Venue Review: Figs by Todd English
Restaurant details: Hours, directions, more
What do we seek in a mall restaurant?
I ask this question because I suspect we seek something more than just food-court fare — or otherwise, we’d be forever chowing down on Sbarro’s pizza and Mrs. Fields cookies. At the same time, we don’t want complicated (or pricey) fare, either. We’ve got to save our mental energy (and money) for the shopping.
All that tells you why the recently opened Figs by Todd English, in Macy’s at The Gardens Mall, is already proving itself such a winner. This is a stylish restaurant, food- and décor-wise, that’s a cut above chain dining and that speaks to the sophisticated Mediterranean ideal that has made celeb chef Todd English such a respected name.
But it’s also a casually affordable restaurant that appeals to everyday eaters. Yes, there’s a fig pizza on the menu — a fig and prosciutto pizza, to be exact — but there’s also a fairly traditional pepperoni pie (dubbed the “Bronx Bomber”) as well.
First, a few thoughts on the décor. It’s significant that the eatery can be entered from both outside and inside Macy’s — that automatically tells you that Figs isn’t a “store” restaurant. (And there are other Figs locations around the country not affiliated with Macy’s.) The look confirms it: The feel is Napa Valley-meets-rustic Italian, with a big pizza oven commanding attention in the front and a wine bar taking center stage in the main dining area. In a word, it’s inviting.
The menu is short and to the point, almost equally divided among a few salads, a few pasta dishes, a few pizzas and a few entrees. The wine list is similarly brief, with an emphasis on New World selections in the $30 to $60 range — the two reds I tried paired well with the food, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wouldn’t mind a few more choices.
Your server will start you off with some airy focaccia, which goes beautifully with the high-quality olive oil. After that, I’d suggest trying a salad — say, the roasted beet salad ($8). With its perfect mix of ingredients — beets, roasted red onions, oranges, arugula and a mild goat cheese, all tossed in a pomegranate vinaigrette — it speaks to English’s vibrant approach to food. It’s got all the flavors and textures you could ever want in a salad: sweet and sour, crunchy and creamy. It’s also a better choice than a somewhat oily gazpacho ($7) and an overly dressed warm bacon salad ($6.50).
You could, however, order a pizza ($9 to $12.75 for a small, $14 to $18.75 for a large) as a perfectly shareable appetizer — or you could make it your main meal. Either way, you won’t go wrong. The restaurant turns out a marvelous pie — crisp, beautifully constructed and plentiful in size (order a large and you’ll likely be taking a few slices home).
The signature fig and prosciutto pizza ($12 for small, $18.50 for large) is the must-have item. Again, English crafts recipes that explode with flavors of all kinds, but manage to work in tandem. There’s sweetness from the fig and balsamic jam, but there’s also savoriness from the prosciutto and rosemary-laced crust. The tie that binds? A gorgonzola cheese that lends both creaminess and a nice tang to the pie. I don’t think I’ve had a better pizza all year.
Otherwise, you can try a pasta: I’d go with an upscale mac ‘n’ cheese — Macaroni SIMONE ($11.75) — with cheddar, peas and garlic bread crumbs. The trick to the dish is that it’s prepared to order, so the cheese is still soft and runny when the bowl arrives to your table. With entrees, fish offerings are first-rate, whether you’re talking a pan-roasted salmon ($17), served in zesty fashion with a cilantro cous cous, or a special one night of wood-grilled mahi mahi ($13), also paired with cous cous. Even a burger ($9.50 as a special) transcends the ordinary by virtue of quality ingredients — beef, bun and all.
The dessert list is also small (and on one of my visits, the kitchen already was out of every item save the gelati). But if you want to end your meal with something sweet, there’s a decadent chocolate bread pudding ($6.95).
Service generally conforms to the ideal of the restaurant — casual, friendly and intelligent. The staff knows their way around the menu, though I wish the waiter on my first visit didn’t play the game of trying to commit the order to memory. (He also failed to ask what size pizza we wanted and simply put in an order for a large.) On the second visit, a polished pro took charge who took pains to de-crumb the table — a courtesy you don’t always expect in a restaurant at this price level.
And what about Todd English? Unfortunately, if you come to the restaurant hoping for an autograph, you’ll likely be disappointed. The chef, who gained fame for his Olives restaurant in Massachusetts and his PBS show Cooking with Todd English, paid an early visit to the South Florida Figs, but that’s about it.
Still, it’s his concept, through and through. And when it comes to mall dining, it’s a concept that can’t be beat.