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Côte d'Azur Riviera


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In some circles the Côte d'Azur has a bad reputation for food.  And it is indeed possible to eat very badly there.  There is a theorem in culinary economics to the effect that transient and uncritical tourists lead to terrible food.  And as some friends have complained, usually after reading Peter Mayle, "after all, the Côte d'Azur isn't Provence".

This last claim is at least debatable because the boundaries of Provence are vague.  The entire area, right through to the Italian border, is part of the region called PACA (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur).  Julia Child, the American television cook, wrote lyrically of her "home in Provence", which turns out to be in Placassier, firmly in the Alpes Maritimes.  Robert Carrier's Feasts of Provence starts out in Nice and works its way west.  Perhaps Provence is a state of mind.  Or, as the priest in our village firmly asserts, perhaps it no longer exists.

In any event it is also possible to eat good interesting things there.  There seem to be two rules: first, get away from the coast and up into the hills; second, find areas where there are lots of restaurants and the people care a lot about what they eat.

There are exceptions to the first rule.  I have had some wonderful meals at Don Camillo, in Nice, even after Franck Cerruti went to run Ducasse's palace in Monaco.  And although Clément Bruno's reputation is overhyped, his Nice outpost, "Terres de Truffes" (truffleland!) had interesting, well prepared dishes, all of them, desserts included, made with truffles.  Bacon, in Antibes, makes a mean bouillabaiise; the fish is very fresh and carefully chosen, and if you can get a table overlooking the water, the place is magic in the early evening.

But for the most part we have had better luck up in the hills.  In Peillon, L'Auberge de la Madone is still good, and the service and setting exceptional.  In Grasse, we recently had the "menu découverte" (tasting menu) at the Bastide St Antoine, an absolutely outstanding dinner.  The approach to the Bastide is not impressive: you drive through a road filled with used car lots and rather dodgy looking small factories.  But the place itself is lovely, the staff young and enthusiastic and the food superb.  A first dish of truffled morels with a just-cooked egg, then scallops with artichokes, tiny "pistes" (squid) on a chick-pea mousseline.  Then sea bass, langoustines, and an astonishing roast of veal that had been rubbed with dry capers, cheeses, and two fruit-based desserts.  The flavours were, right from the start, almost explosive but always very clear and clean, and we left the table feeling refreshed but not overly full.  We drank a ch. Simone 1999 and a Crozes-Hermitage 2000 (Domaine Robin).  And the Bastide offers non-smoking rooms.

We had another very good dinner at Maximin, in Vence, though the service was not nearly as warm nor the dishes quite as well prepared.

The second rule is a corollary of another theorem of culinary economics: tough local competition coupled with discriminating local demand makes for good eating.  This is the basis of "clustering" -- as with the Italian ceramics makers or the German manufacturers of printing equipment.  When local customers will insist that the newspaper send a messenger to replace a morning newspaper where some of the ink is smudged,  and when there are lots of companies making printing presses and inks, you can bet that the quality is good.

We've found that this rule generally applies in Mougins, a tiny town surrounded by something like 50 restaurants.  Yes, it is true that Vergé and the Moulin de Mougins have slipped.  Apart from an astonishing truffled squash blossom, the food last year was unremarkable and the service sad and haphazard.  Locals tell me that this decline started when Vergé quarreled (unsuccessfully) with the village over a motorway extension, which now cuts the Moulin off from the old village and brings noise close to the "bit of Provence" that it seeks to create.  Now, the main clientele seems to arrive in tour coaches from Cannes and Nice.  It was easy to see why the Moulin slipped from three Michelin stars, hard to understand why it retained even one.  Yet this year it has jumped back to two stars, so perhaps there is hope for this place.

Outside the Moulin, though, there is very good eating in Mougins.  La Terrasse, in the old village, can deliver superb meals. We had wonderful fish at the just-reopened Mas Candille, where the entire restaurant is non-smoking.  The critical and caring attitude about food extends to the lower-end restaurants as well, and to the butchers in town, the fishmonger, the vegetable merchant and the numerous bakeries in this small village.  The only places to avoid are the low-end Vergé outpost in the old village, L'Amandier, and the Feu Follet.  The food at the former was actually good, but a diner at the next table lit a stinking cigar.  The menu asks that customers not smoke cigars or pipes, and we (quietly, politely, in French) asked the waiter for another table.  But the place was full...tour buses again.  "What do you want me to do?" shrugged the waiter, illustrating the decline that seems to have struck the Vergé empire.

The Feu Follet was once well known in gastronomic circles, and I have been told that it was once a favourite of Simone Beck, Julia Child's French collaborator.  Now it has gone sadly downhill, and we found the food and service horrible on two successive visits.

* * *

A final complaint we sometimes hear about the Côte d'Azur is that "there is no local wine".  That, of course, is also true of Normandy and Britanny.  And it is not quite true of the Côte d'Azur.  There are some very pleasant wines from Bellet, in the hills above Nice, and the vineyards are worth a visit.  See http://www.vinsdebellet.com for more information.

All in all, if you are prepared to search a bit, there is good eating to be had here.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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JD,

Thanks for your input. I'm one of those who believes he can remember the day when it was almost impossible to get a bad meal in Paris, let alone the countryside. Things have changed, or as some have implied--my standards have changed and food outside of France has improved considerably. However you look at it, there's plenty of bad food to be had all over France and one often needs a guide or guide book to find good food, not just great food. Still in the better places the old traditions of quality remain. I also see signs of a resurgence of cooking apart from the glories of haute cuisine. The latter has seemed to continue at great heights but the cars parked in front of the great temples of gastronomy as often as not, have Belgian, Swiss or other European license plates and many of those with French plates are rentals with overseas food pilgrims.

