After an old friend’s wedding and an intensive tour of Govan, Strathloanhead, and Avonbridge, as well as some other, better-known parts of Scotland, I was back in the kitchen this week, and what a firestorm it has been. We are incredibly fortunate at solbar to be screaming busy–last night and again during lunch today, I was expediting and the tickets were coming out of the printer much faster than I could call them. Several times during each service, a string of them reached all the way down to the floor . . . thankfully, we have a wonderful atmosphere and very patient guests. And plenty of ink.
We’ve been waiting a LONG time for ripe heirloom tomatoes, which finally came around this week. Barney’s tomatoes from Forni-Brown Gardens are killer, and he has a new varietal called a Great White. (There are so many evocative, comic-book names [Yellow Taxi, Black Krim, Purple Cherokee, Marvel Striper, Boxcar Willie] of heirloom tomatoes that I just tell servers to make them up at the table when asked what we’re serving tonight). Anyway, Ryder came up with an amazing, and vegan, tomato salad with flying serpent cucumbers and glice-infused olive oil that is absolutely stunning and went on the menu tonight, but that’s enough about that because I’m the one writing and I created a fig salad.
I often tell a true story about why I cook in California: growing up in North Carolina, I never had a fresh fig. Figs came from Fig Newtons, and were spoken of in Sunday school. When I moved left to work at The French Laundry after graduating from the CIA, I ate my first fresh fig, and it was an epiphany. Till-then-dormant synapses fired, taste buds were shaken from their slumbers . . . and the rest is long and boring.
Figs never arrive at the restaurant at same state of ripeness when purchased in bulk, and figs that are underripe will not ripen off the tree, but of course they cost as much as the ripe ones, and must be put to good use . . . so the ripe ones are sliced thick and seasoned with a pinch of sea salt and fresh lemon juice. The underripes are stemmed and quartered, then bathed in a hot, a-la-a-la-grecque (that’s right) solution of shallots, white wine, lemon juice and zest, salt, sugar, chili flakes, and olive oil. The figs are served together over a fennel soubise enriched with parmigiano-reggiano and chilled, and accompanied by cracked salted almonds, strips of smoky-sweet piquillo peppers, a drizzle of saba, black pepper, and arugula leaves shiny with olive oil and lemon.
As pretentious, or as pure, or as narrow, or as impossible as it sounds, I cook in the hope that our guests will bite into something again for the first time, like I did with that fig.