WHEN IN NICE, WE LIVE TO EAT !
The culinary scene in Nice and the glamorous Côte d’Azur features some of the best dishes of both France and its neighbor to the east, Italy. Fresh pasta, authentic pasta dishes and pizza as well as gelato are all plentiful as are warm artisanal croissants in the morning, lots and lots of fresh fish with the pièce de résistance always being the divine bouillabaisse, and freshly baked French tarts and pâtisserie.
Of course, there are the well-known specialties of the region … from an anchovy, onion & olive tart known as “pissaladière” to salade Niçoise — the latter of which is now on menus around the world. Petits farcis Niçois, which are an assortment of the local sweet baby zucchini, eggplants, tomatoes and onions filled with a Parmigiano-Reggiano and ham based stuffing, are another local favorite readily available at the marché as well as at many of the local specialty shops and restaurants.
If I’ve piqued your curiosity, here are the culinary highlights of our recent 10-day stay based in the very inviting city of Nice, capital of the Alpes-Maritimes department on the French Cote d’Azur …
SOME OF OUR FAVORITE RESTAURANTS IN THE ENVIRONS DE NICE
We returned to three of our old favorites which we go to every time we visit Nice …
LA MÈRE GERMAINE, just east of Nice in Villefranche-sur-Mer, serves the best bouillabaisse in the region and has been doing so since 1938. This legend of a restaurant occupies a prime location on the deep-water port of Villefranche. While we have enjoyed our bouillabaisse inside this impressive grande dame of a restaurant, our preference is to sit outside along the water’s edge where we can enjoy up close and personal the comings and goings of the yachts and the water taxis on this charming waterfront. As for the food, we can recommend the appetizers, salads and fabulous fish presentations, but our heart still belongs to the bouillabaisse with its divinely flavored broth, perfectly cooked fresh local fish, and impeccably flavored rouille. We would never dream of going to La Mère Germaine without enjoying bouillabaisse and a nicely chilled Rosé de Provence. Save room for dessert … if you can! They are as artistically presented and flavorful as all the other dishes and provide the perfect ending to the perfect meal.
LA COLOMBE D’OR (“The Golden Dove”) proudly sits just before the walled entrance to the hilltop village of St. Paul de Vence, situated 1/2 hour from Nice by car in the Alpine Hills above Cagnes-sur-Mer, where Renoir lived out his golden years. This renowned restaurant has attracted a coterie of artists, writers, and famous personalities for more than a century. Indeed, the walls, niches and crannies of this charming auberge speak colorfully of many of its famous guests who, like Picasso, Miro and Braque, have actually paid for their food and lodging with their art. Moreover, a distinguishing hallmark of La Colombe d’Or is that it proudly offers the same colorful hand-written menu, replete with Colombe d’Or specialties and French classics, which it has offered to its distinguished clientele for over 70 years. Quite impressive!
We always start with La Colombe d’Or Hors d’oeuvres avec son Panier de Crudités. To enjoy this signature entrée followed by a main course and dessert, we like to prepare by taking a long walk around this Medieval walled town, up and down the steep hills, to build up a hearty appetite because this appetizer is as substantial as you will find in France. It’s not that the dish is particularly rich or heavy, but it offers an extensive selection of food. First comes a huge basket of artfully arranged farm fresh produce along with tapenades, next a wide assortment of charcuterie sliced upon command at the table, and finally a dozen or so assorted local dishes, all favorites of the region. Ranging from beets, lentils and roasted red peppers to sardines and anchovies, each of these dishes is individually seasoned to enhance its natural flavor … and the irresistible urge is try at least a little taste of each. Following such a copious entrée, we always move onto a light main course — usually one of the many exquisitely fresh fish offerings, either classically prepared in a light French sauce or simply grilled with fresh lemon and olive oil. Desserts are delightful classics, and by the time we reach this point, we normally order just one for the table ~ such as Le Gâteau au Chocolat or La Tarte de la Mère Roux — and consume it slowly along with La Colombe d’Or’s signature orange digestif à l’orange.
CHATEAU EZA in Eze is our favorite spot for lunch on top of the awesomely located 1,000 year old Medieval village perché of Eze. It is an intimate restaurant offering from their tables what we think are the best views in Eze. Plus, unlike some of the competition, Le Château Eza has a top chef in charge of the midday meal, not just dinner. And that makes a huge difference, both in the design and execution of the menu as well as in the quality of the presentation and the service.
This last visit we sat on a private balcony literally jutting out from the rock wall and overlooking the azure blue Mediterranean. Awesome. Gazing down from our vantage point 1,400 feet above sea level, we felt like royalty overlooking the many huge yachts anchored far below us in the bay. Our view of the coastline ranged extensively to the west from Beaulieu-sur-Mer to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, home to the magnificent Villa Ephrussi-Rothschild, to the Bay of Villefranche and Cap de Nice, and to the east towards Monaco. We relished the delightful cool breezes that kept us well protected from the midday heat. A totally enchanting site to enjoy a meal. And what a meal!
The Restaurant Chateau Eza in this historic and utterly charming boutique hotel offers for lunch either Le Menu du Château in 3 or 4 courses or their impressive à la carte menu. We selected Le Menu du Château in 3 courses. From the delightful amuse-bouche to the dessert and mignardises, we were absolutely enchanted by the presentations, the layers of flavor in each dish, and the originality of the dish. Yes, each was undoubtedly inspired by a French classic, but the chef put his personal seal on each dish to the point that I would never dare try to return home and replicate any of his new tasting experiences.
In a word — I loved the meal, and so did the rest of my family. And like others who put reviews and comments on line, I cannot begin to understand why this amazingly talented chef in this spectacular location with its charming decor has not received at least 1 Michelin star. He definitely deserves it. Nothing is lacking at Château Eza to please the most discriminating palette … from the Smoked Burrata accompanied by a light basil infused oil and Gazpacho Andalouse to the Filet of Sea Bass with its ethereal Sauce Maltaise to the exquisite and most original Provençal shortbread dessert which enthralled my taste buds … and I daydream of returning for more.
A new restaurant discovery this year is the very popular and touristy Le Plongeoir bar and restaurant, which sits boldly out on the Mediterranean with a stunning 180 degree view overlooking the sea and the ships which pass by the coast, the entryway into the old port of Nice, the swimmers and divers who dare to plunge from nearby cliffs into the sea, and the magnificent coastline of this charming part of old Nice. The architecture and view of this restaurant is nothing less than stunning, and the food was innovatively prepared and delicious. I particularly enjoyed the exceptionally light and fresh Zucchini Flower and Gamba Tempura with its spicy tomato and cool broccoli dipping sauces. And the Lemon Meringue pie was perhaps the best I ever had.
If you can’t make it here for dinner, I recommend you come for cocktails as you sit out on the lower deck and enjoy the gorgeous sunset and the constant activity around the port. Caveat: the awesome setting and view comes at a price. Service is somewhat neglectful and the staff may ask you to leave if you linger (which is what happened to us). If you happen to visit Le Plongeoir, please let us know what you think.
We have a lot more to say about our always enjoyable stays in Nice. See our recent article “Our love affair with the city of Nice and the Côte d’Azur“, or some of our many earlier writings about Nice and the French Riviera, like “The Niceties of Nice” or “Nice, France, my kind of town“. As usual, our focus at BonVoyageurs is on the joie de vivre we experience when we travel, and all opinions expressed in our articles are exclusively our own.