 Bacon, in Antibes, makes a mean bouillabaiise; the fish is very fresh and carefully chosen, and if you can get a table overlooking the water, the place is magic in the early evening.

...

We had another very good dinner at Maximin, in Vence, though the service was not nearly as warm nor the dishes quite as well prepared.

It's probably worth noting that bouillabaise has been discussed in great detail here and there was a recent post about several members who dined at both of those restaurants in April of this year. It's interesting that you mention the service at Maximin as not being as warm as it had been. They were far less flattering to the service and frankly did not enjoy their meal. Click here to read that post.

Anyway, once again, welcome and thanks for that contribution. I trust we'll see more of your posts and we look forward to updates.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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"<i>In some circles the Côte d'Azur has a bad reputation for food</i>"

JD - Isn't it that in some circles the Cote d'Azur has a bad reputation period? I mean the way people feel about the food is just a byproduct of how they feel about the place. It is built up and congested, with apartment buildings and homes almost completely covering the natural landscape. To fly into Nice Aeroport, the view of the coast after the plane makes that left turn at Frejus is pretty shocking. And if it was just the coast alone that was populated it would be one thing. But you can go 5 miles deep into the hills and nearly every buildable piece of land has been built out. I would love to see statistics as to what the summertime population is as opposed to the year round one. I'm not sure if it is the same ratio but, I know that the summertime population in a vacation region like the Hamptons in the U.S. grows appx. 4 times during the season. If you multiply the year round population of the Cote d'Azur alone by 4, you are probably well over 2 million people. And that doesn't count the Var, Luberon,

Vauclause etc.

As for the food on the Cote d'Azur, if you transpose what is happening with food all over France onto the Cote d'Azur, how the quality of ingredients isn't what it used to be because of EU regulation, or because the consolidation of food distribution in France means that the choice of products has diminished, or that interest in food was created by a generation of chefs that are old and retired (though many are still working as ghosts of their former selves), that takes care of a good part of the decline. But the problem is then exacerbated bt the price of real estate on the coast which has gone up so dramatically that nobody can afford to open a proper place anymore. Especially a young chef and his wife who do not want to bury themselves in debt making the investment that Michelin requires they make in order to get 2-3 stars.

I was just in the Cote d'Azur three weeks ago. As I was driving from my hotel which was located a few kms east of Nice to Cros-de Cagnes for dinner, I was noticing how there are dozens of restaurants on the strip between the airport and the restaurant and how amazing it is that none of them are good. Not only that, they are almost all the same in what they serve and they don't vary much in quality. And I think there are only two conclusions you can draw from this fact. One, the French population isn't discerning enough in what they eat outside their homes. Their palates have been "dumbed down" for lack of a better phrase and they are quite content eating mass produced slop. And the second one is that everyone else is a tourist who doesn't know better, or doesn't really care about food.

And the great chefs of the coast are all of a different gereneration, or have passed on. Outhier, Rostaing, Maximin (considering his former life at Chantecler) have not been replaced. Stephane Raimbault, Philipe Rostaing and Alain Llorca will never be worthy of becoming household names. And that is 8 stars right there (really 9) and three towns that make up 3/5 of the geography of the coast losing their gastronomic center. The better question (not to diminish yours just a reframing of it,) is why haven't those restaurants replaced the founders with great young chefs who maintained the glory? Why are the Pascal Barbots of the world cooking at L'Astrance making $60 a head dinners when they can be making $200 a head dinners places like L'Oasis?

And if you think that food is bad on the coast, I think the food in Provence proper, starting with the Var and ending up in the Vauclause is much worse. Of course there are the few places that are terrific, but my experience is that finding a good meal in Avignon or environs is a struggle. I don't know if that it is because the food is bad there, or used to be good and has gotten worse, or that what is available to me on a dialy basis in NYC has made my palate more discerning. Probably some combination of the three.

Now despite my criticism of the Cote, it's still a place I love dearly, both for it's atmpsphere as well as the food. Regardless of the effects of modernization, consolidation and the lack of replacing the food guard, the indiginous flavors of the coast are still a delight to the palate. If you pick your restaurants properly, you can have all of your gustatory buttons pushed in a long weekend, From the taste of the sea, to the way the fish and meat taste when they are grilled in that uniquely Provencal style, to the truly unique veggies they have there, and mostly to the spicy and fruity olive oil which pervades all, including your soap if that is what you want.

So while you find that eating in the hills brings a better result than eating on the coast, I find the exact opposite. Yes I have enjoyed Chibois, and I have had my share of good meals at Verge in the day. But those are internationally styled meals that do not reflect the local terroir in the same way the generation of three star chefs of the 70's and 80's did.

But if you want to eat the real food of the region, where the locals are eating, you need to go to places like La Petite Maison, Loulou or Le Cave or the handful of other places that still exclusively cook in the style of the region. You might not be able to get Fleur de Courgettes au Truffe, but you'll get a hell of a fish soup.

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Loulou and La Petite Maison have both been on my list of places to try, for some time now.

I agree that there are many small places with less pretension than Chibois, Maximin, etc., but high quality ingredients and a desire to cook them well.  But they will never earn Michelin stars!

I agree with Steve about the high levels of development on the Côte d'Azur, but still find it easy to locate peaceful areas within a quick drive of Nice or Cannes.  We chose the area because of the relative ease of getting there from London after a short flight and a drive of less than 30 minutes.  So far it has not disappointed, though I am well aware that cognitive dissonance will cloud my judgement!  I must admit that my reaction to the flight into Nice-Côte d'Azur is very positive: the blue water and the sunshine on the hills is pleasant after the grey of London.

Have overall standards slipped?  I am sure they have, both in the South and in Paris, where it is very easy to pay a lot for horrid food.  In Mougins we have been lucky to find very high quality ingredients in local shops, mostly by avoiding the supermarkets and getting to know the merchants.  But I know that the artisanal butchers, bakers, greengrocers and fishmongers have a constant struggle to maintain standards and to earn a decent living.  How much harder for restaurateurs.

My own theory is that the missing ingredient is not produce, or skill, or even money, but time.  Hence my comment above about  a short drive.  Hence the onslaught of frozen or precooked or "instant" dishes that we know can only be prepared with hours of careful work.  In France I shop daily, sometimes twice a day, but that's because we are on holiday or running at a slower pace than normal.  In London, with a busy family and two working spouses, there isn't the time to choose or cook with this kind of care.  And this trend must impact on demand and the willingness of customers to put up with inferior outputs from restaurants.

I wish it were different in la France profonde, the deep countryside, but I have not found it so.  Many of the small villages have become ghost towns, and the few people living there get in their cars and drive to the local supermarket or McDonald's.  I remember cycling into a small town off the Charente, where we had been on a barge trip.  One old man was sitting, disconsolate, on the steps of a locked church.  "Are there any shops around here?" I asked?  "No," he replied..."this town is dead.  There are no shops.  And there once were 3 bars right here!"  Another reason for liking the area above the Côte d'Azur: some of the economic vitality of the coast has kept the smaller inland villages lively.

We can hope that the Slow Food movement does something to reverse all this, but that will take time too...!

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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I spent the summers of 1992 and 1993 in Nice as a student, and I found that it had great values in food. I don't know who thinks that the Cote d'Azur is not a place to get good food easily. Perhaps things have changed drastically in 9 years. In those days, I could get a plate of excellent spaghetti bolognese for FF 40-50 and have a nice menu' of Nicois specialties at the Cafe de la Fontaine in Vieux Nice for FF 69. Then, there were the Tunisian couscous places and the Vietnamese places. And there were also wonderful boulangeries and streetside dessert places, including the cart just outside the Vieux Nice which had tortes blettes. I found that it was very easy to get quite good food in Nice, and that bad food was very much the exception. In Paris, by contrast, it was easy to spend much more money to eat mediocre food.

As for whether the Cote d'Azur is part of Provence, I would not think of it as Provence proper, but the local language in Provencal, so one should draw the logical conclusions from that.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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The initial post from JD ,and following, raises intersting issues. First of all, JD is right: historically the Cote d'Azur is part of Provence just as much as the Luberon (Peter Mayle country)  or the Camargue. Considering Roman times, even Barcelona is part of Provence!

The name Cote d'Azur was coined by a sous-prefect, Stéphane Liégard, in the late 19th century.  He had written a "literary" guide book of the coastal region, named it with his home region Burgundy (where he owned an important domaine), Cote d'Or, in mind. On the basis of his writings, he desperately tried to be voted into the prestigious Académie Francaise, but was time and again turned down, despite his generous gifts of cases of wine from his Burgundy domaine. Most likely the voting members didn't want those generous gifts to stop.

It's true that in the most touristy areas it's hard to find a restaurant with a decent meal for a decent price, apart from up-scale places. As a friend of mine who works seasonally on the coast says: hey, you slice a tomato, put slices of mozarella in between, some basil on top, a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of pepper and salt, all this for 95 francs (sorry, 13 euro) and no one complains. I won't even discuss the main courses. Why do the French visitors put up with this? They're on vacation and nothing is going to spoil that. Back home they'll visit their treasured places. For the time being, they'll put up with what they can find. Meanwhile, in the hinterland, especially in the Haut-Var, you can find excellent places with reasonable prices. For instance the modest Auberge du Lac in Bauduen or the more up-scale Hostellerie des Gorges de Pennefort in Callas, a true Provencal kitchen.

France is the # 1 tourist destination in the world, with more than 70 million visitors. After the Paris region, the department of the Var is second. It's strange to contemplate, because in the coastal region of the Var you do not find the high-rises as in Cannes or Nice. Where are all those millions you wonder, only to be checked when you are stuck on the road to Sainte-Maxime for hours. After such a long wait, you grab anything, if only a tomato-mozarella dish for 13 euro.

Frieda

www.aboutprovence.com

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In case you were wondering why the Mouth of the South of France hasn't chimed in before this, it's because he has just returned from the Beautiful Berkshires-New English Berkshires- not the the plain English County singular one. I have to say that the food is a lot worse between Great Barrington and Pittsfield than it is between Cannes and Monaco.

My rule # 1 for dining while in/on the Cote d'Azur is (even though it is cheating): cross the border into Italy. Right at the border after Menton there are two Michelin one-stars: Balzi Rossi and Baja Benjamin. The latter showed me signs of slippage recently and the former is a place I need to revisit after four years. Nonetheless, the basic level of honesty and fresh produce there makes them more of a better bet for avoiding a mediocre meal. The next town, Bordighera, also offers two one-stars: Carletto and Via Romano. I prefer the former: Artful tradition-based Ligurian sea food of impeccable freshness. Via Romano offers a well-priced, delicious lunch menu in very elegant late 19th-century surroundings above the main part in town where remarkable and luxurious old villas abound. From Nice you can drive there in about the same time you would get to the center of Cannes battling the traffic in Le Cannet.

