When New Orleans is hit with a cold snap, it's not difficult to begin fantasizing about locales that are less chilly — and offer the blossoming scents of sweet olive and fresh citrus. Unless you're able to hop a jet to Cyprus, 1000 Figs — the brick-and-mortar restaurant spawned by the success of the Fat Falafel food truck — is your best bet for an edible vacation.
Nestled in the former home of Maple Street Book Shop's Bayou St. John location, 1000 Figs makes the most of a cozy space, creating an ambience that feels like a Mediterranean garden. Shelves are filled with potted plants and emerald sprouts shoot up towards the ceiling. The restaurant often is packed; diners waiting for a table can thumb through the restaurant's library of cookbooks. The most ingenious and charming space-saving measure is the placement of necessary dining accoutrements — knives, forks, napkins — in drawers built into the tables.
The restaurant serves what is unequivocally the city's best falafel. While the falafel sandwich popularized by the restaurant's food truck is still a multifaceted homage to the depth and breadth of vegetarian texture and flavor, the best way to sample falafel is by going with a group and ordering the "falafel feast" ($28). Served on a glistening platter, the falafel are perfectly crisp, with the golden brown orbs (with fluffy interiors) plated alongside an array of pickled carrots, beets, wheels of citrus and vinegar-tinged greens.
An impressive selection of dips and sauces plays a supporting role on the menu, but their complexity and thoughtfulness is not easily overlooked. The freshly made yogurt retains a lactose-heavy tanginess not often encountered, while a thin, nutty tahini lets its natural earthiness shine. 1000 Figs' hummus is creamy and serviceable, but the standout is the baba ghanoush, which arrives as a smoky swirl of eggplant that teases the palate with an undercurrent of parsley and garlic. The flatbread is perfectly toothy without any of the pitfall dryness characteristic of many local pita offerings, but it can occasionally arrive slightly gummy and undercooked in the restaurant's attempt to serve all menu items at the peak of freshness.
Roasted vegetable salad is an unlikely homage to barley as a new wave salad ingredient, with pearls of the grain in a wave of minty pesto and dappled with seashells of creamy, salty feta. It would be heartening to see barley replace quinoa, the ubiquitous "good for you" grain, providing diners with a healthy alternative that's significantly more robust and flavorful. The menu's additional salad option pairs a garlic-forward, lemony play on Caesar dressing with shreds of fresh kale and diminutive, dense croutons, while rings of char-grilled squid give a seaside, spit-fired sensitivity to the dish.
Brussels sprouts are a mainstay of contemporary menus, but few can rival the tangy, charred appeal of 1000 Figs' version, which possess both unmatched brightness and balsamic-inspired depth. The sprouts make an ideal side dish for the smoked chicken salad sandwich, which finds pulled slices of tender chicken coated in a refreshing, herbal rosemary mayonnaise between two thick pieces of chewy, rich semolina bread.
Patrons can bring their own alcohol, but it would be nice to see 1000 Figs develop a cocktail menu and wine list, if only to toast the menu's achievements.