Friday March 01, 2013 | 01:00 AM

When Lee Farrington announced in late December that she was closing her restaurant, Figa, the reaction from fans brought sharp cries of “Why?” 

Had she fallen ill, suffered a personal tragedy or gone into financial rack and ruin?  No one would say, much less Farrington herself  

As it turned out family exigencies presaged business at hand.  Farrington needed time off to handle matters at home and rethink Figa’s future.

Running a restaurant is more than just a full-time job. It can be a grueling seven day a week grind that leaves everything and everyone else in a chef’s life in the dust.

From the dining public’s point of view we don’t really notice what goes on behind closed (or open) kitchen doors.

Figa's bar is charnming and inviting and the banquettes roomy and comfy

Restaurants are like great performances.  We go to be entertained by the maestro of cuisine to enjoy a memorable meal for which we’re willing to pay good money. Do we also need to know the dramas that lurk?

The waitstaff is ever attentive and fellow diners make friends easily

Regarding Figa, by all accounts it was a success since it opened in the fall of 2010.  After all, a 20-seat establishment with a talented, energetic chef with excellent credentials at the helm can’t help but succeed if the food is good. And it was.

Yet shortly after it closed, I heard that Figa was sort of up and running again.  Dinner, at the chef’s whim, was being offered on Friday and Saturday nights.  On other nights it morphed into an events only hall--a kind of gustatory pay-per-view venue.

Farrington was looking for a way to make things different if not more exciting for her too.  But in the end is a restaurant no more than the sum of its parts where diners happily go to dine?

I immediately called up to catch the wave and secure a table.  

Dining at the bar is favored by many patrons at Figa

I went there for dinner last Friday and had a brilliantly satisfying meal.  The menu wasn’t much different from before.  But it was arranged by plate and serving size.  With “Tastes,”  “Bigger Plates” and “Sweet Side,” this still comes off to me as a crazy quilt of courses.

The restaurant is as charming as ever. With its rustic space, cozy bar, open kitchen and easy vibes, it’s all so very European without the stark modernist lines so  favored by  the hipster-hog elite who rove and rant to eat.

From the choice of small plates we ordered Maine shrimp set over chickpea pancakes lightly bathed with caramelized onions touched by a hot  spark of jalapeno. Another shared plate of tandoor chicken bites was  bracingly good contrast.

A savory serving of Maine shrimp set over a chickpea pancake

Tandoor chicken bites with yogurt dipping sauce

The couple sitting next to us insisted that I photograph their beautiful plate of roast beets in Sherry vinaigrette

The Mediterranean platter in all its glorious goodness

We weren’t ready for the Bigger Plates (aka entrees) yet because we couldn’t pass up the Mediterranean Board—a monumental arrangement of hummus, baba ganoush, local feta and house made Greek style naan—a vegan’s paradise.


 
The duck breast was perfectly cooked, pink and butter-soft tender

Pan-seared mahi in an exotic fennel broth

My main course of exquisite slices of duck breast with miso braised cabbage was beautifully, perfectly done as was my partner’s pan-seared mahi over quinoa floating in a delicate fennel ginger broth.  Desserts were simple: an espresso granite and lemon budino.

Very refreshing, icy espresso granita

Lemon budino

Before we left I went up to Lee to say how much we enjoyed dinner and glad that she was back. 

But then she dropped her bombshell.  Figa would be closed again, this time for about two months.  She still needed to rethink her concept, tidy up her home life and figure it all out.

I didn’t understand.  If it ain’t broke why fix it?

Entrepreneurial chefs everywhere are vying to dip their cups into the great river of creativity's fortune and fame.  Some, however,  wind up  dry docked probing with the  platypus frying their newborn eggs.

To be sure I’ve fallen into the trap of attending trendy evenings of dining and exploration: From pop-up dining extravaganzas in rooms better meant for cold storage--to the time I went to one of those shanty tasting rooms where the aim was to see who could eat the most without cursing and sweating over a 20 course meal. 

My favorite folly was the big city chef who dreamed up the idea of diners building their own menu.  It was like putting a nickel into the slot at an Automat cubby to get Jell-O and egg salad and a slap in the face by the recalcitrant attendant behind the glass door.

PS:  A note from Figa on its newly revised website.

FIGA is taking some time off to re group.
Thanks to those who came out this month of February
to dine with us on our weekend series.
Looking forward to being back April or May.

Cheers!

 

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John Golden has written about food, dining and lifestyle subjects for Downeast magazine, the Boston Globe, Cottages and Gardens magazine, Gourmet magazine, Cuisine magazine, the New York Times and the New York Post.

In his highly opinionated blog, John reports on his experiences dining out all over Maine and his visits with food personalities, farmers and farmers’ markets throughout the state.

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