For a while now, restaurants in Hoboken have been spreading off the main drag, and creeping into other areas of the city, mixing with the contemporary and historic architectural landscape. The Fig Tree, a fairly new restaurant, has done the same, tucked in a residential block. The owners and creators of the restaurant are not new to the food scene in Hoboken, but this is their newest venture after troubles with landlords.
Set in the subterranean level of a home on Park Avenue, a few doors down from the park, The Fig Tree is slightly unexpected, but starkly beautiful. The large glass windows look into the quiet restaurant from the street, and the black lettering echo the stark lines and immense detail in the interior decorating. Three dining areas and about 15 tables, almost felt like a dining room in a home, polished, cozy contemporary, and put together, with a grey and black color scheme.
The seasonal menu, heavy and glossy, was not large but featured an a la carte list, as well as a prix fixe. The titles and the descriptions were lengthy and somewhat obscure to the average diner, littered with French techniques and fancy ingredient names. The prix fixe had items that were not available a la carte, which made the decision making more difficult. All the items listed seemed thought out and appealing.
After the menus were swept away, a plate with two different varieties of cornbread was brought to the table and articulately described, along with a kind of pre-appetizer from the chef. The small plate sported a sole cracker, thin and crisp, with a dollop of what was described as a salmon and cucumber salad, topped with cilantro. It was cool and crunchy and the salmon made its presence known through the aioli and fresh cilantro. One of the two varieties had chives and jalapeño mixed in the fluffy batter, giving it a kind of kick. The other of the two was denser, sweet and crunchy, with more of a course cornmeal feeling on the tongue. This second cornbread paired nicely with the sweet melted honey butter that accompanied the breads.
One of the starters ordered was an asparagus salad, with red bliss tomatoes, roasted garlic, and drizzled with a dill vinaigrette. The ingredients were very accessible and tangible. The asparagus offered a fresh crunch while the potatoes countered with a softer pliable texture, and the vinaigrette was bright and pungent.
The gazpacho was poured at the table by the waiter, into a large bowl with the patiently waiting shrimp salad and caviar. It was smooth and sweet, and the baby beads of caviar popped in the mouth, adding texture and excitement to the otherwise monotonous nature of smooth soups.
The poppy seed risotto was littered with duck confit, crimini mushrooms, English peas, Parmesan-Reggiano cheese. The texture of the duck was stringy and disguised under the almost under cooked grains of aborio rice. The duck t gave the risotto nice pockets of meats to counter the superfluous peas, which created a grainy but sweet taste to the rice. Amongst the mixture were the tiny poppy seeds, which added color and another dimension. The poppy seeds were an enjoyable addition, surprising. The ratio of rice to ingredients was off and did not hold together, but the portion was enormous for an appetizer.
The Hudson Valley foie gras with Meyer lemon curd, maitake mushrooms, pinenuts, mâché lettuces, was an appetizer where sweet meet heavy and smooth. The foie gras itself was smooth, and thick like custard, resting on top of sweet sautéed onions. It was topped with meaty mushrooms that took on the texture of the duck fat. Pinenuts added crunch and another layer of richness and decadence to the appetizer. They added a fatty feeling as well, only to be broken by the lemony acidic greens and the crunchy toast point. This was delicious, but the pinenuts may have added too much fat and density.
The duck entrée, was a hearty portion of two thick slices of duck breast, cooked to medium rare, as per the chef’s suggestion. The thick pink red slices rested on a bed of baby vegetables, including baby bok choy, turnips and cippolini onions. A sweep of “strawberry paint” on the plate added a sweet note that worked really well with the meaty duck. The duck chewed like a medium cooked steak, but tasted like chicken, creating a nice juxtaposition between the gaminess of the poultry and the delicate vegetables.
The diver scallops, part of the regular menu, were accompanied by yellow squash and zucchini, baby tomatoes, a soubise and a corn saffron puree. These scallops were plump and juicy, seared on the outside, and just cooked enough on the inside, maintaining the necessary succulence. The crust on the outside of the scallops was lovely, but a little on the salty side, though the acidity from the soft roasted tomatoes and the fresh crunch of the sautéed squash helped to balance. The corn sauce was sweet like the scallops and mealy, while the soubise was smooth and studded with firm string beans, giving a nod to the inner texture of the scallops. The architecture of the plate was a bit more contemporary than the presentation of the other entrees, but it was fun and the contrasting colors made the dish look lively.
The grilled Atlantic salmon, featured on the prix fixe menu, was lacking imagination. It appeared as a salad topped with a large fillet of salmon. The salmon was cooked ok, though, inconsistent as it was really salty in some bites and less so in others. But it was just grilled salmon, nothing extremely inventive. The watercress greens underneath were slightly more interesting, decorated with pecans, dates, cucumber and dressed in a coriander vinaigrette. The dates and pecans gave the mouth a point of interest, a different chew than the flaky salmon and the watercress, adding spikes of sweetness and fat.
Dessert varied from what was listed on the menu that accompanied the prix fixe, but the remixed recipe was panna cotta with raspberry and pineapple. The small panna cotta was plated nicely, atop what looked like a doily, but was a thinly sliced round of pineapple, slippery and aesthetic. The custard was creamy and topped with what felt like a raspberry jelly, sweet and dense, the citrus cutting the rich custard. Although the smooth jelly like and slimey textures played with the mouth the flavors synched.
The other dessert ordered was the peach and blueberry tart, capped with crumbles, decorated with cool peaches and blueberries. Warm peaches and their sweet juices oozed from the overly crisp almond crust, almost too difficult to break. The hot syrupy fruits spiked with tartness melded well with the cold vanilla ice cream, while the temperatures played well together.
The staff was very polite and knowledgeable about the menu, as well as the ingredients and the history of the restaurant and its owners. The service was well synchronized and orchestrated, quite and causing little disturbance of the meal. Throughout the various dishes, the quality of the ingredients was apparent, as well as the skill level and design of the chef. Though presentation was not as contemporary and imaginative as expected, the flavors and in some of the dishes the levels of complexity were inventive. The Fig Tree is definitely worth revisiting to explore the menus featured for the other seasons.