“I was covered in flour as a kid,” says Yousef Ghalaini, Executive Chef at FIG Restaurant at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows in Santa Monica. The Lebanese chef would run around his grandparent’s home, situated above their family bakery. That experience was the inspiration for his unique charred “bread balloon,” an oversized pillow of airy delight peppered with spices like zaatar, sumac and vadouvan. Diners are encouraged to partake in the communal experience of tearing off pieces of steaming fresh bread and dunking it into bowls of hummus, labneh with Persian cucumbers and sumac, muhamara with charred green olives or curried lentils.
“The idea of simply prepared food using products with excellent provenance has come full circle for me,” Ghalaini says. “We enjoy serving uncomplicated food at FIG, and that’s what we always do.” Like Lebanon, situated on the Mediterranean Sea, FIG offers ocean-side dining, with easy access to king salmon, halibut and fresh cod from Monterey; the seasonal restaurant also heavily features produce from the Santa Monica Farmers Market.
“The Santa Monica Farmers Market draws product from all over California and really drives what we serve at FIG,” Ghalaini says. “The colors that are present during each season are remarkable and make for a great palette for our dishes. I’m also deeply inspired by what I eat—I try to incorporate live fire cooking techniques into our systems from all over the world––I think that diversity shows the great history of cooking with live fire.”
To further showcase its Mediterranean fare, FIG just launched an outdoor dinner series, a monthly collaborative effort featuring a family-style menu and its own house wine from the Santa Maria Valley.
FIG has also introduced a “grab and go” option to meet the needs of the business lunch crowd. “We pride ourselves on being a locals’ restaurant year-round—a well-kept secret that locals frequent for a drink after work or to entertain out-of-town visitors during the week,” Ghalaini says.
An interior redesign breathed fresh life into the bright space last summer, including introducing a wood-fired oven and grill from which Ghalaini churns out signature dishes, such as wood-smoked manila clams with thyme and pepper relish or wood-grilled wild sea bass. “Wherever that fire is,” Ghalaini says, “that’s where I’ll be.”