I travelled around France for 8 days, going to the 'popular' places that I've heard so much about. The goal was to get an Impressionist overview of the culture of the Cote d'Azur, Provence, Rhone-Alpes regions I visited, with food at the forefront. I give summaries of food I ate below, with links to more in depth reviews.
Arriving after 2pm, got a 6€ lunch at Multari, a bakery with several locations: a nice salmon sandwich, a slice of pissaladière, and a bottle of water.
I just wanted to try some local restaurants without splurging while in Nice, and I was too busy to make reservations. I'm surprised that the local restaurants all seem to highlight a mix of Provencal specialties and Italian-influenced pasta. Seafood was not at the forefront, which was unexpected for the Mediterranean.
Dinner at Restaurant Acchiardo. They open at 7pm, but I got there at 7:30. Made a reservation to come back at 8:45. There was a lot of English spoken in the back of the restaurant where I was seated, but as I was dining late only locals (or at least French speakers) remained by the end. They have no set menu here, so I constructed my own three course meal: petit farcis, daube of beef with gnocchi, and strawberry panna cotta. The house wines were also ridiculously cheap (2.4€/glass) so I got a glass of rosé since that’s what everyone else was having (turns out it’s a specialty of the region). The portions were very generous and I left stuffed. The daube was excellent, the large chunks of beef were very tender, with gelatin still intact for extra deliciousness. The gnocchi was fantastic as well. Total came out to 36.70€, which is not as cheap as the fixed menus at Palmyre and Rotissi-Serie perhaps? I would recommend it though.
Had a Nicoise salad at Paloma Beach. Nothing to write home about except the beach views.
Dinner at Restaurant du Gésu: I originally wanted to go to Bar des Oiseaux, but walking in at 8pm did not work (even though there were empty tables everywhere?). Basically every restaurant was booked, so I ended up here. The menu is limited and the food is simple, but it felt like a true local hangout — only one table besides mine spoke English. I got zucchini beignets, pesto ravioli (stuffed with veal I think), and a plate of three cheeses. The zucchini was average. I am not a pasta expert but the ravioli was enjoyable and filling. The cheese plate was glorious: basically all of the cheeses I had ogled over at the market this morning were presented in generous portions with bread and a little mesclun salad, slivers of tomato, olives. A soft slightly crumbly goat cheese, a mild gooey blue (my favorite), and a firmer blue. This was not a foodie restaurant or meal, but I liked the casual atmosphere and simple satiating food.
I haven't seen a bad review of this place on Chowhound so I was quite looking forward to my lunch here as the height of Cote d'Azur cuisine. But it turned out to be the most DISAPPOINTING meal of my trip. The first two courses: signature whole oyster in pear juice, thinly sliced calamari (reminiscent of a linguini) were great, highlighting fresh ingredients and creativity.
But then the John Dory (St Pierre) came, and it was undercooked. My knife couldn't cut through the skin, and I had to saw the meat off the skin to eat. I find this unacceptable for a restaurant of this calibre. I should have sent the dish back to the kitchen, but I didn't have the audacity to do so at the time. But I really wish I had.
The meat dish of Challans duck was nice but ordinary, same going for the dessert.
La Fourchette was booked, but I had the best meal of my trip at L’Isle Sonnante: got the Menu Gourmand: Le foie gras au baumes de venise, pain d’épices et chutney de mangue, L’epaule d’agneau confite 9 heures, jus au thym, blette et tagliatelles fraiches d’olives noires, Chocolat valrhona et ses agrumes.
The waiter also convinced me to get a glass of red wine (7€) from Cairanne, a local Cote du Rhone village AOC. I stupidly didn’t know at the time that Avignon was right on the Rhone river. I didn’t really believe in the notion of terroir before, but this wine really tasted fantastic.
The home-made foie gras (served as a round pate) tasted better than the ones I recently had at 1 star restaurants. The distinguishing taste was present without any of the more offensive liver flavors. Next up was the shoulder of lamb, which I expected to have a rustic presentation. Instead, there were two cross sections (like large roulades) presented artfully on a white square plate, with artichoke (not tagliatelle as on the menu) on the side. The meat was shockingly tender: no knife was necessary and the meat really came apart with the prod of the fork.
This restaurant really lived up to my expectations of Provencal cooking: simple, hearty, and delicious.
Lunch at L'Affenage: The menu at Le Galoubet wasn’t super appealing to me, and it was slightly more expensive than I wanted for lunch (30€ for three courses), and L’Autruche was even more expensive, but the 22€ menu at L'Affenage looked just right: Terrine maison aux noisettes, saucisse seche, confiture d’oignon, Gardianne de taureau AOC, roasted potatoes with bacon, house ratatouille, Baba au rhum.
