantial and satisfying.
Our other entrée was grilled lamb rounds with white bean purée, braised artichokes and garden radishes with a lavender lamb juice.
When I encounter a meat that’s less common to me, such as lamb, and when I’m with a carnivore, I like to give it a try. The lamb was light and chewy with a dark richness, complimented by a strong raw radish flavor and a meaty-umami taste. The wine paired very well with it and much better than with the fish.
The last part of our plat was a dessert of bread pudding topped with whipped crème fraîche and paired with a vin doux naturel.
The bread pudding was like the love child of an apple pie and a dutch apple pancake; it was creamy inside with a fresh apple harvest taste. Unfortunately the outside didn’t live up to the inside. The crust tasted stale and too much like batter. Still, we ate it all, possibly due to….how well it paired with the vin doux naturel from Domaine Fontanel, which was one of the most unusual and best dessert wines I’ve ever had.
The Rivesaltes Ambré is made from 100% Grenache Blanc, aged 7 years in oak casks on small lees in accordance with the soleras system. It smelled like a young oxidized sherry, but was loaded with aromas of caramel, vanilla, sultana, and stewed apricot. The same flavors were on the palate and reminded me of a fruity pancake syrup for adults with a brandy-like quality. Despite its 16% alcohol, it didn’t taste anywhere near that high and thankfully lacked that unpleasant boozy burn in the back of the throat.
The girl & the fig is an excellent wine country restaurant but still maintains a low key country feel. With its bistro ambiance, French passion, and focus on local wines of French style, it will have you eating and drinking like a bon vivant before you can say….. Vive la figue!