Dining Out

At Fig in Atascadero, the parsnip finds a home

Restaurant owner and chef Chris Dillow uses the root vegetable in soups, salads, stews, snacks and more

Special to The TribuneJanuary 3, 2013 

  • Fig Good Food

    5945 Traffic Way (near the corner of El Camino Real), Atascadero | 460-9900 | www.figgoodfood.com

    Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday and Saturday; closed Sunday (and occasionally for catering events)

    The scene: This tiny eatery only has 14 seats, Earth-friendly containers and utensils provided for takeout.

    The cuisine: Bold, fun flavors featuring seasonal ingredients in full meals and/or sides.

    Expect to spend: Daily specials vary, most items about $8 to $15, whole chicken with two sides $22; sides, soups, small meals start at $4.

Chris Dillow’s Fig Good Food opened in 2009, immediately proving that good tastes can indeed come from small kitchens.

The tiny Atascadero eatery takes great pride in showcasing market-fresh ingredients in salads, sandwiches, pastas, rotisserie meats, sides and inventive daily specials.

Among Dillow’s stints in the county’s restaurant scene was operating the distinctive Harmony Pasta Factory in the historic Creamery with her husband, Dennis, as well as 12 years at Big Sky Café, where she was “influenced greatly by (owner) Charles Myers.”

What’s your favorite local/seasonal ingredient that you’re currently using?

I have to say “favorite” is fleeting, but currently I am enjoying the underdog of root vegetables — the parsnip, which is high in potassium and has more vitamins than a carrot. When I cook, I do consider the nutritional value, especially when preparing vegetable dishes and soups; I don’t want to overcook so that the nutrients are diminished and texture obliterated. How are you currently using parsnips?

Right now my favorite dish with parsnips is our “Spicy Vegetables” listed under Wholesome Bowls on the menu — a julienned medley of parsnips, butternut squash and yams with cauliflower florets roasted in olive oil, cumin, curry, coriander and a secret spice (I’ll tell you if you ask). On its own, it’s a great meal for health conscious people; we’ve also featured it with lamb kabobs and lemony rice pilaf with pine nuts, and with our citrus-ginger glazed rotisserie chicken; it also nicely pairs with our Moroccan chickpea and lentil stew. Our Fig menu is made to mix-and-match flavors to suit your tastes.

How do these dishes represent your culinary style/background/philosophy?

My background is in managing the “front of house,” as we say in restaurants. For 25 years the hospitality/service part of a meal was my greatest concern. Now, three years into my kitchen debut, I look forward to people loving my food. While my style as a cook is unpretentious and as simple as knowing when to let the good quality ingredients shine, I also enjoy weaving unique and surprising flavors into my food when it’s right.

How would home cooks approach parsnips in their own kitchens?

Parsnips are so inexpensive. Just buy some and experiment. Boil and mash them with mashed potatoes. Put them in a green salad or in beef stew. For the more adventurous, take a vegetable peeler and peel thin slices onto parchment paper, brush them with olive oil, shake some smoked salt on them, then bake into wispy crisps. Use this same idea as a vegetarian alternative to bacon on a BLT — weight down the parsnips on the parchment so it’s flat enough for the sandwich.

What’s your favorite dish to cook at home?

I really enjoy a light version of Pad Thai noodles. No peanut butter, rather chopped peanuts, mung beans, carrots, parsnips, green onions, tamari, sambal, garlic, very little brown sugar, lots of lime juice and lots of cilantro with pasta I make from scratch (commercial rice noodles are wonderful, too). I’ve made it with chicken tenders, but it is with firm tofu that I love it the best; the tofu keeps the clean lime and cilantro flavors alive.

What’s your favorite food and wine pairing?

With all that talk of spicy vegetables, curry, lamb, sambal, etc., I choose beer, probably Figueroa Mountain Organic IPA. But if you must get back to wine pairing ... a glass of red wine paired with my day off is quite nice!

Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at ktbudge@sbcglobal.net.

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