You’ve heard it a thousand times in a thousand different ways: keep your expectations low so you’ll never be disappointed. Well if I’ve heard it so many times, why am I unable to follow the seemingly simple adage?
Soon after moving to Charleston last fall, I was inundated with a constant flow of restaurant recommendations. You must eat here! You have to go there! Whatever you do, get yourself a reservation at this place; it is soooooo good. That last comment was referring to Mike Lata’s acclaimed restaurant FIG, the clever acronym meaning Food Is Good. Firmly situated on the corner of Meeting and Hasell Streets in downtown Charleston, FIG has been a go-to recommendation from locals since its opening almost a decade ago. It seems like everyone agrees that FIG is a required stop in any culinary exploration of the city. If someone feels the need to draw out the two-letter so into a four-syllable moan-like protestation, it’s probably a good idea to heed her advice.
Nine months after moving to Charleston I finally made it to FIG. My boyfriend and I managed to snag a couple of seats—though not on a coveted weekend night—and we were pumped. Ruminating on everyone’s suggestion to eat at this particular restaurant, we had spectacularly high expectations. We settled into a cozy booth ready to feast.
Looking at the outstanding menu we had to form a game plan. We have one strict rule when we go out to dinner: no looking at the menu beforehand. He asserts that looking at the menu of a long-awaited restaurant is like opening a present before Christmas—especially at a restaurant like FIG where the menu changes frequently to reflect the best local produce. Taking in all the amazing ingredients and innovative yet simple preparations left us gawking at the list of dishes for a quite a while. After deliberating internally for several minutes, we came to the same conclusion: our meal needed to be heavy on the appetizers and feature only one main dish.
Telepathy is our strong suit, and when we each named our list of four appetizers we wanted to try they were identical. Our picks were set: Carolina white shrimp, beef carne cruda (a stunning example of what beef in the raw should be), ricotta gnocchi and lamb ragu (I wanted to take a nap on these delicate cheese-filled pillows), and the ostensibly requisite artisanal cheese plate. Each dish was savored and enjoyed and paired perfectly with our choice of pinot noir. We wordlessly inhaled the main dish of grilled Carolina wahoo with sweet corn and sungold tomato-artichoke vierge. True to the title, FIG’s food was gooooood.
The nearly three-hour dinner concluded with the perfect cup of coffee, sorghum cake for him, and chocolate-hazelnut pudding for her. Over our sweets we couldn’t help but conclude that the almost-never-true was true: our sky-high expectations had been met. I can’t say they were exceeded because we were honestly expecting the absolute best and that’s what we experienced. I’m tremendously excited to join the group of people touting FIG’s name and recommending it to everyone who is looking for an exceptional place to eat.
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