Owner Gianni Chiloiro scrubbed his more casual Pasta? concept and rechristened the restaurant in January ("Figo" roughly translates to "cool" as in to be cool), reconstituting, remodeling, redefining the space. New chairs, tables, contemporary lighting, and wood and art-glass partitions were added. An Italian brick oven capable of reaching 900 degrees was installed for pizza baking. The space was lightened up. The bar and dining rooms are still separate spaces but much more eloquently delineated.
For lunch one day, I ordered the organic greens salad ($8) with cherry tomatoes and house vinaigrette. Someone in the kitchen must have mixed up proportions; there was so much vinegar my eyes teared and I choked on the first bite. The replacement salad was nearly devoid of dressing.
Fortunately, the meal was saved by the excellent orecchiette with sausages ($14). The ear-shaped pasta evenly held the slightly piquant tomato sauce. Fresh parmesan was grated on table-side. The plating was artistic and appetizing.
That day, I was drinking ice tea, and despite my having an empty glass for most of the meal, the only refill came after I paid the bill and was gathering my belongings to depart.
Dinner appetizers were uniformly good. Brussels sprouts salad ($9) was a personal favorite. The sprouts had been sauteed with crispy pancetta, ricotta, mushrooms, caramelized onions and white balsamic vinegar. The mushrooms added little in flavor or texture, but overall it was an excellent starter.
One evening, my companion ordered the sformato di gamberi ($11), a flan of shrimp, asparagus and mascarpone blanketed with a shellfish bisque. Unfortunately, the waiter wrote the wrong item and my dining companion was delivered an excellent shrimp cocktail ($13) instead, with fresh burrata mozzarella, chopped tomatoes and basil dressing.
Realizing his mistake, the waiter offered to bring the correct dish. My companion, though, was happy with the shrimp cocktail and told him so. A half hour later, when we were three-quarters finished with our entrees, the waiter brought the sformato and plunked it on the table. We didn't know what to make of that.
I am happier to report that the sformato patate ($11), a flan of potatoes, zucchini and mascarpone cheese with a "truffle parmesan fondue," was well-prepared, savory, and gooey-delicious.
The house-made gnocchetti ($19) with duck ragu, parsley pesto and shaved Montasio cheese, a soft cow's cheese from northeast Italy, was ambrosial. The ragu was meaty-lush and thick, the gnocchetti the size of miniature marshmallows and just as soft. Mouthwatering dish.
The pleasantly aromatic agnello scottadito ($28) was a rack of grass-fed Australian lamb with mushrooms and roasted potatoes. The four long-ribbed bones were plump with juicy meat despite their long voyage.
The grilled Mediterranean branzino filet ($26), skewered and enveloped in artichoke hearts, was served with a cake of sauteed farro and vegetables. The fish was fresh and the slightly bitter artichokes coaxed out subtle flavors of the sea bass.
One visit I reserved just for the pizza. With house-made dough, the Figo pizza ($19) was topped with aged Parma prosciutto, house-made burrata mozzarella and wild arugula. When the pizza was delivered, I drooled. Sadly, it was barely warm and cold by the time I got to the second slice. At that hour, there was only a handful of other diners: no reason for cold pizza.
As for desserts, I loved Figo's take on tiramisu ($8). It was more pudding-like than the traditional cake and was served in a bowl instead of on a plate. Even so, all the ingredients were in evidence with a bit of added whimsy: a long ladyfinger impaled in the cake.
Not so successful was the pistachio panna cotta ($8). Panna cotta should be amongst the lightest of desserts. This version could have been cut with a knife and fork. It was dense, rubbery and unappealing.
For libations, Figo boasts a full bar with specialty cocktails. On the wine side, labels are split between the West Coast and Italy except for one inexplicable Argentine label. Prices are under control with bottles starting at $34. More than two dozen wines are available by the glass.
I am not sure where the disconnect is at Figo. The kitchen is more than capable, the waitstaff sincere and friendly, the ambiance pleasing. It could be a lack of staff communication, lack of training, lack of restaurant instincts. Diners shouldn't find experiences flawed on multiple visits. Figo could be one of the best places to dine downtown, but until they tighten up their service, it is just another place to eat on University Avenue.
326 University Ave., Palo Alto
Lunch: Weekdays 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: Mon.-Thurs. 5-10 p.m.; Fri. 5-11 p.m. Also open Sat. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. and Sun. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Parking: city lots
Alcohol: full bar
Outdoor dining: no
Private parties: no
Noise level: moderate
Bathroom cleanliness: good