Wednesday, September 3, 2014

L'Ecole de Nice: Restaurant Review

 I have heard various reports about the restaurant: L'ecole de Nice....a place that has been around since 2012 but I had never tried.  One couple I know had poor service there, but no one has complained about the food itself.   

  So I decided it was time to go find out first hand and to take one of my good buddies along. 

 Meet Patrick.

      The restaurant L'ecole de Nice is named for the art movement of the same moniker that includes Arman, Alocco (nice guy), Ben, Cesar, Yves Klein and many other  Nicoise artists from the 60's.    The concept of this bistrot marries art, music and cuisine to represent the city of Nice.  

The idea was conceived by three friends: the "chef étoilé,  Keisuke Matsushima ; his second in command, Yoshinobu Seki and a Franco /Japanese composer and DJ called Marc Panther.  

The Michelin starred chef has two other restaurant collaborations:  The Poisidon (17 rue Gubernatis) and the original restaurant named for him : Keisuke Matshshima ( 22  rue de France).  

Since this is a "cantine"  we were rewarded with the same quality one would find at the other restaurants but with a much reduced menu and modest prices.  For two courses, the price is 18 euros and for an "entree, Plat et Dessert"  ( three courses) the price is 25 euros. One can add a fish course for another 10 euros : 4 courses for 35 euros for lunch.  

I chose the menu of the day which happened to be rabbit which I love and peach melba which is also a favorite.   

Here is my rabbit dish: the cylinders of tender rabbit sitting on a bed of mashed potatoes.  There was something else ( more than one) which might have been "sweetbreads". What do rabbits have more than one of?  It was really tasty and didn't taste like liver.  I am not really sure what it was but it was delicious. 

I forgot to get a picture of Patrick's starter which was an aubergine pate with a chèvre cheese sorbet.  It was a winning combination.  

For the second course, Patrick chose slices of Rouget with scalloped potatoes:  He was quite  pleased with this dish as well.

Then the friendly Japanese waitress brought our desserts:  

Patrick had pineapple cannelles with white strips of merengue served between them.  The flavor was reminiscent of those banana candies we had as kids called circus peanuts.  Do you remember those?  

  But the flavor of his dessert was much more nuanced, thank goodness.   But what does Patrick think about it?  

NO... just kidding:  actually he liked it.  

And did I enjoy my peach melba?   Yes, the peach was poached in cinnamon and ginger and the ice cream was home made. 

I would give a thumbs up to the cuisine, the ambience and the service of this little bistrot.  The room was a little less formal than my experience the other day at Le Passe plat and I think I prefer more formal. 

 But you notice, the plates were white or just a clear dish for the melba.  ... which is much more appealing with the colors of the food than the overly used slate ( ardoise) for a table service.

With any of the restaurants that offer a reduced menu, I think one needs to go back and try different offerings on other days.  

 And in the case of "L'ecole de Nice"  you won't have any trouble persuading Patrick or me to do just that. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Simple Pleasures : Fish

If you are blessed to live by the sea here in Nice, it pays to take advantage of the best outdoor markets  and fetch in some fresh ingredients and prepare a fish meal and "eat in". 

 I never learned to appreciate fish while  growing up.  My mother, who did the cooking hailed from Oklahoma and didn't know how to prepare them!    Even in San Francisco ,  some of the few fresh fish stalls were in the tourist area of Fisherman's Wharf, a place no self respecting resident wanted to go.   ( Now I hear that they have a great outdoor market in S. F.)

So when friends came visiting last weekend we decided to get up early and go to Liberation market up at Place Charles DeGaulle.  ( see an earlier post). 

  Once there, we headed for our favorite fish stand ( the one with the most customers) which is manned by a poet from Algeria.  This poet/fisherman has given monsieur two volumes of his poetry and according to him the fishmonger/poet is inspired. 

 But I digress. 

The best fish stall at Liberation has a variety:  farmed fish or fish caught daily either with nets or lines.  A fresh fish caught the same morning in the great majestic sea ....which spreads itself not five minutes from our doorstep.... is expensive (as is all protein these days).   But when you consider how much more expensive it may be next year, it may persuade you to splurge now.   And if you were to enjoy this quality of fish in a restaurant , the tab would be three times more costly or wouldn't be available at all. 

Our choice was soon settled on an exquisite specimen of sea bass (loup).  My friend, who is a seasoned and excellent cook,  had suggested that roasting the fish in its own juices and serving it simply with a salad and crusty French bread was what was needed.   I was eager to comply and learn.

Here is our beautiful boy weighing in at 2.7 kilos.

 We roasted the sea bass in a glass baking dish ...with the head severed but included in the dish (for maximum juices and to fit it all in).  We used fresh parsley and dried dill stems in the cavity and good olive oil drizzled over the "poisson"  and covered the top of the pan with foil.  The oven had been preheated when we put our "loup" in at #5 (275 C, 350 F.)