I agree with some of the names above. La Petite Maison in the best for Nicois cooking and its next-door neighbor, just about, La Terre de Truffes may have slipped a bit (perhaps becuase I went last month during a "tweener" time for truffles. But Bruno's wife who now is in charge of the place is rather bitchy, which detracts from the visit. In the commercial pedestrian area (as opposed to the old section) the best of the lot is Albert's which is quasi-Nicois and Italian. Ethnic specialty restaurants can be a pleasant change. In this regard I recommend Chez Miraille (paella in a non-descript area between the main drag and Cimiez) and in Cros de Cagne La Gazelle d'Or for Couscous Royale. (Dharkhoum in Menton also has good cous-cous and a large Moroccan menu).

Not mentioned, but may now be the best restaurant around is Hostellerie Jerome in La Turbie (now two stars). I described my recent meal there in a discussion about lemons, I believe.

In Monaco, there is nothing now that I can strongly recommend. If, however, you are there lunch time, there is a very good fish restaurant in a little park next to the Prince's Palace whose name escapes me and is not in the Gault-Millau. But it's fresh very fresh fish classically prepared.

In Beaulieu-Cap Ferrat territory, the lunch buffet at La Grand Hotel du Cap-Ferrat is fun to go to, but the food is mediocre. If you want to chuckle at ugly Americans, nothing beats the outdoor buffet restaurant at the Hotel du Cap in Cap d'Antibes. There the food is better than that at the Grand Hotel. Also bad buffet food can be had at the Monte Carlo Grand Hotel. Taking a simple lunch at the Hotel Metropole's dining terrace is very pleasant especially if you get a table right by the balustrade facing the sea. La Reserve may still have the best wine list in the area. Frankly, I need to return. A more recent visit, last summer, to the dining room of the recently-restored Hotel Royal Riviera turned up an overreaching, pretentiously-conceived dinner by a chef not up to the task. It's the kind of meal that tells you not to consider a second change; you just know it.

Chibois, in my three visits to his own restaurant, has never equalled the meal I had from him at the Royal Gray in Canne's Gray Albion Hotel about six years ago. That lunch was a revelation and a marvelous introduction to what I called at the time the special "light and bright" cooking of the Cote d'Azur when food is at its best. Maybe Chibois has too much on his hands running a fancy hotel-restaurant.

Thanks JD for posting. And welcome. Keep it up.

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As long as Robert is making a list, La Cave in Cannes is excellent. And has a fantastic list of local wines as well as Cote de Provence and Bandol. And I always liked La Palme d'Or in the Martinez Hotel as the best of the "haute" restaurants on the coast these days. Great wine list too. Josy Jo in Haut de Cagnes is similar to Loulou, but a little less high powered. And I always liked Boccaccio in the pedestrian zone in Nice as the place with the best Paella. I used to like La Meranda although Robert says it isn't what it used to be.

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I have enjoyed Chibois, and I have had my share of good meals at Verge in the day. But those are internationally styled meals that do not reflect the local terroir in the same way the generation of three star chefs of the 70's and 80's did.

A minor and respectful disagreement.  For me, terroir (not to mention "local terroir") is not about whether luxurious ingredients are used, or even whether the preparations are elaborate but (1) local ingredients, sources known to the cook, with real care for quality and freshness; (2) preparation that respects the character of the ingredients: "food that tastes like itself".  You can have a strong sense of terroir in a simple meal, or in a very fancy one.

I am looking at a menu from Raymond Blanc's Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, in Oxford.  Here is his take on Salade Landaise: "pressed duck confit with a truffle jelly served with a summer salad."  The Salades Landaises I've typically had in France contain duck gizzards, perhaps some duck foie, smoked duck breast, perhaps some ham, and lettuces.  Has Blanc lost complete touch with terroir?  It depends on how the dish is put together and how he sources his ingredients...all this, of course, assuming that the Manoir has been philosophically transported to the Southwest of France.  I don't know what true Oxford terroir would entail!

I do think Chibois tries to respect local ingredients, and indeed he recently opened the Bastide for exhibits and tastings of local olive oils and products from around the region. That signals some respect for terroir.  To be clear, I am no promoter of Chibois.  I have only eaten there once, and must say that I enjoyed it enormously: better than some 3-star places in Paris.   But one visit is hardly enough to judge a restaurant, and I defer to those who have visited it more than once...as I intend to.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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JD-You said you disagree with me but then you went on to agree. "Terroir" as I am using it is food that tastes indiginous to Provence, especially that region. I don't know if you ate a whole lot of meals there back in the 80's, but the cuisine of the 3 star chefs centered on local ingredients to a far greater extent than today's menus seem to. Verge in particular. In fact Verge's vegetable cookbook is a testamont to those ingredients.

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Steve, when I get home I will check my Rabaudy book from c. 1976 and "The Great Chefs of France" as they concern the Moulin de Mougins in its heyday. I recall that the two most famous dishes didn't exactly qualify as regional: Homard au Sauternes and the steak with three peppers. I may also have an old menu.

While I am at it, I think one can make a good case that outside of Paris, the Cote d'Azur or Alpes-Maritimes, would be the first culinary destination in terms of satisfaction. The question deserves a thread of its own. In fact, I think I will start it now.

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I don't know if you ate a whole lot of meals there [Côte d'Azur] back in the 80's, but the cuisine of the 3 star chefs centered on local ingredients to a far greater extent than today's menus seem to. Verge in particular. In fact Verge's vegetable cookbook is a testament to those ingredients.

