Food for Thought: Restaurants in Nice

During a recent lunch with my colleagues from the university, the talk turned to food and restaurants in Nice. I could chip in, as I had been doing my homework. Since moving to Nice last fall I have sampled restaurants that were recommended through word-of-mouth, restaurants that I read about, and restaurants that simply looked alluring as I walked past.

And what a joy this sampling has been! Here are my finds, my must-do list of restaurants in Nice.

– My absolute favorite is Acchiardo (38 Rue Droite, 06300 Nice, Tel: 04 93 85 51 16) in the old town. The place is a family operation: it is closed on Saturdays and Sundays to ensure family time (love that attitude!). I have eaten my way through the menu and tried the appetizers, the mains (various meats, fishes, and pasta), and, of course, the deserts. The tiramisu is one of the best I have ever eaten (sorry, Mom): they get the mix of mascarpone, coffee, and alcohol just right. The variations of fish are marvelous, a tasteful breeze. Among the meats there is the steak topped with anchovies, a combination that sounds odd but turns out delightful. My uncle oohed and aahed the dish. (I make it a point to take all my visitors, friends and family, to Acchiardo so that they get a taste of real local food.) The service is friendly, smiling, and warm.

– Then there is Merenda (4 Rue Raoul Bosio, 06300 Nice), a class of its own. Also in the old town, also local fare. Reservations can only be made in person, as there is no phone number. The only mode of payment is cash. If that seems strange, rest assured, it is worth going there. The pesto pasta are out of this world. I make my own pesto (with basil that I grow; granted this I do in Canada, so the taste cannot possibly measure up), which does not measure up to the magic that Merenda does (they seem to make the pasta dough from pesto, or so I figure). I take the pesto pasta each time I go there. I also much like the lentils with sausage. The menu is in ardoise format, with usually a selection of three to four starters, mains and deserts. The place is tiny, with an open kitchen, and serves dinner in two batches, the first at 7 pm and the second at 9 pm.

– L’Atelier du Port (45 Rue Bonaparte, 06300 Nice, Tel: 09 83 03 88 44). I came across this place by chance on a Sunday evening as I was looking for a place in my neighborhood to have a late dinner. One look at the menu made me want to try it out. I walked in and asked for a spot. The place was packed, and at 9:15 pm I would have had to wait 20 minutes to get a seat. I took this as a good sign. Less than a week later I was back, with a reservation and a good friend in tow. I had the entrée du jour, which I first laid my eyes on when I walked into the restaurant: a wobbly tower of slices from different local tomatoes that just had come in that night, interspersed with fresh basil and mozzarella. It was as lovely as it looked. As a main, I had the lentils and sausage (yes, I like that dish a lot and have concoted my own vegan version of it), marvelous too.

– Le Comptoir Central Electrique (10 rue Bonaparte, 06300 Nice, Tel: 04 93 14 09 62), which I also call my living room. It is right on my way to pretty much everywhere and looks just too darn cool to simply walk past. So I have had coffee there (excellent), dinner (delicious, with desert that borders on the architecturally artistic), brunch (out of this world, a whole buffet with sinfully hellish tidbits, bites and full-on dishes), drinks (sweet lord). I suppose I need to try lunch in order to have made the full rounds. I love the place, and recommend it for the experience. It is hard to be disappointed (unless of course, there is a clash of tastes). Oh, I forgot, the servers and the owner are cool too.

– Le Terroir Divin (11 Rue Delille, 06000 Nice, Tel: 09 54 19 66 51). This is my Saturday brunch hang-out. I have whatever they propose as menu du jour (well, except for the burger, since that is too close to what I know in Canada). I like to sit in the back room, where I can observe the cooks doing their speedy and adroit magic in the open kitchen. I have had fish there many times, and each time was pleasantly surprised by the presentation of the dish, the combination of the fish and the sides (such as risotto), and the unexpected mingling of tastes. Dessert is lovely too – they have one cook responsible for figuring out the sweets and one for the mains. As far as I am concerned, this division of labor is kicking serious butt.

– L’Atelier (17 Rue Gioffredo, 06000 Nice, Tel: 04 93 85 50 74). This is the place to go for Socca, that typically niçois flatbread made from pois chiche flour. Socca here, though, comes in an unusual way (for the usual, standard, Socca, the place to go is Pippo, which has always long waiting times – often when I wondered in I was told I’d have to wait around 40 minutes to get some Socca). Anyways, so l’Atelier makes this appetizer where it uses Socca as the base, and then garnishes it with different things. Like Bresaiolla, tomatoes and mozzarella. It was skeptical the first time I ate there and have since gone back more than once. The mains, at night, are great too. The desserts seem to require a whole team of decorators, taste-engineers and so forth: they not only look impressive but also taste the part.

– Agua (41 Boulevard Stalingrad, 06300 Nice, Tel: 04 97 19 08 15). I had the most amazing fish tajine in this restaurant that … specializes in fish. It came with hearts of artichokes, and was a pure pleasure to finish off. While the decoration is a bit cold for my taste, the food is well worth hunting down this restaurant tucked away behind the harbor area of Nice.

– The Negresco Bar (37 Promenade des Anglais, 06000 Nice, Tel: 04 93 16 64 00). Ah, the Negresco Bar. If, like me, you like piano jazz, go there on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday nights. Now that spring has rolled around, the place is quite full in the evening. Still, it is worth an outing. The bar is old; it dates from 1913 and has intricate wood paneling and high ceilings. The service is at its possible best. The menu for after-dinner drinks will satisfy every palate, from those that look for something alcoholic (there are whiskys, cognacs, etc.) or virgin (there exquisite teas to choose from).

– A Table! (11 ter rue du Congrès, 06000 Nice). This newly-opened one-woman operation is charming. The lady who runs this teeny tiny place does her own cooking, billing, cleaning, serving, shopping, and she tries to shop organic as much as possible. I have had lunch there a couple of times, and always left with a smile on my face. There is a blackboard with a selection of daily specials, which range from inventive salads, to quiches and more hearty dishes. Desserts are wonderful too, and include home-made tartes, mousses and the obligatory café gourmand.

– Les Épicuriens (6 Place Wilson, 06000 Nice, Tel: 04 93 80 85 00). It’s been a while since I went there, I discovered this place early on in my stay in Nice, last fall. I much liked what I ate; the fare is sophisticated French cuisine, in an elegant atmosphere.

Avoid La Petite Maison. It is over-priced compared to what you can get elsewhere. And it does not serve local fare (there is lobster and truffles).

Photo adapted from bored-now.

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