La Bastide Saint Antoine Jacques Chibois

A tranquil garden setting.

A tranquil garden setting.

Jacques Chibois is the chef orchestrating this symphony of flavor at the fine five-star hotel, La Bastide Saint Antoine in Grasse. Renowned among the culinary cognoscenti, La Bastide Saint Antoine is a powerful magnet drawing visitors up to the hills of Grasse otherwise known for its flowers and perfume. Maître Chibois is firmly grounded in the terroir Grassois, successfully integrating the heady aromas of Grasse with Provençal products and produce. His dishes evoked the scent and colors of a flowery bouquet without actually using any flowers. Fortunately!

The weekday lunch menu offers a wide choice of seven or eight starters, main courses or desserts which I think is important in this age when everyone is on some strange diet or another. Trying to cut down on high glycemic index whatever, I forsook the risotto appetizer with lobster and shrimp and ordered the Poitrine de Caille tiède, sur leur Croustillant de Carottes et Courgettes de Nice, Safranée à la Cardamone, which is to say “warm quail breast on crusty carrots and zucchini perfumed with cardomom”.  The small chunks of quail breast were lightly grilled on the outside while pink and tender on the inside. The cardomom and other mysterious flavors added just the vaguest whiff of exoticism without overwhelming the dish.

Breast of quail starter

Breast of quail starter

My skinny companion went for the Le Mitonné de Homard, grosses Crevettes en Risotto de Cèpes secs au Champagne which I tasted and found extraordinary. “Isn’t the rice undercooked?” he asked. No, no! Risotto should be and rarely is al dente. It was perfection.

My quail was followed by a delightful Loup Sauvage poêlé aux Aubergines, zestes d’Orange et Févettes, Fondue de Tomate Basilic et huile d’Olive, sauce Citron vert or “wild sea bass pan-cooked with eggplant, orange zest and fava beans with tomato, basil, olive oil and lime fondue”. The melt-in-your-mouth sea bass combined so surprisingly with the citrus-y flavors and the zesty tomato sauce.

Wild sea bass main course

Wild sea bass main course

I’m not a partaker of pork but my companion was pleased with the Cochon accompagné de Cèpes Sautés, avec ses Pâtes Rôties au persil, Pain Perdu de Cèpes Sauce Elégante de Tonka. Tonka? Tonka? What’s tonka? It’s a South American bean described as “the ingredient so good it has to be illegal”  Often used in perfume (ya see?) the indescribable flavor  is  alone worth a trek to Grasse to try.

But of course there was dessert. Most of the desserts used fresh fruit in contrasting flavors and adorned with chocolate or perfumed with nuts and spices. I couldn’t resist the strawberry soufflé with sorbet. It was so light and fruity. The little selection of “post-desserts” to accompany the coffee was perfectly balanced to end the meal with just a touch of sweetness.

Apricot dessert

Apricot dessert

The suggested wine for our choices was a white Sainte-Marguerite which went perfectly with all we had ordered.

The service was friendly and the outdoor seating around a lawn was tranquil and conducive to fine dining.

My only slight disappointment was not having something to nibble on with our champagne cocktail although the amuse-bouches soon came and were entirely satisfactory.

La Bastide Saint Antoine Jacques Chibois website.

Nice: Dining With a View

Dining Al Fresco at La Maison du Séminaire.

Dining Al Fresco at La Maison du Séminaire.

There’s a lot to be said about the unheralded beaches on Nice’s eastern coast: Coco Beach, La Reserve, Bains Militaires. Few tourists frequent these beaches mainly because they are far from the hotel sector and the rocky coastline is not to everyone’s taste. Those that do venture this far east are rewarded with unparalleled views over the entire Baie des Anges. The coastal path that winds its way along the water nearly as far as Villefranche-sur-Mer is another good reason to make the journey.

For such exertions, sustenance is necessary and there are a few good options here. At the top-of-the-line is La Reserve which offers elegant but pricey gourmet treats on a terrace and glassed-in dining room right over the water. At the bottom of the line. . .well, there is no bottom of the line here. There are no snack shops or sandwich stalls or any kind of takeaway food.

Mid-range dining includes the Nautical Club of Nice which offers simple dishes overlooking the water every day but Monday and Coco Beach restaurant which specializes in fish and unpredictable hours.

Another excellent choice is the restaurant of La Maison du Séminaire just across from La Reserve on bd Franck Pilatte. This 19th-century seminary is in the process of transforming itself into a luxury hotel and sports a long terrace with views over the sea as well as a modern interior dining room. The menu is reasonably-priced and offers a range of Mediterranean-accented dishes with an emphasis on meat and pasta. They also boast a weekday lunch deal of €16 for a two-course meal and €20 for a three-course meal. We were most pleased with the ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach and the daily special of beef wrapped in noodles with a side of panisse.

Beach Dining in Cannes: Rado Plage

Rado Plage meal

Easter Sunday marks the grand resurrection of beach restaurants in Cannes so I decided to check out Rado Plage, which is famous for being the oldest beach-restaurant in Cannes. I must admit that it was not the restaurant’s illustrious history that attracted me but the two-course fixed price menu for €20.50. Dining along the beach in Cannes can be a very expensive proposition! You’re lucky to get a salad or a small plate of pasta for that price. Sure, you can enjoy the sun and surf but what about filling up the tummy?

I’m happy to report that Rado Plage satisfied on all counts from price to taste to portion size. The two-course menu offered a choice of three starters and three main courses. Although the salmon tartare and seafood cocktail looked tempting, we opted for  the old standby, Salade Niçoise and were not disappointed. All the ingredients were fresh and the vinaigrette was well-balanced. It was nearly a meal in itself. The main course was even better. A good chunk of hake was sauteed in a Mediterranean sauce and accompanied by sauteed carrots, ratatouille, rice and an interesting flan. My companion enjoyed giant sauteed shrimp with the same side dishes. We were also well-pleased with the crisp house rosé. For an extra €5 we could have ordered the three-course menu but, frankly we were already full.

There may be finer dining along the Cannes bay and there are surely glitzier and trendier places, but we agreed that Rado Plage offers the best value for money of all the Cannes beach restaurants.