Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Eating Well in Southern France cont'd

We have discourse! You know I love discourse – yay! :D My friend Katherine writes:

"I'll be in Marseille and Nice for about 5 days, combined, in the coming week or so. Do you have any restaurant suggestions?”

I personally didn’t go to Marseille last year, but I hear it’s awesome. Because it’s the second most populated city in France, I would suggest that you stay in Marseille for three days and Nice for two, or to stay in Marseille for two days, and stay in Nice for a day and three nights, taking a day trip to Cannes and Monaco each. From Nice it’s just a short train ride to Cannes (maybe less than an hour and about 9€?) and a super scenic, 1€, 40 minute bus ride to Monaco – and those two places are worth seeing.

Food-wise, I think you’d probably have better luck in Marseille, because as my general rule goes, the more populated a city is, the better the quality and cheaper the food is. In Marseille, you of course should have some bouillabaisse (fish stew), since it’s the regional specialty. However, it’s pretty pricey; I have it on good authority that you shouldn’t pay less than 35-40€ for a decent bouillabaisse, and some people even insist that you should only visit places that requires you to reserve the day before - but I have friends who were very satisfied with walk-in experiences. So that translates to $57-65 CAD, but it might make you feel a little better if you keep in mind that it’s a total meal – the soup and then all the ingredients in it.

In Nice, I’d definitely go to the place I just mentioned, of course, and another absolute must-go is my favourite bakery. Formerly known as Boulangerie de France, now I think it’s either called Gosset or Cosset or something – the sign is a little ambiguous – but it’s located right beside 82 rue de France, on the NW corner of rue de France and rue Andrioli. Don’t mix it up with Le chant du pain, which is two doors east of Gosset. They have all kinds of beautiful sandwiches, and the earlier you go, the more choices there are. I highly recommend the pan bagnat, a niçois specialty, with tuna, hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, olives, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh tomatoes, and lettuce in between a delicious bun. It’s also great value – about 4 or 5 euro and it’s enormous! But most importantly, you MUST, MUST, MUST have their pain au chocolat (aux) amandes. A pain au chocolat is a chocolate croissant, but this version is far superior because above the layer of chocolate, there’s a layer of almond cream; it’s not so much a cream as it is a sort of fine, grainy paste. I can’t even stress to you how amazing it is. It’s way better fresh (go in the morning!), but even after it’s been sitting in the display case for a while, it’s still good. They are very generous with the almond cream, and the almond flavour just punches your taste buds in the guts. There’s less chocolate, but it complements the almond perfectly. It’s just incredible. And at 1.80€ a piece, I often had two at a time.

You may want to try out les farcies, les beignets, pissaladière, salade nicoise and le socca, other Nice specialties; there are plenty of places you can get them at in Vieux Nice (make sure you go there because there’s a lot to see, but not at night because it’s not the safest!) and they taste pretty much the same everywhere, but personally, they’re not my cup of tea. Les farcies are various veggies stuffed with fatty meats and onions and seasonings and such – it’s not bad, but pretty oily and not that great. Les beignets are pretty much just HEAVILY battered foods (onions, sardines, etc.) that are fried and often soggy with oil because they’ve been sitting for a while, and for the life of me, I’ve never been able to find fresh beignets no matter what time of day I eat them. Eating those are like drinking oil, and the sardines are super fishy and bony. Pissaladière is basically tomato sauce-less onion pizza often served with olives and/or anchovies, and salad niçoise is basically a pan bagnat without the bread - the only dish out of all these I like. Socca is a flat kind of bread-type food made with chickpeas, sprinkled with olive oil, salt and pepper. I don’t love it because A) it’s made of chickpeas so it’s sort of rough on the palate, a big no-no for Chinese tastes and B) it tastes like overcooked eggs without much flavour to speak of. But you may want to try it because it’s very typical Nice food, and I feel like I should tell you about these things so you have some basic knowledge of local cuisine. Oh, and because Nice is so close to Italy, there are an absolute ton of wood-oven pizza restaurants, but these pizzas are characteristically paper-thin, not spectacularly tasty and so not very filling or worth it, in my opinion.

