A sleepy Sunday morning in Sonoma County found us sipping brunch beverages at the delightful Girl and the Fig near leafy green Vallejo Home State Park. We had just visited Marin Civic Center Farmer’s Market, where I could not help gorging on the painfully fresh local produce cut up into neat little slices for sampling. I tried heirloom tomatoes in every shade of yellow, orange and red. I picked at smoked tofu, tangy sheep’s milk cheeses, juicy chunks of white peach. I even managed to stain my crispy clean white blouse with homemade chimichurri, which dropped down as I bit into a ball of spicy falafel doused in it. And I didn’t even mind.
Point is, I wasn’t really hungry when we got to Girl and the Fig. I had already indulged on the fat of the land and was itching to start visiting the wineries I had come to see. But our host insisted their Sunday brunch was worth the stop so I gave it a chance. On retrospect I realize that my experience was very much affected by my priorities for the day. Despite how good the food was, our server made mistakes and when he did it annoyed me all the more. Overall, however, it was by no means a negative experience. The dishes we tried had the purity of a sun-kissed weekend in Wine Country, clean flavors and a bright white feel, as bright and white as my blouse had been earlier that morning…
To start off, I ordered the Fig Royale, their signature cocktail of house-made fig syrup and French sparkling wine. This was a pretty cool twist on the classic Kir Royal made with Champagne and blackcurrant liqueur. A delightfully dainty, fluted little thing that combines a light bubbly with the sticky sweet, almost rotten ripe flavor of fig. Not overwhelmingly sugary altogether, as the bubbles cut the caramelized sweetness. It actually ends on a slightly bitter note, which is perfect for a gal who enjoys a good palate-cleansing aperitif, especially after a medley of artisanal awesomeness and before what looks to be a very filling brunch.
We ordered a cheese plate with a mix of what sounded like some fantastic imported French and local cheeses, a board that Girl and the Fig seems to be known for. Unfortunately our server forgot to note it down, a fact we didn’t realize until the mains had already come out. When we told him, he brought out a smaller “pardon” board which had all of what I assume to be their usual accouterments and one small wedge of nutty Comté for the three of us to share. It was a nice gesture which would’ve been better received had he actually brought out the triage of cheeses we initially ordered along with the apology cheese. As it was we were forced to base our opinion on their sélection de fromage on the one he chose, which happened to be nutty and ripe but not really the stinky, gunky-funky stuff I’m into. It was also imported from the Jura Mountains of Franche-Comté, by no means local to California so it didn’t really satisfy my drive to try an assortment of local and imported stuff. The thick, chewy puck of fig cake was nice, though a little dry with an already pretty hard cheese. The fig compote and toasted hazelnuts were pretty rad.
To share, we ordered the Heirloom Tomato Salad, which came out as a tower of red and crimson tomato and slices of juicy watermelon, a vinaigrette of yellow tomato and lemon, some crumbled feta and fresh oregano. Maldon sea salt and cracked black pepper sprinkled over the top. Besides just being beautiful in general, the tomatoes were perfectly ripe and very flavorful. The fully developed sweetness of the in-season watermelon was offset by the tartness of the feta and the citric acidity of the vinaigrette. A great example of showcasing beautiful local produce, though I think either just the vinaigrette or the cheese would’ve been enough to accompany the striking tomatoes.
My friend ordered their Eggs Benedict, of which she generously gave me a few big bites. Fluffy, soft poached eggs lain atop smokey, salty applewood-smoked ham and splashed with a very frothy, relatively light hollandaise. The Eggs Ben were served on fresh house-made focaccia, speckled with aromatic thyme, which achieved the perfect combination of crispy crust with chewy, eggy center. On the side were some fantastically crunchy home fries to dip into the leftover hollandaise. Not too interesting a dish, more of a very well-executed classic.
Another eggy brunch dish that I got to try off my other friend’s plate was the Duck Confit & Potato Hash. Two delicate, jiggly poached eggs gingerly lowered onto a mound of tender, moist duck confit and cubed potato hash that was spotted here and there with pearl onions, cubes of carrot and some chewy, very salty applewood-smoked bacon cubes to help the duck out with some extra piggy flavor. Across the eggs lay a few charred strands of green onion which added a smokey flavor along with a sweet, caramelized one. The latter had reached a stage where it retained a firm texture but most of the heat had left, giving way to the dulzor of caramelized veggie sugars. Altogether a very colorful summertime brunch dish with a good harmony of flavors and textures.
I ended up ordering the Stuffed Brioche French Toast, which was unfortunately the only underwhelming dish on the table. Two very thick slices of buttery brioche were smeared with sweetened Bellwether Farms fromage blanc. Some lemon rind was sprinkled over the sweet cheese and a pool of huckleberry compote added a vibrant purple hue and some earthy berry flavor at the base of the plate. The French toast was lopsided, with a thicker layer of cheese on one end than the other. Unknowingly, I started my journey through the thing from the less cheesy side, where the ratio of brioche to moist filling resulted in bites that were dry, dull and yeasty. As the bread was also very dense, by the time I got to the “interesting” end, positively gushing with the fromage blanc, I was full. The last few stuffed bites were a nice dessert for my friends.
Despite being quite full already, we opted for the Salted Fig Caramel Sundae as the final sweet thing to end on. This turned out to be sort of a mess, as the kitchen forgot to add the caramel. While the ice cream was quite good (fluffy and very floral in flavor, a nice boost added by the chantilly) and the brownie bites were gooey and warm, it’s unacceptable for the signature dessert at a restaurant called “Girl and the Fig” to forget the fig caramel. It’s unacceptable for the server to rush back and get some a congealed little pool of the stuff in a little metal shot glass and table-side spoon-slap it onto our ice cream. It’s also not acceptable for the that dessert to appear on the check, as it was certainly not what we had ordered. By the time the hardened caramel was applied, the ice cream had melted into vanilla soup, the brownies had cooled, cocoa nibs and brandied cherries had been picked out of the bowl. And the signature fig flavor was nowhere to be found. Good thing I got some of that in my cocktail!
I wasn’t in the best of moods when we left as the oversights in service, no matter how minor they seemed, left a bad taste in my mouth. It seemed our server had already given up hope of getting a nice tip from our table after his first mistake and so for the rest of the meal, he gave up correcting the others. It’s a shame, really, since the food was pretty decent.