The terrine was served in a large baking dish/tray, together with the sausage and onion chutney on a large cutting board. You eat your fill of the terrine and leave the rest for other diners. I chose the gardianne de taureau because I saw it was a daube special to the Camargue region (which Arles is a part of) which often uses meat from bulls killed in the bullfighting arenas (Arles does have an arena, though I’m not sure if there are still bulls killed there). The stew is served in a small clay bowl which looks small in size. But then the waitress brings over a bowl of the best roasted potatoes (seasoned with herbs de Provence) and a house ratatouille to pair. I ate it all, though it was difficult near the end. The stew did have a slight wine-y flavor, which made me prefer the daube I had a few nights ago in Nice a little more.
This restaurant has incredible atmosphere. It really is like eating in someone else’s home. Local and family run, the two waitresses don’t speak much English. The food wasn’t as good as the previous night’s dinner in Avignon, but it is cheaper and lunch, and it truly fulfilled my romantic fantasy of eating good, homemade “peasant” food in a small village in France.
I arrived at 10pm so wasn't able to go to a bouchon for dinner. Pissed, I decided to just skip dinner and go to two bouchons in one day: Chez Hugon and Daniel et Denise.
Chez Hugon: lentils with sausage for the entree, the chef’s specialty gâteau de foie de volaille for the main, and 1/2 Saint-Marcellin cheese. I was not a fan of the lentils because they had a very strong vinegar flavor. The chicken liver flan was quite good. The flan is fluffy, served in a delicious creamy sauce with some bread dumplings(?). The cheese was soft, slightly stinky, i.e., perfect. The portions looked fairly small so I did not feel like I was eating a huge amount. The food is filling, but it didn’t have the same heartiness as my Provençal meals.
Boulangerie Du Palais: A small shop on an otherwise touristy street. I got a slice of tarte aux pralines, which has a distinctive red color from the pralines. I am a huge fan of marzipan, and this tart was basically a marzipan bomb. A little too sweet, but I'm not complaining. Best snack ever.
Daniel et Denise: I made a reservation online the night before, choosing 7:00pm right when they open (Crequi location of course) since I was afraid some of their pate en croute would run out later. I ordered a la carte, getting their classics: pâté en croûte, omelette du curé with crayfish and Nantua sauce, gras double. I also got the red wine of the day, which was still quite good but not as good as the Cote du Rhone from Avignon. Everyone was served an amuse-bouche of la cervelle de canut (at least that's what I think it was) with crispy bread. The pate en croute was quite good, basically as perfect as it could get. The sweetbread was interesting, but I must admit the foie gras was still the best part of the pate. There was an accompanying onion chutney was that amazing as well. The egg was cooked just right in the omelette, and the crayfish gave a distinctive seafood flavor that worked well. I sopped up the sauce with bread. This turned out to be a mistake because they brought out the gras double with a complementary side of macaroni gartin (heavy on cream) and sautéed potatoes. I fought a war with my stomach as I tried to finish everything. The tripe is crispy on the outside while still tripe-textured on the inside. Very heavy, which is why the added vinegar is needed. I am still quite sensitive to the vinegar acidity, so this wasn't my favorite dish. The macaroni had an interesting smokiness to it that was hard to place. In the end, I ate all of the tripe, half the macaroni, and left most of the potatoes because they were just average. Barely alive, I took a long walk back home.
Everything at Daniel et Denise was a little more refined than at Chez Hugon. Chez Hugon has more history and more of the family feel, while Daniel et Denise was just perfectly executed classic Lyonnaise food in a very nice setting. I had a good experience at both places, with no flaws in service. However I find traditional bouchon food to be too heavy for my liking. I am no stranger to eating offals, and these recipes are certainly unique methods of preparation that taste good, but I would not put them in my "favorite things to eat" list.
I only wanted to eat Savoyard specialties and I skipped a few meals, so these won't be the most informative reviews.
Atmosphere: refined setting (but not stuffy). Perhaps because it's off season but they offered me the Fondue Atmosphere (Comte cheese fondue with charcuterie and potatoes) for one person (usually 2). My first time eating fondue, but it was pretty glorious. The fondue was just the right saltiness/stinkiness. Nothing to complain about, and I thought the price was quite reasonable. Also got a local white wine (Chignin) but that was average.
Caleche: walked in at 2pm for lunch, asking if they served raclette for one. They did. This restaurant seems to have mixed reviews, but I don't see how you can mess up raclette. I preferred the fondue from yesterday, but mainly because I don't like scraping cheese every 30 seconds, and the cheese today was a little less sharp. Service very attentive and friendly.
Saving tartiflette for last as it seems to be the Savoyard dish requiring the most skill, I went to Le Pichet. The tartiflette was mediocre, though it is my first time having it. It wasn't quite gooey, more like pastry crust floating in a fondue of ham and potatoes. Hopefully truly good tartiflette is much better (I regret not going to Atmosphere again for their tartiflette now), but I didn't have the time to seek it out.
Stay tuned next week for a much more intensive and planned trip report of Paris!
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