accessAtlanta

City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Fig Jam Kitchen & Bar restaurant review, Atlanta

$$-$$$

$$-$$$

A short list on the side of the menu at Fig Jam Kitchen & Bar names the kitchen’s favorite farms and purveyors. This now common practice establishes a restaurant’s good-faith effort to source the best ingredients out there, perhaps local or organic.

John Kessler is the chief dining critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

John Kessler is the chief dining critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

But here we get a shoutout to Maple Leaf Farms, which you may know as North America’s largest provider of frozen and processed duck. This behemoth of quackage works with more than 150 suppliers and has partnered with a poultry producer in Shandong province, China. Drawing attention to Maple Leaf Farms duck is like bragging on Hillshire Farms sausage. Decent products, but . . .

Fig Jam tries very hard to walk the walk and talk the talk. It calls out its suppliers. It pours craft cocktails to tipple with cured meat boards, artisan cheeses and small plates. It displays stacks of firewood and fashions its chairs from rough-hewn wooden planking. Every detail here sets the stage for a modern American tavern with a sense of Southern place. Atlantans, with their hollow leg for bourbon cocktails and tasty pig parts, love this business.

Yet despite the trappings, Fig Jam is no American tavern. Chef Costanzo Astarita (one of the owners of hotspot Baraonda down the street) prepares an all-over-the-place menu that seems more Euro tapas bar than Southern public house. Rather than conjuring any sense of place, this cooking presents an eclectic free-for-all of unrelated ideas, and the finished plates often belie their menu descriptions. I have liked some of the dishes — and I can see how neighbors and shoppers trolling for a quick meal could learn to use and enjoy this spot. But, good grief, this is a real head-scratcher of a restaurant.

figjam1

Grilled Steak Flatbread, blue cheese, caramelized onions. (all photos by Becky Stein)

You can’t blame Astarita and his partners, Mario Maccarrone and Alin Cruceanu, for trying to put their spin on a popular format. When this team first took over this former Wolfgang Puck Express in South Buckhead, they attempted a near clone of Baraonda called Baroni, with a menu focused on pizza and pasta. When that didn’t pan out, they took another shot.

The menu here offers small, medium and large plates as well as a variety of signature flatbreads — giving diners the option to share or not. But if they are going to serve small plates, then they might consider investing in actual small plates: When two of us order five to share, we shouldn’t have to move to a larger table because the glossy, oversized china crowds the scene. That, or they might consider coursing out the food.

Duck confit with beets and parsnips

Duck confit with beets and parsnips

But we’re happy to dig into steamed Manila clams with cubes of spicy chorizo in a buttery, soppable sauce ($10). Lamb belly offers plenty of tender, fat-braised meat with a gamy flavor that cottons to its sweet bourbon-maple glaze and pickled vegetable garnish.

Just one strange thing: The meat is on a bone. I may have fallen asleep in my ovine anatomy class, but I’m not sure lamb bellies have bones. Might it be lamb breast or short rib?

The kitchen plays fast and loose with the menu at times. Our bowl of marcona almonds and olives ($6) contains no almonds. The waiter whisks it away when we point this out, only to return with a larger heap of olives. Guess what? No almonds.

The mini cheddar cheese sandwich ($4) brings a panini sloppily cut into bite-size pieces as you might prepare it for a toddler. The strange little dish of spicy apple chutney on the side seems an interloper.

Hot crab dip ($7) brings a cream-cheesy goo with not-quite-toasted almond slivers and wedges of naan to frost. Chicken skewers ($6), tender and well-cooked, don’t benefit from either the astringent mango relish beneath them or the grainy apple curry atop.

The more shareable plates crowd about, the more this restaurant doesn’t work. By the time a dry, chewy tangle of charred octopus legs ($10) with giant white beans and arugula finds a corner of the table, you may hit a food-confusion wall.

You might opt for actual entrees from the “large plates.” A Mediterranean seafood stew ($21) brings gobs of calamari, mussels, clams, shrimp and a fillet of seared fish in a spicy (if pasty) tomato broth. A Maple Leaf Farms duck confit leg ($16) over plain cubed beets and parsnips has a clean presence, and satisfies when you’re watching your carbs and your wallet. I probably wouldn’t shell out the $26 for a large, flat ribeye steak that arrives limp and uncharred off the grill.

But, really, this kitchen has a far better feel for Italian-style snack items. We didn’t try the meat and cheese boards, but they feature Italian prosciutto, La Quercia domestic coppa, Humboldt Fog cheese, Rogue River smoked blue cheese and other yummies. The flatbreads — including one with lamb sausage and feta ($10) and the other with steak, gorgonzola and caramelized onion ($12) — bring just the sharp, cheesy flavors you want to wash down with a glass of wine when you don’t feel like thinking about food. The one pasta, a generous portion of overstuffed mushroom ravioli with marsala cream sauce ($14), tries awfully hard to be liked, and succeeds.

The cocktail program, on the other hand, has more convincing to do. I liked well enough the five or six sips of Penicillin ($10) — a Dewar’s Scotch concoction goosed with lemon and ginger and served over ice in a sherry glass. I didn’t care much for the sweet mixture of Rittenhouse Rye and Cherry Heering called the Prince of Wales ($10) and served in a brandy snifter. Both seemed slight and forgettable — particularly when the wine list offers several Italian bottles for less than $35. Fig Jam won’t be a place where I’ll work up a serious bar bill trying the house cocktails.

