The sun is beginning to set here in Nice, and since lunch we have visited the Musée Matisse in the magnificent Nice neighborhood of Cimiez … yet I can still feel the pleasure of our three and a half hour luncheon, I can remember the flavors and the marvelous sensations of enjoying the food and wine. Let me bring you back to relive today’s memorable gastronomique luncheon with me.
Just off the Promenade des Anglais on the Baie des Anges (“Bay of Angels”) in the heart of Nice, is the palatial Hotel Negresco, listed by the French government as a National Historic Building and a member of the Leading Hotels of the World. As we enter the hotel, we are greeted by a doorman dressed in the uniform of an 18th century elite bourgeois household servant who inquires after our needs and takes us to the Chantecler Restaurant. The “feast” has begun.
Our eyes take in the glamorous opulence of the architecture and décor of the hotel with its multitude of Mediterranean colors against a stark white setting and we are suitably impressed by the Gobelin tapestries and the impressive collection of paintings and sculpture.
As we enter the restaurant, the visual feast continues. Our eyes roam from roccoco furniture in vivid shades of pink, lime, lemon, and cerulean blue to the custom-made Limoges table settings in these same colors to Baccarat Chandeliers to striking pink tablecloths which speak to the restaurant’s joie de vivre, and finally to the magnificent view of the Mediterranean from the huge glass doors at the entry. A visual treat no less impressive than that of the food to come … and the stage is set.
While the à la carte section of the menu is impressive, we decide to order Le Menu Plaisir, a set menu with wine pairings which appeals to us. By definition we are expecting a “pleasurable” meal, but the meal in all essence exceeds our expectations. After we place our order, the staff is delightfully attentive, and we find our water poured, we make our selections from the basket of freshly baked breads accompanied by a monogrammed butter, and we are toasting each other with our light Tariquet Cotes de Gascogne white wine ready for our gastronomical experience to begin.
As is the custom of restaurants of this standing, the Chef sends out an amuse-bouche (“palate-teaser”) to welcome his guests and enhance the excitement for the meal to come. Jean-Denis Rieubland, the chef of the Chantecler, exerts his originality with a Mise-en-Bouche of Blanc-manger (“Blancmange”) of smoked salmon in watermelon aspic laced with balsamic vinegar. While a “blancmange” is typically a sweet dish, this one is a very light, almost ethereal savory dish that truly serves to arouse our interest in the meal.
Pan fried duck foie gras with figs, sweet potato mousseline and balsamic sauce come next. While this dish may sound a bit rich and heavy for summer fare by the beach, it was surprisingly light. Of course, Chef Rieubland sets the portions at their ideal size so as to satisfy rather than satiate. The sweet figs enhanced by the touch of balsamic vinegar marries perfectly with the salty foie gras to produce a mouthful of exquisite satisfaction that is further enhanced by the light airy texture of the mousseline.
Prior to the main course of roasted rabbit with fresh herbs, rice and parmesan cromesquis, and local zucchini with black olives, our sommelier comes to offer us a Coteux d’Aix-en-Provence red wine, the 2007 La Bargemone. The Bargemone vineyard was founded by The Templar Knights in the 13th century. Full-bodied with light spice and loaded with rich, intense cherry fruit, this wine complements perfectly our Provence-inspired food with its divine mixture of French and Italian inspirations. Plus the blend of flavors and textures in this course, with the additional crunch of a playful home-made potato chip ribbon, leaves our taste buds and our stomachs completely satisfied.
An unexpected treat arrives next – a “pre-dessert” of panna cotta with fresh mango. Light and refreshing, this little entremets kindles our desire for the sweetness of dessert.
We shared two desserts, each of which reminds me of a piece of modern art — constructed forms of shape, color and flavor that arranged together provide an ultimate form of pleasure. The first original creation is a “harmony of mirabelle (yellow plum) and licorice, vanilla cream and Genova cake”, and the second is a “Bretagne shortbread and Manjari chocolate cube with crème brulée and caramel”. To describe them as “original” would be an understatement. Clearly the pastry chef is an artist in his own right whose creations are edible works of art.
Our meal concludes with the pastry chef’s mignardises and coffees.
Long after our feast is over, the memory and the pleasures linger on.
Stay tuned to BonVoyageurs.com for more Countries of the World as we share our joie de vivre from around the world. Luxury escapes and city breaks to Quebec City, New York, Washington, Buenos Aires. In Europe, places like Paris France, Nice France, Provence and the Cote d’Azur (French Riviera), Tuscany and Florence in Italy, Rome, Napoli and the Amalfi Coast. In Asia, countries like China, India, Nepal and so much more!