Steve, I misunderstood you.  I thought you were saying that terroir was a matter of preparation method.

During the 80s I was either in the US or Japan, with one or two trips to London/Paris, never to the South.  So I never tried the Moulin.  In France I have a copy of Les légumes de mon Moulin and as I recall it was focused around his garden.  As far as I know, there isn't much of a garden left at the Moulin, perhaps because of the motorway extension that has caused Vergé so many problems.

Robert Carrier (Feasts of Provence, 1992) gives the Moulin lavish praise.  He mentions the following dishes:

  courgette blossom stuffed with foie gras and truffles

  scallop salad with artichokes and organge dressing

  cassolette of breast and thighs of pigeon, sauce salmis with bitter chocolate and cinnamon

  aumonières (beggars purses) of chicken: chicken quenelle, cream, truffles...

  cheese malfatis made with St Moret and basil cream sauce

  peaches and pears poached in red wine with peppercorns and lavender honey

I can see some local ingredients here, but no more than at Chibois, where we had morels, scallops, tiny squid, sea bass, langoustines, veal, aubergines, capers, and fruit desserts.

But, not having been in the South in the early 1980s, I can accept that standards and terroir may well have slipped.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Hi, beford i start i apologise for my spelling and punctuation but i am work it is a very sunny day and i want to go home !!

I was interested in your cote d'azur chat and thought i'd join in. I took a 12 day break in the nice last year and thorough;y enjoyed it, i have to admit some meals were a dissapointment but generally for my boyfriend who is a chef and me, who just loves dining..it was a great holiday.

We started off with Chantecler for lunch which was very formal but amazing all the same, there were 4 adults and a child and i have to say we have a wonderful table, they were brilliant with our 5 year old dining companion. When we asked if they had suitable meals for children they said she could have anything, her spaghetti bolognaise looked wonderful. We went for lunch intending to have the bargin lunch with wine but were swayed by the chantecler menu and sea menu, 4hrs and £400 worse off we left with full stomachs and big smiles.

Excellent food, service, desserts were out of this world....

Next we went to Ducasse at hotel de paris, again with the intention of bargin lunch for 2 on the veranda...but once their couldn't resist the gastronomic...amazing risotto with chantrelles, seafood salad,pigeon, fraise des bois with mascarpone ice cream,chocolates with gold leaf and beautiful rose champagne...I wouldn't have chosen the armarngac that my fella did though, £36 but in the most stunning glass i ever did see.....v.expensive day but amazing food and setting, i wouldn't have changed it for the world.

Then i took my boyfriend to Moulin de Mougins for dinner and an overnight stay..I have to admit the food wasn't as breathtaking as i imagined but is was still good and very filling, the stuffed courgette flower with a surprise of a huge truffle was great, lobster fricasse, roast rack of lamb and clafoutis,but the ambience won the day,it was amazing and to top it off we went for a drink in the bar, we were the only ones in there until a little table was set for dinner and Roger Verge and his wife denise sat and ate there...We got to chat to roger and this obviously made my boyfriends birthday...i was happy as Roger is a very attractive older man.!!!..Anyway to top off our trip and one of the best meals was at a place called Merenda near the Cours saleya..It has no telephone so you have to book in person, the chef is the ex chef from Chantecler i believe called Dominic le stanc...There is a black board with the menu of the day so what is there is there, when u order wine you are told there is red,white or rose and there are 2 sittings, the tables are close together but what a wonderful place.. We had ratatouille, ricotta,rocket and herbs then daube de boeuf and nicoise veg farci..dessert was a caramlised peach and goats cheese..Well worth the visit...

keep writing and if u want to chat please do

:biggrin:

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We recently visited L'Oasis in La Napoule.  Unfortunately I've lost the notes I took, so this will be a bit sketchy.  It is a lovely room and it must be even nicer when the interior terrace is open in summertime.  The staff were not as impressive as those at Chibois, but friendly nonetheless, with a cadaverous headwaiter and a slightly bumbling (but earnest) table staff.  

Two of the four of us wanted to order from the carte, two wanted different menus. In the end we were strongly "encouraged" to take one of the two fixed menus for the whole table, I think because it made co-ordinating the courses easier.  It couldn't have been done to maximise the bill, because this move reduced it by something like EUR 80.  The headwaiter allowed two of us to substitute oysters for what would have been a crab-and-avocado starter.  There was a wide choice of breads, and I had a good baguette and an outstanding tarragon bread.  There were two amuses: salmon "rillettes" and some unmemorable tiny pastries.

The oysters were outstanding: very lightly poached, served with a very delicate horseradish mousse, and a thin and crispy rice galette.  I normally like oysters just as they are, or perhaps with a bit of lemon, but this combination worked very well.

We then had the course that had led me to ask for this menu: a "risotto" of basmati rice with sea bass and clams.  This was a disappointment: the rice wasn't properly cooked (it had a texture that was at times soupy, at times chalky) and the sea bass was overcooked.  The clams were delicious, though, and I had one or two bites where fish, rice and clams came together in a very pleasant mouthful.

Mains were pavés of beef, veal and foie gras.  The combination worked well, and the light sauce that went with it was clear and nicely flavoured.  

There was then an unmemorable "composed" cheese course (chevre and tapenade, served far too cold), and the dessert trolley.  I had a dark chocolate tart that was good -- but no better than many I have had before or even made.

The sommelier helped us find two very pleasant wines (alas, I noted these, lost the notes and therefore can't remember them!) at prices far better than I had started with.

