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Posts from the ‘Côte d’Azur’ Category

where will i eat today? or choosing a restaurant while visiting france

Eating well in France is important to me. Sometimes I organize my day around eating in a specific restaurant.

I live in France six months during the year, three months in Antibes, two months in Paris, and one month in Marseille. During those six months, I will eat lunch in a restaurant every day. Most of the time I will not repeat a restaurant. One can do the math. I eat in French restaurants 180 times each year.

If I am going to fly to France twice a year and spend between $1,000 and $1,500 for each ticket, I do not want to eat sandwiches or pizza or other fast foods while I am there. When I leave the apartment or hotel room in the morning, I do not want to carry a sack lunch nor do I want to eat “grab and go” meals. I want a good hot meal and I want to drink some wine. I will not become French when I am in France, but I can certainly pretend.

How does a visitor to France pick a restaurant? After all, eating in France should be an experience in itself. I suspect that most tourists choose a restaurant on the spur of the moment. If they are at Notre Dame, they will look around and choose one nearby, or select one that offers a menu that they understand, or pick a place that seems inviting or does not appear threatening.

That is a mistake. But, what should one do?

What do I NOT do?

Rarely will I rely on Yelp or TripAdvisor. (In fact I have blocked TripAdvisor on the my browser.) I am in France. Why would I take the advice of English speaking tourists, mostly Americans, when choosing a French restaurant in France?

I do sometimes make an exception. On the advice of Annie Sargent from The Join Us in France Travel Podcast, I have begun looking at Yelp reviews written in French by the French. That means typing into the search engines yelp.fr instead of yelp.com. But wait, there’s more!

cassis–a day at bloomsbury-on-méditerranée

Qu’a vist Paris, se noun a vist Cassis, pou dire: n’ai rèn vist. [“One may have seen Paris, but if one hasn’t seen Cassis, one hasn’t seen anything.”] –Frédéric Mistral, Nobel Prize laureate

Cassis was a lovely fishing village, once. Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell, both members of the Bloomsbury Group, would travel there each summer when they would rent a cottage called La Bergère in the grounds of Château de Fontcreuse.

After her first time in Cassis in 1925 Virginia Woolf wrote: “Nobody shall say of me that I have not known perfect happiness.”

Because of Cassis’s special quality of light, painters in the 1920s such as Dufy, Signac and even Winston Churchill would unpack their easels in Cassis.

Expanding the time frame during the the 19th and 20th centuries many painters made their way to Cassis, many of them painting scenes in and around Cassis between 1850 and 1950. Au cours des 19ème et 20ème siècle Cassis a vu passer de grands maîtres de la peinture–Derain, Picabia, Signac, Camoin, Verdilhan, Monticelli, Cazille, Guindon.

A larger list of artists, some well-known and others not, would include: Emile Othon Friesz (1879-1949), Paul Guigou (1834-1871), Ernest Georges Chauvier de Leon (1835-1907), Adolphe Joseph Monticelli (1824-1886), Jean-Baptiste Olive (1848-1936), Félix Ziem (1821-1911), Joseph Ravaisou (1865-1925), René Seyssaud (1867-1952), Francis Picabia (1879-1953), Louis Mathieu Verdilhan (1875-1928), Charles Camoin (1879-1965), Auguste Pegurier (1856-1936), Georges Brague (1882-1963), André Derain (1880-1954), Paul Signac (1863-1935), Pierre Ambrogiani (1906-1985), Maurice Vlaminck (1876-1958), Moiese Kisling (1891-1953), Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), François Nardi (1861-1936), Rudolf Kundera (1911-2005). But wait, there’s more!

une vraie bouillabaisse at chez fonfon

I imagined the young man a Michelin Guide restaurant reviewer in disguise. He had arrived at Chez Fonfon without a reservation. He wore a tee-shirt and carried a copy of T. E. Lawrence’s Lawrence of Arabia in his hand. He was perfect for the job. No one would suspect.

His eyes belonged to Marcel Proust when he was young. His nose was slightly beaked, too. A close shaved beard made him seem a little older.

Could he be a reviewer after all? No young people eat at Chez Fonfon unless their parents have invited them and are paying the bill. Did he have an inheritance? Was he, so to speak, independent?

I noticed him for two reasons: I heard him say he had no reservation, and, secondly, he did not get any attention after he was seated.

A few days earlier on a Wednesday, I climbed the steps to Chez Fonfon. I had wanted to eat bouillabaisse, the wonderful Marseille soup that has rules. (I will say more about that later.) I had no reservation. Monsieur m’a dit, « Non ! C’est complet ! » I was being turned away.

Ruth Reichl described the experience this way: “‘Do you have a reservation?’ This is said so challengingly I instantly feel as if I am an intruder who has wandered into the wrong restaurant.”

The young man had arrived with no reservation, so naturally, I wanted to know his fate. He was permitted to stay. He was the only one. For others who followed, « Non, c’est complet. Désolé ! »

Yet when he sat down, no one brought a menu. Waiters scurried about him, going this way and that, cutting paths that encompassed him in a triangle. No one asked if he wanted an aperitif. He had patience, this young man. But wait, there’s more!

another day in le panier

“Marseilles isn’t a city for tourists. There’s nothing to see. Its beauty can’t be photographed. It can only be shared. It’s a place where you have to take sides, be passionately for or against. Only then can you see what there is to see. And you realize, too late, that you’re in the middle of a tragedy. An ancient tragedy in which the hero is death. In Marseilles, even to lose you have to know how to fight.” ― Jean-Claude Izzo, Total Chaos

“In Paris and later in Marseille, I was surrounded by some of the best food in the world, and I had an enthusiastic audience in my husband, so it seemed only logical that I should learn how to cook ‘la cuisine bourgeoise’—good, traditional French home cooking.” —Julia Child

Several years ago I visited Marseille, France for the first time. It was against the wishes of friends and family. I had been told Marseille is too dangerous: I might get mugged, or worse, I might be killed and left in an alley without my passport and nobody would know who I was and I would be transferred to a morgue and no one would know my name or where I had come from. The latter was not the worse case scenario, they thought. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.) But wait, there’s more!