Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Off the Map: Only Hostile Diners Eat at 9:15pm

Hanger Steak with Agrodolce Sauce -- Fig, Charleston, SC

If there is one surefire way to annoy Vodka and any of her compatriots before we even sit down to eat in your establishment, it is to give us a "late night" dinner reservation.

And then not even seat us on time.
We Are Essentially Sophia Petrillo. We Like an Early Bird Special
This is the problem that Vodka and Diet Coke face upon entering the final restaurant of their Charleston trip, Fig.  Despite the fact that Vodka made a reservation the day they became available, called twice to try to change it, and arrived in person the day before to sweet-talk them into seating us at, say, 5:00pm, we have a 9:15pm reservation.

9:15!  That's a solid hour past when we're even comfortable being outside!
We Only Like to Venture Out During Daylight Hours
Forging ahead, we stumble into Fig at 9:12pm, and we are told that our table is not yet ready.  We are led to the bar area to wait.

And to wait... and to WAIT.

And predictably, Vodka is becoming furious.
#1 Thing Vodka Hates to Do? WAIT
"Your table will be ready in a few minutes," a hostess tries to appease us, with which she is greeted by a silent nod by Diet Coke and a hostile glare from Vodka.

"The table where we're going to seat you has paid, but they're lingering," another hostess approaches a few minutes later.

"Can we go harass them?" Vodka asks.

"I mean, I can't encourage that, but I won't stop you...," the hostess replies, which would be a challenge Vodka would be prepared to meet had the hostess actually showed us which table was the one in flux, and not just skedaddled away at warp speed.
Hey Fig, It's Time to Start Comping Some Drinks Around Here
By 9:25pm, Vodka has decided that if we are not seated by 9:30, she is going to throw a complaining fit worthy of her New Jersey upbringing.  Free food and drinks and general bowing down best be involved.  After all, we discover from our time facing the Fig wall that the chef won the James Beard award in 2009.  FOUR years ago.  This is old news, now, Charleston -- WHY are you still grappling with seating issues?
Lucky for the entire Fig staff, they deign to seat us at 9:29pm, just as Vodka is placing one of her pointed witch boots on the floor to march off to the hostess stand.  We flop ourselves down at the table in a decidedly unpleasant manner, and all of the Southern geniality which has infused us over the past two days is certainly long-forgotten.
Goodbye Southern Charm. You Were Nice While We Knew Ya'll
It's barely been 20 minutes, and Fig is already demonstrating perfectly how restaurant mismanagement can hinder a diner's opinion of the place instantaneously.  Especially when said diner is as prone to annoyance as Vodka.
Time to Start Drinking. Heavily
Trying to soldier on, Vodka orders a glass of pinot noir ("Which one are you getting?" "Are there two?  Then the cheaper one") and attempts to use the restroom.  Upon reaching the area, she finds a line of people five-deep waiting for the individual stalls.

What is WRONG with this place? 

Refusing to wait for the second time in less than a half hour, Vodka stomps back to our table to complain about the bathroom situation to Diet Coke, who confirms that individual stalls are the bane of restaurants' existence due to the primping factor that goes on at the sink.  Poor showing, Fig.
We Don't Even Have Food Yet and We Already Dislike You
In an attempt to boost our own morale, we get down to ordering.  Not exactly starving after our full day of bar-b-que and hot dogs, Diet Coke asks how many gnocchi are in the appetizer.  "Nine," our waitress answers.  Deciding that this will not be enough for her entree, we order the gnocchi as an appetizer to share.

And when it arrives, there are only eight gnocchi.

Seriously, Fig?  Now you're messing with our pasta portions?
Go Ahead -- Count Them. ONE IS MISSING
"Disappointingly," said gnocchi are actually rather delicious ("I almost wanted them to be bad just cause this place is so awfully managed").  Draped in bolognese sauce with a hint of mint and shredded parmesan, the gnocchi themselves are light and fluffy.
Okay, Fine, Fig -- This Is Better Than We Thought You Were Capable Of
But You Still Cheated Us Out of a Gnocchi!
We enjoy them much more than we're prepared to, though we are less taken with the fact that instead of providing a bread BASKET (read: lots of bread), we are each handed a single slice by our waitress on which to gnaw.

Um, could you spare some more carbs, Fig?
Is There Some Kind of Flour Shortage in Charleston?
The bread is fine (though the butter is unsalted, and no salt shaker is on the table, which we can all agree is a travesty) -- generally nothing special, which besides the gnocchi, ends up being the theme of the night.  Diet Coke orders the fish stew with shrimp, mussels, squid, grits, and rouille, and Vodka orders the closest equivalent to the Best Thing I Ever Ate dish, the wagyu bistro steak with wheat berries, cape beans, sweet corn, salad verte, and sauce bordelaise.  It should come as no surprise that Fig is proving to be one of those restaurants we despise: one which, once featured on a national program entitled THE BEST THING I EVER ATE, promptly stops serving the dish on a regular basis.  For this reason, instead of Alex Guarnaschelli's chosen SAUCED dish, the hanger steak with agrodolce sauce, Vodka has to settle for the only other beef dish on the menu.  And when it comes to Fig, we are more than over having to settle.
Beef. The WRONG Beef, But Beef Nonetheless
We sit twiddling our thumbs as the clock strikes 10pm, then again 15 minutes later, and there are still no entrees in sight.  At this point, to say Fig is mismanaged time-wise would be the understatement of the century.  Nothing in this place flows smoothly, and whether it's because they take too many reservations for any given time or are too busy in the kitchen sawing off single slices of bread is unclear.  But the place is not working well.
This Restaurant Should Be Renamed "Customer Hostility R Us"
Finally, our dinners appear before us, at a time when we would be much more comfortable snuggled up to our pillows.  Diet Coke's fish stew is strictly "fine."  It has a hint of licorice flavor to the broth, which is odd, and the grits at the bottom of the pot are the least successful we have had so far, but there is nothing completely offensive.
A Cauldron of Fish Products
Naturally, Diet Coke Refused to Use the Provided Mayonnaise
Once Again, The Bread "Portion" Is Incredibly Lacking
Similarly, Vodka's fake Best Thing I Ever Ate creation is tasty enough.  A long strip of thinly cut beef sits next to a side salad (which proves to be the most flavorful thing on the plate) and a portion of beans, corns, and wheat berries (which is at least interesting in texture).
When the Side Salad Is the Most Appealing Part of a Plate, Something Is Wrong
The beef is cooked fairly well but still proves to be a bit chewy, and the sauce on top is good, but it is nothing we would think twice about in other circumstances.

"Who picked this place?" Diet Coke asks.

"Alex Guarnaschelli," Vodka answers.  "The same one who picked that caramel apple."

"She must have been drunk while in Charleston," Diet Coke surmises.  "Or so overtaken by the humidity that she wasn't thinking straight."
Also, Next Time She Should Specify That The Best Thing I Ever Ate Dish Has to STAY ON THE MENU
By the end of our meal, which has taken double the amount of time that it should have, we are convinced that had Fig provided us with, say, a 7:45pm reservation (and then actually seated us at that time), they would have done a lot better.  But by the time we reached our table, this place was doomed.
Fire Up Your Cannons, Fig -- We're Going to War
If one only had a single night to eat in Charleston, we would recommend Magnolias 100-times over this place, if only because it is classic Southern, while Fig is not even remotely unique.  Though to be fair, we'd probably skip dinner all together and just recommend Hominy Grill, because nothing says Southern goodness like a side of chocolate pudding for breakfast.

Fig's Hanger Steak with Agrodolce Sauce: 3 stars

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