- January 2014
Figue - Savoring Mediterranean— A Unique Dining Experience
Savoring MediterraneanBy: Deborah Liv Johnson
New Mediterranean eatery Figue (rhymes with league), located in La Quinta, is the vision of a passionate owner and an equally enthralled chef who was completely taken by the enthusiasm of his future employer. “The mission statement Lee Morcus posted when advertising for a chef was unlike any mission statement I’d ever read,” says Executive Chef Francois de Mélogue. “I was like the secretary in the Tom Cruise movie Jerry McGuire, who grabbed the goldfish and went with him. I was responding to what his energy was, and I knew what my experience could bring to the table.”
Restaurateur Lee Morcus is well-versed in the food business. Since 1992, Morcus and his father Kaiser have opened several successful Kaiser Restaurants in the Coachella Valley and beyond. Immersed at an early age in the restaurant and hotel businesses owned by his father, the heart and soul of Morcus’ passion for food comes from his Lebanese roots and an idyllic childhood in rural southern Colorado.
Morcus’ grandfather owned the only grocery store in Del Norte — a small, former mining town supply center which blossomed into a hub for agriculture and ranching. His grandfather also farmed hay and alfalfa and raised cattle, sheep, chickens and pigs, and every meal started with homemade Lebanese yogurt (laban), labneh (a soft cheese made from laban), feta cheese, olives, hummus and fresh Syrian bread.
“My grandmother, mother and father were incredible cooks,” shares Morcus. “My grandfather milked his cows and made his own cheese. My fondest memories are about family and food and our daily routines, that daily life with my parents and grandparents.” Figue’s Executive Chef de Mélogue grew up in Chicago, spending summers at his family’s hotel in southern France. “My grandfather fed my pregnant mother copious amounts of foie gras and truffles to ensure that his grandson would be a gourmand,” jokes de Mélogue. “I grew up in a restaurant family with two very French parents and that is what life is about — farms, vineyards and whole, sustainable foods, well prepared.” Completing his culinary studies at the New England Culinary Institute in 1985, de Mélogue has garnered praise at restaurants across the country, including The Inn at South Newfane, Vermont, Le Margaux in Chicago, the Box Tree Inn in Purdys, New York, and the Brewery Gulch Inn of Mendocino.
Blending Morcus’ and de Mélogue’s culinary passions and high standards for organic, fresh ingredients, Figue stands out as a unique, engaging dining experience. Sophisticated and casual, the restaurant’s design lends itself to intimate enclaves and open, large-party slab wood tables with high ceilings and contrasting light fixtures.
And then there’s the food. In the spirit of the Mediterranean, everything on the menu may be shared. Beginning with cured meats like the legendary Jamon Iberico de Bellota or Creminelli wild boar salumi, and small plates such as kibbe (Lebanese lamb and bulgur wheat meatballs) with cucumber salad and hummus, or baked figs and prosciutto accompanied by house-made labne, kataifi (shredded, crunchy phyllo dough), pistachios and lavender honey, guests have the opportunity to try new and familiar dishes. And just for the record, de Mélogue is now curing Kuri Kuri pigs from Cook Pigs Ranch in Julian to make his own charcuterie.
Big plate entrees include halibut tagine — Moroccan-spiced halibut, roasted summer vegetable couscous; honey-brushed spit roast pork with fresh figs and potato puree; Elysian Fields lamb with potatoes Vesuvio and broccoli rabe; and new to the menu, deconstructed lamb saddle shawarma roasted six hours with a paste of garlic, cilantro and ginger and a house-made spice mix.
Whenever possible, de Mélogue uses locally grown produce, sourcing ingredients as close to home as possible — the menu changes seasonally. “I think we’re finding our core clientele are well traveled, and they know and enjoy food and are adventurous,” says de Mélogue. “Health-wise, people care about what they’re eating, just as we care about the quality of every ingredient we use.”
Side dishes include creamy polenta with Gruyere, San Marzano tomato sauce and fried basil; Moroccan carrots glazed with orange butter and toasted cumin; and ratatouille. Desserts include Barcelona Liegeois — iced espresso, chocolate sorbet, Marcona almonds and salted caramel; pistachio olive oil and fig cake with pomegranate sorbet; Marcona chocolate bombe — Valrhona chocolate mousse, toasted almonds and chocolate sauce; and compote of organic cherries with lemon verbena ice cream and lemon puffs.
“It sounds corny, but it’s food without compromise. We’re committed to buying the freshest, organic, best of everything we can,” says Morcus. “It’s all about the guest experience and at the core of the guest experience is the food.”
Figue offers occasional cooking classes with Executive Chef de Mélogue which generally include a three-course meal.
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.
The Figue Bar: Sunday through Wednesday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 4 p.m.to 12 a.m. Brunch is available on all major weekend holidays.
Location: 47474 Washington Street, La Quinta, 92253
Reservations: 760-698-9040, or for more information, visit eatfigue.com