After a six-hour train ride from Paris to the Cote d'Azur, we were more than happy to switch from walking shoes to flip-flops upon our arrival to Nice. Although rocky rather than sandy, the beach at Nice was a beautiful sight indeed with clear skies, azure waters, and topless women.
Not that I noticed (wink-wink). As we walked the Promenade de Anglais (Nice's main beachfront thoroughfare), my wife mentioned to me that there were women on the beach sans tops. Of course, that bit of information barely registered on my brain because I was daydreaming about, uh, um, local delicacies. I mean food. My thoughts were on food of course (tee-hee). And so, after the long train ride, we resolved to to immediately get some food in our bellies and to return to the beach for some
ogling sun the following day.
At the heart of Nice's old town is the Cours Saleya, an outdoor bazaar of vendors, cafes, and restaurants, exploding with color and Mediterranean flare. It's best to just wander around the Cours Saleya and Old Town as there are hidden shops, eateries, and wine stores around every corner. Besides the beach, the Cours Saleya was our favorite part of Nice and where we spent a majority of our time eating, people watching, and eating.
Most restaurants (ok, maybe all of them) in the Cours Saleya are a bit touristy as hosts and hostesses of various eateries stood outside trying to lure walkers-by to sit down at their outdoor tables. Despite these annoying tactics, there were a few good finds that my wife and I enjoyed.
Le Grand Bleu
Although this restaurant did have a menu-wielding sentry at its entrance, there was something else entirely that convinced us to choose it for dinner one night.
They were the only restaurant that had an outdoor display of its seafood bounty. And then when I saw homedude in the blue apron shucking fresh oysters, I knew I had to try this place out. Afterall, it's Nice and surely any restaurant in Nice can do seafood justice right?
When we sat down at Le Grand Bleu, our table was quite wobbly. So our waiter quickly ran to homedude in the blue apron, said a few magic words, homedude in the blue apron handed the waiter something, and our waiter returned with an oyster shell to shimmy between our table leg and the ground. My wife and I laughed and thought that that was quite charming actually. I then looked at a few other tables and noticed that some were also steadied with oyster shells (the mermaids around Nice must also go topless with all the bivalve halves being used on land).
Of course, I ordered some raw oysters--only six as The Wife doesn't appreciate raw pearl-makers. The more for me then I say!
These oysters were perfect, either with a spritz of lemon juice or just as is, they were briny and delicious. Unfortunately, they were the only good thing we had at Le Grand Bleu. We ordered grilled langostines and roasted turbot, but both of these main dishes were overcooked. Such a terrible waste. So if you ever find yourself in Nice and at Le Grand Bleu, order a mess of raw oysters, a cold bottle of Cotes du Provence, and call it a day.
Another city, another gelateria for me and my wife. Where Pozzetto's gelato in Paris excelled at texture and taste, Fennochio's gelato in Nice excelled in variety with over 96 flavors.
We were in Nice for three nights, and each night we each had a scoop of gelato from Fennochio. We had Tiramisu, Rocher (like the candy), Caramel, Caramel Beurre Sale (Caramel Butter Salt), Mascarpone, and Vanilla and Red Peppercorn.
Flavor-wise, these were all very good. Texture-wise, they were all a little more melty and less dense than Pozzetto's gelato. The Vanilla and Red Peppercorn wasn't as bad as it sounds, it was actually pretty good and something I'd have again. But my most favorite was the Caramel Butter and Salt, while my wife loved the Mascarpone.
You can't visit Nice without trying Socca, a local snack made of chickpeas and olive oil. There are a couple places in the Cours Saleya that make this chickpea pancake, but Chez Therese was the first one we found. To find it, just walk along the Cours Saleya until you see a dark-haired woman hacking apart golden pieces of Socca from atop her very hi-tech trash can griddle. Chez Therese herself:
After placing your order, Therese takes a knife and cuts a few pieces of Socca and places it in some paper for you to take back to your table.
Socca is to be eaten hot and with the fingers, and with a few sprinkles of black pepper if you want a bit more kick to what tastes like crusty hummus. Socca isn't very filling, but a great choice for an afternoon snack after exploring the nooks, crannies, and back alleys of the Cours Saleya.
This little restaurant is off the (very) beaten path of the Cours Saleya, just on the outskirts of the bazaar. Despite it's very small dining room (I'm guessing it holds 20 or so people), I was glad we found this place as the food here was more indicative of Nice and Provence and less expensive compared to the hawkers out on the Cours Saleya.
The Wife and I started with a plate of Coppa and Fried Squash Blossoms. With Nice's proximity to Italy, there are many Italian influences in Nicoise cuisine. Coppa is actually an Italian preparation of diced pork shoulder that is stuffed into casings and cured (I was hankering for more Charcuterie after eating at Aux Lyonnaise in Paris).
The coppa was milder than I thought it would be, and was more like a ham than a type of sausage. But with bits of tasty fat running through it, the coppa was still quite delicious.
The fried squash blossoms were also very good as the batter on the flowerettes was crisp and had just the right amount of seasoning.
For our main courses, we ordered Beef Daube and Stuffed Sardines. Beef daube is basically beef that has been stewed in red wine along with various vegetables. The beef was fork tender and still redolent of red wine. And although we weren't sure what the sardines were stuffed with (I think the stuffing consisted of only herbs, parsley for sure, who knows what else), they were my favorite dish of the night. The sardines were lightly breaded and fried, and still remained moist and tender.
With the very tight quarters inside La Merenda, it was easy to strike up conversation with neighbors and sneak peeks at what other people were eating. A young swiss woman that sat next to us told us that La Merenda's chef had left a big hotel restaurant in town so that he can open up his own place. We were all very glad about this decision after tasting the chef's food.