I visit La Quinta at least a few times per year. And while it's typically easy to find a restaurant with a beautiful outdoor dining area, I find it much harder to get a really good meal, particularly one with anything that could be described as contemporary, interesting, unusual.
But one place definitely worth talking about is the very recently opened Figue Mediterranean Restaurant in La Quinta. While I wasn't the one in my party who chose to dine there, in reviewing their website, one thing immediately caught my attention. The chef at Figue, Francois de Melogue, was previously the chef at Pili.Pili here in Chicago, a restaurant I loved for a few years (and which was reviewed very positively) but now miss terribly.
In any event, Chef Melogue seems to be putting out much of the same outstanding food he did at Pili.Pili. In fact, I might have enjoyed this meal more than any at Pili.Pili.
As for food, we shared a few appetizers: a terrific Margherita pizza, which offered a beautifully charred crust and excellent quality fresh tomatoes and basil. There was also an excellent Mediterrano salad - feta, red onion, red pepper, olives, pine nuts and date leather (like a fruit roll-up in texture) - which had a nice sweet, salty, briny flavor combination and great quality ingredients. My favorite appetizer was either the pizza or the seared scallops served in a delicious carrot-saffron sauce.
One other item on the menu that really caught my attention was the chickpea frites served as an accompaniment to the chicken tagine dish. One of my very favorite items at Pili.Pili was the panisse (i.e., chickpea frites). I asked if we could get them as a side, and they happily obliged. Interestingly, the owner was making rounds, and when he came over, he mentioned that no one had ever asked for the chickpea frites on their own, and he was curious what led me to want them as a side. I explained that I loved them at Pili.Pili and I knew the chef was from there. Shortly thereafter, Chef Melogue came over and said hello and was very appreciative of the kind words and talked about how he's essentially recreating and improving upon what he did at Pili.Pili in Chicago at Figue.
More importantly, the panisse were every bit as great as I remember them being at Pili.Pili - thick, with a soft interior yet lightly crisp exterior, and with just the perfect seasoned chickpea flavor. I suggested they make these a separate item on the menu - they're just so addictive. I've attached an unfortunately poor cell phone picture.
But to simply focus on the panisse would be a disservice to what they're doing at Figue. For my main course, I had the Fideua and it was also terrific. A very generous portion of perfectly cooked lobster, along with perfectly cooked shrimp and clams, rouille, all atop a saffron scented pasta.
I also tasted the gnocchi, which were light as a feather, and served with a delicious and rich pork and porcini ragu. Overall, a really outstanding meal and a must visit if you're in the area - a very short drive from the La Quinta resort and the Indian Wells resort, and less than 15 minutes from the Marriott resort.
So although I continue to miss Pili.Pili, I'm happy that I'll once again be able to enjoy Chef Melogue's food, and probably a few times a year.
Figue Mediterranean Restaurant
47474 Washington St.
La Quinta, CA 92253