The worst thing that can be said about Fig Jam Kitchen & Bar (1745 Peachtree St., 404-724-9100, www.figjamatlanta.com), the new meat-centric restaurant in the Brookwood Square shopping center, is that it feels like a derivative, shopping center version of Holeman and Finch, the sophisticated and celebrated casual palace of meat and booze just a mile to the north. Maybe that's a harsh way to put it, but it's also exactly what Fig Jam has done right. If Atlanta is going to have derivative restaurants aimed at a shopping center crowd, we can only hope that they be derivative of good places, right?
Chef Costanzo Astarita, of Baraonda and Publik Draft House fame, has put together a menu that, while not ambitious in size, has enough plates in mostly small and medium portions to facilitate some exploring. There are cured meats and good cheeses. There are uncommon cuts — quail airline breast, lamb belly — for the adventurous eater. And most of it is executed with a precision that a barely just-opened restaurant should be proud of.
The tiny quail breasts are served with a smear of blackberry glaze across the plate. I was skeptical of the glaze, but it turned out to be a basically perfect small-plate pairing: tender, juicy bites of meat and a sauce that actually captures the rich, nearly savory flavor of blackberries with just a touch of sweetness. The charred octopus was downright delicate and served with a small, cold salad of large white beans and a few small arugula leaves. The duck confit was great, too, served as it was with unusually crisp skin.
Aside from a boring green salad that I ordered more or less out of health guilt, those arugula leaves were the only fresh green thing that ended up on our table. Fig Jam is unabashedly about the meat.
The lamb belly, a cut that's tricky to work with, was chewy when it should be crispy and slathered in a bourbon maple sauce that didn't work for me. The marinated vegetables served with the belly were fine, but it's hard not to compare them unfavorably to the remarkable in-house pickling happening at places like Empire State South and Holman and Finch. The menu is varied — an Asian dish here, an Italian dish there — which gives me hope that it won't be limited in experimenting with dishes in the future.
While the cocktail list developed by Publik alum Eddie Johnson looks promising, it still needs some work. The Fig Jam, a concoction of vodka, maple syrup, lemon juice, and rhubarb bitters topped off with a sliver of preserved fig, had a nice balance of sweet and bitter flavors but ultimately was too watered down. The Sazerac I had tasted too much like simple syrup and not enough like the boozy, stiff drink it should be. A moonshine and champagne cocktail it's calling Apple in the Sky was a winner, though, in part because the flavors were bright and undiluted. If Fig Jam wants to have a sophisticated cocktail program, like the menu suggests, it'll have to switch from the standard restaurant ice chips, which melt too easily and water down flavors.
The service is casual nearly to a fault. The music sticks to middle-of-the-road classic rock radio hits, which is a perfect choice if you want to constantly be reminded that you're eating in the shopping center of a family-friendly neighborhood. A quick consultation with songs not written by AC/DC and Bob Seger might lend some finesse to the otherwise warm and inviting ambiance. I say that with the utmost respect to Mr. Seger.
If my complaints sound like nit-picking, it's only because Fig Jam hits close to the mark of a good restaurant. Most of the kinks — bad music, bad ice — can be cleared up easily. The place doesn't seem to be aiming for greatness; rather, it aspires to just be a good neighborhood restaurant. That's welcome news — this is trickle-down gastronomy in action. We'd be lucky if more neighborhood restaurants started paying as much attention to detail as Fig Jam has.