But I might give it another spin if I’m in the neighborhood and need a quick, low-stress meal. I’ll just have to remember to read this overly ambitious menu with blinders on.

Fig Jam Kitchen & Bar
1745 Peachtree St., Atlanta, 404-724-9100
1stars5Food: Hard to define. Eclectic and bar-friendly fare.
Service: Very nice but can be a bit rough around the edges.
Best dishes: Flatbreads, sliders, duck confit, lamb appetizer
Vegetarian selections: Yes
Credit cards: All major
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays; 5-11:00 p.m. Saturdays; 4-10 p.m. Sundays.
Children: Fine
Parking: Self-parking in attached lot
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair access: Full
Smoking: No
Noise level: Moderate
Patio: Yes
Takeout: Yes
ratings_key_febUSE

17 comments Add your comment

FM Fats

May 3rd, 2012
9:53 am

Any comments on the recent inspection failures at Rathbun’s, Five Napkins, and Wisteria (and its sister joint Pozole)?

Mike

May 3rd, 2012
10:21 am

Will Phil Mickelson be dining there in the near future?

Jen

May 3rd, 2012
10:40 am

Is that star rating accurate? Didn’t seem like a 5-star review by any means

RK

May 3rd, 2012
11:04 am

Prince of Wales sounds like a cheaper riff on the excellent Blood and Sand, or a Manhattan — without the balance.

george

May 3rd, 2012
11:16 am

to my old geezer eyes, it looks (and reads) like a one star review which sounds about right.

Patrick

May 3rd, 2012
12:02 pm

Jen and George–John rated the restaurant only ONE out of five stars. Look closely and you will see there are five stars but only one is bolded.

It is easy to see how this could cause a little confusion, however.

A

May 3rd, 2012
12:31 pm

Where is Gene Lee? I noticed his name is not listed with the other writers on this page.

Jen

May 3rd, 2012
12:46 pm

Thanks – I embarrassingly blame the angle of my laptop screen for making it appear like all 5 were bold. Once star seems much more appropriate!

Ed Norton

May 3rd, 2012
1:09 pm

A, Gene left quite some time ago. He had a nice goodbye blog posted that stayed up for about a day (or less) and then disappeared. No explanation of the deletion of said blog was ever given.

Veggie

May 3rd, 2012
3:21 pm

A, it seems that Gene Lee slipped into the Bermuda Food Triangle. We will never know what became of Gene

Doc Hollidawg

May 3rd, 2012
4:18 pm

I think Gene got tired of getting bashed for his reviews (by some, not all) and all the negativity that pops up on these things (don’t believe it, go read the comments on the Zagat entry). Doc misses his take on the out of the ordinary cuisine that is out there.

turtle

May 4th, 2012
8:44 am

I am going to have to disagree with Mr Kessler. I have dined here a few times and always order the octopus, its always been tender and grilled to perfection and as long as they keep on serving it that way, I will be back! I also like their flat bread, clams and mussels. I can’t weigh in on the entrees as I haven’t ordered any, we always order a lot of small plates and share. I really like the ambiance in FIg Jam, cozy yet manly. I’m just happy to see a place doing farm to table with a different twist. Most of the Atlanta restaurants are all doing the exact same thing.( I was at 2 of the city’s so called top restaurants within a few days of each other and the menus were interchangeable…..get some creativity guys!) So while Fig Jam may not be perfect (yet), I applaud the effort and will be back!

FoodFan

May 4th, 2012
12:26 pm

I liked this place better as Baroni – it at least had a focus (Italian), with a short list of pastas, salads, and pizzas/flatbreads. There were 5 or 6 dishes in each category, and everything was good & reasonably priced for a neighborhood restaurant. This place now reeks of like a restaurant consultant coming in, changing the name (Fig Jam? Come on, awful, who wants to eat at a place called that?) and surveying the neighborhood to hit all bases (we’re Italian/Pizza/Mediterranean/sandwiches, all available in small/medium/or large sizes!) Do a little bit of everything, but nothing good of anything.

FourthWarder

May 4th, 2012
1:11 pm

Ate here about a month after it opened, did not have a great experience, but couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Then it dawned on me – it seemed as though the owners, kitchen team, and bar staff tried to replicate elements of other successful restaurants in town, but really had no idea how to execute the ideas. Cocktails on the menu seemed well thought out, but lacked any of the kind of balance that shines in a drink mixed with a deft hand. Menu items had trendy ingredients, but lacked the refinement that shows when a chef has handled those ingredients for years (lamb belly and octopus exemplified this). And ultimately, while the space was nice, and the staff affable enough, there was little attention to detail in the service and the experience as a whole – it seemed like many employees were first time restaurant workers, with errors on drinks, plates, and the check. I wish places like this would stop pretending and do something they can do well, not try to reach for the standards of the city’s other restaurants.

Kencpollock

May 4th, 2012
5:21 pm

I went once and thought the food was pretty good. I will not be back, however, as the air-head waitress said “fantastic” only thirteen times.

danielle

May 6th, 2012
10:39 am

brian

May 6th, 2012
2:19 pm