The bill for 4 people: EUR 447.  A pleasant dinner, better than many I've had, but not nearly as memorable as what we had at Chibois, and far better than what we had at Vergé.   Nonetheless I don't plan to go back any time soon.

When I booked the reservation, I asked whether they had non smoking tables available.  "We certainly do," said the receptionist, "and I've booked one for you."  The first half of our meal was fine and non-smoky.  Then a party arrived at the table nearest ours; a woman took a Gauloise out of her purse and -- before lighting it -- started waving it around.  I called the headwaiter.  "Yes," he said, "I saw the indication on the booking and I tried to put you at a table that wouldn't get much smoke.  We don't have non-smoking tables.  But I will see what can be done.  I cannot move you, because we are full."

Whispered words with our neighbours, after which the Gauloise-bearing woman shuffled to the far end of that table. "You will be pleased to know," he said, "that madame has agreed to sit at the end of the table furthest from you.  And, what's more, she will smoke no more than one cigarette this evening. I trust this is fine with you, and I suggest that you thank madame."  I nodded, and he swept over to the next table and said, in a loud voice, "Monsieur asks me to convey his sincere thanks to Madame."  True to her promise, she smoked one Gauloise in the course of the evening.

Again: not as good as Chibois, which has a choice of smoking or non-smoking rooms, but much better than Vergé's L'Amandier, where the waiter shrugged when someone at a neighbouring table lit a huge cigar.  But there was a certain earnestness to the service, however clumsy, and a fair outcome.  I hope we can encourage many restaurants in France to offer non-smoking tables or even rooms.  For me this is a matter of gastronomy rather than health!

As Sarah noted, we saw young children dining at L'Oasis.  In fact I am struggling to recall a single upscale restaurant in France, over the last few years, where we have not seen young children.  For the most part they comport themselves perfectly.  I wish I could work out how the French elicit this behaviour!

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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I had forgotten to record the most unusual thing about that dinner at L'Oasis.  This was a seawater granita that they served with the oysters.  Sounds trendy and horrible, I know, but it wasn't; it was gently salty, with wonderful mineral flavours that matched the oysters perfectly.  If it were possible to have nothing but those oysters with the granita, I would go back.  I am resolved to re-create this dish some day...

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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I hope we can encourage many restaurants in France to offer non-smoking tables or even rooms.  For me this is a matter of gastronomy rather than health!

People steal all sorts of things from restaurants. I take paper table tents asking diners not to smoke in the dining room.

From Michel Bras, I have: Pour le bient-être de nos hôtes, nous vour invitons à réserver au salon les plaisirs du tabac.  Merci.

From Regis Marcon: Pour goûter au plaisir du cigar et de las cigarette, nous vous proposons de passer au salon

Somewhere, I have another similar message from Andre Daguin when he was chef owner of the Hotel de France in Agen. Alas in much of France, the joke remains true that all restaurants have a no smoking section and at your request, they'll be happy to declare your table the no smoking section.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Just returned from a week in the South.  Following the helpful advice in these pages we dined at Loulou, Tétou and several other places and I wanted to provide brief feedback. This note covers Loulou and I will separately write about the others.

Loulou / La Réserve in Cros de Cagnes specialises in fish, but also features meat from the Boucherie Marbeuf in Paris. There is a detailed review from Steve Plotnicki elsewhere in this group, under the topic title "Loulou in Cros-de-Cagnes", so I will try not to repeat information from that posting.

Three of us started with the fish soup, one with tiny fried anchovies. The fish soup was served with rouille, croutons and cheese -- but it is a fish soup, not a bouillabaiise, so there were no chunks of fish in it. The flavour was incredibly fresh and clean, as though the soup had been prepared seconds before. And indeed throughout the dinner we heard, from time to time, what sounded like a whizzing blender, and I would guess that this soup is prepared almost to order. The anchovies were crisp and light, with flavour that was strong and clear but not in the least "fishy".

The fish on offer is, for the most part, what is good that day: we were offered either chapon or daurade. The waiter recommended the latter, then returned to tell us that it was of a size that it could only be served to two people. Since only one of us wanted fish, she had the chapon. My wife and I had the Simmenthal côte de boeuf that Steve described. Another friend had lightly steamed prawns.

The fish and prawns were superb; both were served with a bit of olive oil and garlic, and not much else. Loulou seems to focus on simple cooking of excellent ingredients rather than fancy sauces.

We had trouble with the beef. The waiter asked whether we wanted it "saignant" (bleeding rare); I like meat cooked this way (or even less cooked, "bleu") but my wife prefers it better done. No, I said, "à point". In theory this means "medium rare" but most of the time in France it means "very rare". And the next and only degree of cooking above "à point" is "bien cuit" (well done).

When the meat arrived, it was very rare: deep red inside. I thought this was great, but my wife struggled to eat it. The waiter had disappeared, and I spotted the chef, Eric Campo, walking through the restaurant. I asked him to come over to the table. We were then treated to a long and impassioned diatribe: he was the chef, not the waiter. One did not ask him to bring more water. If we wanted something, we should ask the waiter. He, the chef, had other things to do. This didn't sound nearly as nasty in French as the description above might imply, but it took me aback.

"I only wanted to ask you a small question," I said. "I am listening," said the chef. I asked whether he might cook my wife's meat a bit more. I half expected another lecture, but he seemed pleased to take the dish back to the grill, from which he returned it a few moments later. I thanked him profusely, and he said he was pleased to have been of service. Somehow my earlier transgression had been forgiven.

The meat itself was wonderful: deep flavours with no saucing at all, just a bit of olive oil and salt. I was reminded of a bistecca alla Fiorentina that I had eaten in a tiny village near Greve, many years before. Beautiful potatoes came with both the fish and the beef.

The dessert menu offered wild strawberries (fraises des bois). They didn't have any that day, said the waiter, but had just received strawberries from the garrigue that were just as flavourful as fraises des bois. "Just wait," he said, "you must taste them." And he returned, a moment later, with a tiny bowl containing one strawberry for each of us -- a strawberry degustation. The berries were so good that we ordered them. They were served without sugar or cream, but were perfect. Simple preparation, superb ingredients.

On our way out I asked the chef about the steaming apparatus next to the grill, which Steve mentioned in his post. "C'est un steamer de haute pression," he replied -- a professional pressure cooker. Did they use it for fish? One could use it for fish, he said, but they didn't: they used it for those potatoes we had, and for shellfish.

We will certainly return to this place, even to eat the same things again.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Tétou is a bouillabaisse specialist on the beach in Golfe-Juan. We went a week ago, on a rainy evening, so the terrace was closed and sitting next to a window wasn't the pleasure it might have been at this time of year. The room is long and very simply decorated.

The first thing you notice about Tétou is that they don't take credit cards. They tell you this when you reserve. There is a sign on the door. The menus and the bills all say: "no credit cards".  Even the restaurant's calling card says it. Pay in cash, with a cheque drawn on a French bank or in travellers' cheques. No credit cards. Got it.

They do grilled fish but the house speciality is, undoubtedly, bouillabaisse, served either with or without langoustines.  We had it with. We asked for something beforehand -- a salad perhaps. No, said the waiter: the bouillabaisse is enough.  No starter.

First to arrive were toasted (but cold) baguette slices and rouille, the latter surprisingly lacking in intensity of flavour.  Then sliced potatoes, tinged with saffron. Then the soup, in a large tureen, and several minutes later, the langoustines, which the waiter carefully shelled and put on a plate, which he put on top of the tureen, presumably to keep warm.

The soup itself was good but not exceptional, slightly muddied in flavour, nowhere near as clean tasting as what we had at Loulou.  The langoustines were good and properly cooked.

Then the fish started to arrive: rascasses, grondin, chapon, and I don't remember what else. Each time the waiter brought us a plate with the cooked fish, then whisked them away to a trolley where he filleted them onto a plate.

It ended up feeling a bit frantic and mechanical, not helped by the fact that different staff members took our order, strolled over to comment on the weather, brought the tureen, brought the fish. One of the owners, I think, came to our table, said "Bonsoir", stared at us and then walked away. Almost everyone in the place seemed to be having bouillabaisse.

The dessert list is short, but both of our desserts were superb: a sorbet aux griottes for me and a coffee ice cream for my wife

By this time, the place was full and a bit out of control; the table nearest ours had around 16 diners, all of whom had ordered the bouillabaisse. We were able to get our bill, but couldn't get anyone to take it up; finally we put the exact sum on the table and left. I would guess that about half of the clientele were American.

On the way out I gave the car park attendant EUR 1; he rather sniffily handed it back. Not enough. I pocketed it and we departed.

Tétou isn't cheap: EUR 243.50 for two servings of bouillabaisse, a bottle of Ch. Rasque Côte de Provence Rosé, a bottle of Badoit and two desserts -- no coffee. By contrast, Bacon in Antibes came out at EUR 200 for the same plus two starters. The setting was better, the service far superior, and the bouillabaisse much more carefully put together, with a better fish broth. Bacon and Tétou each sport one Michelin star, but Bacon is better, to my way of thinking.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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JD, my last meal at Tetou was disappointing as well. I just wonder if you felt that ordering two bouilliabaisse is necessary for most couples. I think one would suffice. If so, then, of course, the bill is significantly less than it was in your case. I also agree that Bacon is the more rewarding of the two restaurants.

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And I thought Tetou was supposed to be THE place.  Good thing it isn't because I was underwhelmed (summer 1999).  While the traditional assortment of fish was impressive, I enjoyed the boulliabaise at Les Celebritees (with Delouvier) much more.

Now I have some bouliabaise to look forward to next time I'm in the Cote d'Azur (i.e., Bacon).

beachfan

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I just wonder if you felt that ordering two bouilliabaisse is necessary for most couples. I think one would suffice. If so, then, of course, the bill is significantly less than it was in your case.

Robert, I think you are exactly right here. Bacon offers a "degustation" serving of bouillabaisse: a smaller serving that can easily follow a starter.  If I recall correctly, they offered to refill my bowl when I had finished it!

Between us we did finish all of the fish at Tétou, but not all of the soup. They weren't overly generous with the langoustines.

Nonetheless I somehow think they wouldn't have allowed us to share one bouillabaisse, refusing to give more than one bowl for example. Given the multiple rounds of service, passing a bowl back and forth would have been clumsy.

Bouillabaisse didn't start out as a luxury dish. There must be places in the area that offer a good version at a more reasonable price. On our next trip I am going to make some enquiries at fishmongers and markets. Meanwhile, I did a quick look around the web and found the following on Arthur Frommer's site (not quoted verbatim):

"Chez Michel / le Grand Pavois, in Nice, is run by members of the family who owns Tétou. Jacques Marquise, one of the patriarchs of the Chez Tétou success story, and manager of the place during the glory years is the creative force here, and he's committed to maintaining prices that are between 30% and 40% less than those charged by Chez Tétou. Bouillabaisse is the specialty here, a succulent and authentic version..."