Now, what else would I eat? I’d go to my favourite gelato place in the city, Crema di Gelato. There are tons of gelato places in Nice again due to its proximity to Italy, but after lots of tasting, I’ve concluded that this parlour is the crème de la crème. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that Fenocchio is the best – they have lots of choices, but the quality of their product is mediocre at best. Crema di Gelato has the best gelato in town, and they also have pretty little gelato cups (like in the picture) and gelato truffles. I always just get scoops of gelato because you get the most ice cream for your euro. I’d highly recommend the flavour Crema di Gelato, aka crème pralinée, which is vanilla gelato with what I suspect is Nutella gobs on top of it and sprinkled with crunchy pralines. It’s like a vanilla-based, gelato version of Ferrero Rocher and it’s divine. I also love their mint chocolate, hazelnut and caramel flavours. It’s a perfect ending to an Indian meal at the place I described in my last post, and they are located in Vieux Nice, right in the square of the Palais de Justice.

If you’re on a budget, there’s a so-so place right across from the Palais de Justice, the restaurant closest to the beach, that has this great value combo – a salade niçoise or another salad plus a pasta dish, one choice of which is seafood pasta. The salads were good, but the pasta wasn’t that great – but it’s 14€ (or was it 11?) for both.

If money is no object, I’d highly recommend going to Michelin-decorated Keisuke Matsushima, a very classy hole in the wall located at 22 rue de France right on the edge of the zone piétonne (also a must-visit in Nice), where I always wanted to eat at but was too poor to go to. They have seasonal menus, and you have to get their combo, which starts at 35€. For various menu choices you can upgrade if you’re willing to pay more, and I think for 60€ you can let the chef just do his magic and serve whatever he wants. If you do go, let me know how it was!

You might also want to have moules frites, which are mussels with fries. I think they’re nice but not great but worth eating. I’d suggest going to all-you-can-eat restaurants – there’s one in Cours Saleya in Vieux Nice that I don’t recall the name of, and one in the zone piétonne called Il...Borrotolo? Barratello? I don’t remember, but it’s somewhere on rue Masséna. Just look for stand-up signs that say moules frites à volonté – à volonté means all-you-can-eat. My beef with moules frites is that the mussels are often teensy, they don’t pull out the beards of the mussels, they don’t pick out the ones with yucky growths stuck to the shells, and the sauces are too salty, which makes you eat more fries and fill up faster as a result. But if you love mussels, they’re nice. I also hear there are good moules frites restaurants in Belgium. Anyway, the place on Cours Saleya offers I think maybe five flavours at 11.90€ (and you can try any of them) and a bunch of other flavours for 13.90€ - but in this case, I’d recommend being conservative since the basic flavours are the best, from my experience. The place in the zone piétonne offers just three flavours for 13.90€ but they are nicely done and like I said, basic flavours are the best anyway. There’s marinière, which is white wine with onions, napolitaine, which is tomato sauce, and poulette, which is cream sauce. I personally like the first two, not so much the third. I’ve heard good things about having moules frites in Monaco, but they’re not all-you-can-eat.

There’s also a decent Japanese restaurant in Cours Saleya, but it’s also a little pricey (18€ for a 14-piece set meal) and so not good if you’re a bigt eater like me. The quality is pretty good though, and the chef is actually Japanese. But if you don’t mind splurging about 20-30€ once, I’d also suggest eating at one of the beach restaurants because the Mediterranean is just a stunning backdrop. I’d recommend the restaurants Lido Plage, or Le Sporting. The beach restaurants in Nice are cheaper than in Cannes, but the shopping in Cannes is way cheaper, so I’d suggest eating in Nice and shopping Cannes.

Hope this info is helpful, feel free to ask if you have more questions and have a great trip! :)

No comments: