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Posts from the ‘Côte d’Azur’ Category

playing my part at a 3 star michelin restaurant on la côte d’azure

When I told a friend that I had reserved a table at a 3 star Michelin restaurant, she laughed and encouraged me “to spend away my retirement cash.”  I reminded her that our plan to eat lunch at the French Laundry in California would have cost more than what I had estimated for the lunch at the 3 star restaurant in France.  I reasoned that I was saving money by eating in France.  That is silly, of course, because both restaurants are expensive and indulgent, and one wonders, “What is the point?”.

I prefer a bar à vin or a typical bistro that serves three simple courses and where the waiter serves a decent espresso at the end.  I pay attention to what the Michelin guides say about the other restaurants, the ones without the stars.  If a restaurant receives a Bib, I take notice.  ‘Bibs’ are awarded for simple yet skillful cooking: “Bib Gourmand: good quality, good value cooking.”

If a restaurant has “simple fare,” I go.  The words “Assiette MICHELIN : une cuisine de qualité” and “standing simple” are good signs, and I consider a restaurant even better if I see “Belle carte des vins.”

I know then that an “inspecteur” has been there and thought it worth a visit.  It is one way to limit the choices from thousands of restaurants.

Eating in a starred restaurant is like taking part in a play, and you are one of the actors. You do not know your lines but improvise along the way, hoping to say the right thing.  You take your cues from everyone around you, the many waiters, the maître d’, the sommelier, the young woman who brings a tray of fish to your table for you to inspect and whom you will never see again.  It is even more difficult to play a part in a foreign country where speaking the language is difficult.

Recently, I played my part at a 3 star Michelin Le Petit Nice.  Marseille is the second largest city in France, but it has only one 3 star restaurant.  That restaurant is Le Petit Nice.

Before reading further, you might watch a minute or two of an Anthony Bourdain episode “Marseille,” originally broadcast on his series Parts Unknown.  He eats lunch at Le Petit Nice with his traveling companion chef Eric Ripert.  It starts around 07:10.

They order the Ma Bouille Abaisse, as chef Gérald Passédat calls his deconstructed version of the Marseille bouillabaisse.  I ordered the same meal.

The Ma Bouille Abaisse cannot be ordered from the table; it has to be requested with an advance reservation.  When you sit down, the only carte you will be given is the wine list.  Your meal was being prepared well before you had arrived.

What is it?  What is on the menu?  How many courses are served?  I looked at the menu, of course, before going, but it was the waiter(s) who explained as the courses were served.  I will break the meal into six parts, although the Ma Bouille Abaisse is three courses.

First, there was the Avant-Goût which was an appetizer.  Next came the Premier Palier, or coquillages crus et girelles en beignets, sucs de girelles.  The third stage was the  Deuxième Palier with poissons et crustacés au bouillon safrané.  The last course of the Ma Bouille Abaisse is the Troisième Palier, or as the menu says, « Pour arriver en profondeur, trois pièces de poissons cuits entiers, soupe de roche aux favouilles ».  The last two courses, if you will, were Une Douceur and the Mignardises.  I ordered an espresso to drink with the mignardises.

I mentioned earlier that eating in a starred restaurant is like being an actor with a role in a play and not knowing the blocking or the lines.  I was ready to improvise my way to the end.

Course between the Avant-Goût and Premier Palier (I wish I knew what this is. It came first and is incomplete in the photo. Some garnishes of fish eggs were added. After eating it, I was to drink a light fish broth that had a tea bag seeping in it for 2 minutes.)

When I arrived at the restaurant, I could not figure out how to enter.  I had walked there from my apartment in Malmousque along the back streets.  I tried to enter from the back entrance, which had a sign pointing to the delivery door.  A door that I thought I could enter as a person who belongs, having earlier made a reservation and who was about to spend a small fortune and not the milk man, had two buttons.  I pushed them and spoke into the speaker.  No response.  Finally, a voice said, “Push the door.”  I had been trying to open the door by pulling on it.  (Why did I not push in the first place?  I blame the design of the door, and that is another story.) But wait, there’s more!

did I just eat an honest-to-goodness vraie bouillabaisse, or was it simply an expensive soupe de poisson

A fair number of French will tell you in unguarded moments that “Marseille is not France,” and what they mean by that is that it’s too Arab, too Italian, too Corsican, too mixed up with foreignness to be truly and adequately French.  But, anybody who knows me knows that’s exactly the kind of mixed up gene pool I like to swim in and eat in. It is a glorious stew of a city, smelling of Middle Eastern spices, garlic, saffron and the sea.  –Anthony Bourdain

You can make as dramatic a production as you want out of a bouillabaisse, but remember that it originated as a simple, Mediterranean fisherman’s soup, made from the day’s catch or its unsalable leftovers.  –Julia Child, who lived in Marseille for a year.

. . . there’s a convincing school of thought that says bouillabaisse, unlike its brethren around the Mediterranean, was a rich man’s dish from the beginning. Supporters of this argument point out that bouillabaisse is not made with just any fish but with quite specific varieties, none of which were ever abundant enough to be cheap, and that things like saffron and butter, both essential ingredients, would have been impossible for fisherman to afford until quite recently.  –Traveler’s Lunchbox

On any list of favorite Anthony Bourdain episodes would be his take on Marseille from Parts Unknown.  It is no longer available on Netflix, but it can be watched at  dailymotion.  Around 07:15, Anthony Bourdain and his traveling companion chef Eric Ripert are soon to eat a bouillabaisse à ma façon at Le Petit Nice Passedat, the only three star Michelin restaurant in Marseille.

Today, that lunch for Bourdain, Menu Bouille Abaisse en 5 services, costs 210€ per person, and one will need to reserve that particular menu item in advance, not after sitting down at the table.

What they eat is not a vraie bouillabaisse–my characterization–but a deconstructed version.  À ma façon, or in other words, the way I make it.  Sometimes well established chefs, in this case in a Michelin star restaurant, will take a staple dish, well-known, and break it down and remake it in a creative, thematic fashion.  To understand what is happening and to understand why, it is probably a good idea to eat a vraie bouillabaisse before making reservations at a Michelin starred restaurant and ordering something à ma façon.

One cannot eat une vraie bouillabaisse for under 50€ in France, or elsewhere.  One can certainly find a bouillabaisse for less and one for more than 200€.  A typical vraie bouillabaisse will cost between 50€ and 60€ for one person in Marseille, or nearby.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!

the birthplace of christianity & l’abbaye saint-victor de marseille

“If you’ve been to France, chances are you haven’t been here, France’s second-largest city, the oldest city in France. It sits right by the Mediterranean. The food is famously good. Yet it’s a victim of bad reputation, bad history. Marseille—as it turns out, exactly the kind of place I like.” –Anthony Bourdain

One things leads to another.

Anthony Bourdain died June 8 in Kaysersberg, France.

When I heard the news, I recalled his episode about Marseille from Parts Unknown (Season 6, episode 2) on Netflix.

That meant rewatching Anthony Bourdain and chef Eric Ripert sitting outside the Café de l’Abbaye, sipping pastis and enjoying the sun.

That reminded me of the many times when I was strolling that area of Marseille, and I had eventually had sat à la terrace at the same Café de l’Abbaye and had sipped a pastis.

That reminded me of some photos I had taken during a visit to l’abbaye Saint-Victor de Marseille nearby.

I have read that the Abbaye is one of the most popular tourist sites in Marseille.  I am not convinced.   It is not easily accessible.  Parking is difficult.  I have not yet visited the interior of the abbey when it has been crowded.  I have often walked the tomb-like rooms alone.

I am not prepared to give an accounting of my visits.  I can say I am fascinated with the place because of its age, its history.  (It is best to learn that history by reading about it in French.)

If only I had a guide, someone to tell me what I was seeing, to explain the different construction levels.

I can share some pictures though and a YouTube video.

Looking up I was impressed with the vaulted ceiling and the sunlight that burst and illuminated the interior. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

But wait, there’s more!

the walls of the ghost citadel of entrevaux, france

“For I perceived that man’s estate is as a citadel: he may throw down the walls to gain what he calls freedom, but then nothing of him remains save a dismantled fortress, open to the stars. And then begins the anguish of not-being.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Citadelle

Entrevaux was founded in the 11th century by the inhabitants of Glandèves, an ancient Roman town. It was heavily fortified by King François I in the mid 16th century and by King Louis XIV towards the end of the 17th century, in order to defend France from the Savoie invaders.”

Entrevaux, or ‘between valleys,” is one of many small, easily accessible, medieval villages up the Var valley from Nice, France.  It is situated, as the name suggests, between two valleys on the Var river.  It can be reached by car, but I prefer taking the small gage train, the Chemin de Fer de Provence, from a Nice train station.

Nice has two train stations.  Most travelers know the Gare de Nice-Ville on Avenue Thiers that is used by the TER, Intercity, and TGV lines.

A second station, a private one, is the Gare des Chemin de Fer at 4 Bis Rue Alfred Binet in Nice.  From here one will take the Chemin de Fer de Provence inland to Entrevaux.  It goes as far as Dignes-les-Bains, which is, incidentally, the setting where Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables begins.

I like visiting Entrevaux for a few reasons.  During lunch I will always order an entrée with some secca de bœuf, or secca d’Entrevaux, “a type of dried salted beef made in Entrevaux.  Similar to the Swiss Bindenfleisch, it is typically eaten as a starter.”  I adore the small bridge, the “royal gate,” that crosses the Var and leads into the village.  It helped to protect Entrevaux from invaders.  Finally, my favorite reason for going is the Citadel that stands above the village and provides a commanding view of both valleys.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

But wait, there’s more!