It would have been nice to have paid 40% less at Tétou. Even nicer to have had a truly outstanding bouillabaisse. Still, chez Michel may be worth a try.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Bouillabaisse didn't start out as a luxury dish.
Exactly! There are certain peasant dishes that have been tarted up with more expensive ingredients to raise them to the luxury level. For instance, lobsters in a bouillabaisse are as unnecessary as foie gras and truffles in a hamburger.

Cassoulet is another. (See my "Bouillabaisse, cassoulet..." http://www.whitings-writings.com/essays/bouillebaisse.htm

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Au Routier Sympa, in Mougins (but not in the old village).  Pasta for the children, a grilled steak for my wife, a coquelet (poussin) for me, with roast peppers for the table. All of it simple and good; the poussin had been nicely flavoured with tarragon. Hardly a place to seek out, but pleasant, reliable and good value for money.

Hotel de Mougins, again well outside the old village. We met friends who were flying in that evening and arrived on time for a 9 pm reservation. This was obviously too late: they had held the table for us, but the staff seemed confused. No one was on hand to greet us. Finally the headwaiter arrived: "Ah, yes, we were waiting for you."

From then on things proceeded apace, in a pleasant and comfortable sort of conservatory. The food was mixed in quality. All of us ordered white asparagus, which I had seen in great quantities in the Marché Forville that morning. It was prepared in a workmanlike but not exceptional manner and served cold on warmed plates. I had a "panaché" of loup (sea bass) and daurade (sea bream). Again, good but not outstanding. Desserts, including a tarte Tatin, were nicely done. The service was erratic: at one point a waitress topped up my half-filled wine glass with water.

Marché Forville in Cannes somehow became the place to visit this time, even for friends who weren't as keen on food as we are. This happened because a departing group of houseguests tipped off an arriving group...so back we went, but it was worth the trip. We found the market in the full profusion of early summer, with berries and asparagus everywhere. The children wandered the rows, sampling strawberries and trying to find the perfect one. We found a ravioli vendor who offered daube, pistou, ham, cheese, spinach, and four or five other fillings that I don't remember. Two minutes in boiling water. Superb.

Afterwards a walk on the rue Meynadier, a pedestrianised passage with numerous shops including some great food places. Ernest, the traiteur, has several branches in Cannes; the one just before the Rue Meynadier offered socca aux cebettes (chopped green onions). Not cheap at EUR 2.50 per portion, but very good. I spotted a curious looking tabbouleh in the window of a bigger Ernest branch, on the rue Meynadier itself: the grains of couscous were green, as if parsley (and, as I later found, mint) had been rolled into them. The grains were also much larger than one usually sees.

Getting a bit of this curious dish was not easy. Where the socca-selling branch of Ernest was casual, this one was prim and fussy. You have to queue on the left until a "vendeuse" is ready to serve you. She then collects your order, walking around the shop with you, and hands you a ticket. You take this to the cash desk, then it's back to the vendeuse who accepts your ticket and gives you the goods you've ordered. The shop is long and narrow, and there was a fair bit of confusion with patrons trying to track down their vendeuses, get to the cash desk (in the rear of the shop, of course) and return for their goods. A French take on the stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera.

Several French patrons were sharply reprimanded for moving over to the other side of the shop and asking for bread. No, you have to stay with your vendeuse. Go back to the queue. There was no enthusiasm in the staff, just a sort of singsong politeness. I have seen this style and attitude in Paris (e.g. in Passy) but rarely in the south.

After a long wait, I asked for 300 grammes of the tabbouleh. "Is that all you want?" asked the vendeuse. Yes, it was. And at EUR 22.30 per kilogramme, it was enough.

But the tabbouleh itself was unusual and very good, with a nice balance of parsley and mint. The herbs tasted fresh and the larger grains of couscous gave it a pleasant texture. I don't think I could have made this dish myself short of trying Paula Wolfert's roll-your-own-couscous method: either the herbs were incorporated as the grains were rolled, or they were pulverised so fine that it was hard to separate them from the couscous. Worth the wait, the snooty service and the price.

Not to be missed on the rue Meynadier is Aux Trois Etoiles, a purveyor of flavoured oils, eaux-de-vie and vinegars. Some of these aren't great, e.g. a garlic oil and vinegar where the garlic had a distinctively roasted / old taste. But some of the eaux-de-vie are superb, and there is a wide and changing variety on offer. The owner cheerfully allows you to taste, drawing down small glasses from beautiful glass and pottery demijohns and jugs. Quince, peach, pear and plum were all very good, as was a preparation made with crème fraîche, coffee and kirsch.

The oils, vinegars and eaux-de-vie are sold in glass bottles in a variety of shapes, some of them very attractive, and sizes. The owner sold me one of his smaller jugs, with a commercial spigot and spout, as a vinaigrier (vinegar maker); it is perfect in size and in the composition of the pottery. I had, several years before, bought a "vinaigrier" in a shop in Gourdon, but it proved to be merely decorative. It made wonderful vinegar, but the porcelain turned out to be porous and constantly oozed vinegar, and the spigot was made of decorative cork, which didn't stand up either to the vinegar or to regular use. When I finally tracked down the manufacturer (the shop owner denied any responsibility), she cheerfully told me that those jugs had been made as decorative items for tourists, not for anyone so foolish as to try to make vinegar. That was why they had been sold so cheaply.  To the retailer, perhaps: I had paid too much for a useless product. The commercial model at Trois Etoiles was EUR 107...more beautiful, and actually useful.

A long screed about tabbouleh and a vinegar jug, but sometimes it's worth remembering these details.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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