  It took about half an hour at this low temperature before the flesh came away from the spine.

 Here is the platter with three-fourths of the fish...  enough for four of us to enjoy second helpings.  We saved the rest to eat cold the next day.  And we saved Mozzi his piece, of course.

 Here is our accompaniment of fresh cherry tomatoes in olive oil with chopped parsley.  The secret to this salad was the quality of the olive oil and enough of it in the tomatoes for soaking up with bread. 

 A salad of fresh lettuces, a baguette and bottle of crisp white wine were all that was needed to complete our picnic on the terrace.  

I have to say it was a perfect meal.  Everyone was pleased.    The preparation was so basic that there was no hiding the quality of the fish .  Delicately roasted in its own juices, the sea bass was actually the best I had ever tasted.  

 So yes, we will be back to the Algerian poet quite soon.  I will read his "cahiers de Poesies" and sing his praises for both of his creative pursuits.....but  it will be his "gifts of the sea" that will be foremost on my mind.  


Monday, September 1, 2014

Transforming a little piece of earth.

Those of us who love rootling in the dirt will begin to understand how invigorating it is to transform a piece of bare earth into something that one can call a garden.  

My little bare corner before planting.

  I wouldn't have dared start this project unless I had gotten a lot of preparatory help from Rodica and Monsieur when my ankle was in a cast.  In fact Rodica and I only started the clean-up which took countless hours.  I didn't really dream big until Monsieur took Rodica and I out to the garden center. 

  The soil in our area of the Mediterranean is mostly clay.  There are a lot of rounded pebbles and rocks which keep the plants drained but  there are too many rocks on the surface to look attractive .  Some  Mediterranean plant species do well in this rocky soil but it can get so dry that in the summer I cannot even get my trowel into it. 

 If one wants to go beyond native plant varieties for a garden in the Mediterranean you need to bring in top soil, the more the better.  In the nurseries here we can buy it in bags of 50 l.  We needed about 12 bags for this project which we bought over the course of a week.

 Monsieur's dream was for me to take the corner in front of the Pyracanthus hedge and transform it into a sort of "herbaceous border." like I had done in the front.  I loved the idea and started by checking out what was available from two garden centers.  A lot on show were annuals and perhaps we started too late for putting them in. Usually May is the start date.  We will have to see what transpires in the fall.  I hope I have enough perennials and grasses to keep the basic design in place.

Here is my finished result for the empty corner above:

I haven't finished distributing the flagstones yet. 

And moving in a little closer you can see what I have here: 

The finished corner

In the photo below you will see the right arc of the garden which I had just put in place.   On the left of the big rosemary bush is salvia with purple spikes ... drought resistant and bee friendly.   I also have three magenta celosia with jaunty spikes. 

 When Rodica was here we picked out some Kalanchoe which are the succulents planted in a group here in showy pinks and oranges.  To go with those we chose some zinnias which have lush leaves which look good even when the flowers are not on show.  

 Also you will see two ornamental grasses, a red one and the light green with red tips.  And in the foreground is a pelagorium and a few irises. This new planting is to the left of a small tulip magnolia tree and in front of two cypresses of different species.  This is the garden to the right of the "empty corner" that I had put in during my convalescence.  

On the other side of the corner completing the "horseshoe" I have clumps of society garlic with sprightly violet blossoms These are so easy to cultivate that I have divided the clumps over the years and spread them about.  Behind these I have several plants of Cosmos which is an annual.  This is another butterfly and bee attractor as are the lavender bushes during the summer. 

That pink blossomed plant is Echinacea or coneflower.  I have 4 of these in various shades of orange and pink throughout the planting .    The cluster of white flowers have not been identified but it is a composition of two plants put together. 

Center Salvia, garlic on right and left, huchera bottom left.

Getting back to my corner, that is salvia again with the purple spikes next to a couple of Coleus with red and green leaves which I have spread throughout.  I also show here a dark purple-green ornamental grass ( to the left of photo) and a crocosmia with the orange blossoms.  It seems to be a slightly different species than the crocosmia which comes up all around my garden in the spring.  In the foreground you see one of 4 hucheras with tiny white flowers on fragile stems.  These are called coral bells and come in variegated colored leaves.

Mallow Rose

This beauty is a mallow rose Hibiscus.  These are rather showy flowers but the color of the leaves was what attracted me.  The flowers are 15-18 cm across or about 7 inches.   They blend in surprisingly well in the border.

In the newly transformed corner I have four kinds of ornamental grasses, one of them is called "angel hair" which seems apt. 

 And there are some red and green cabbages along with the intense chartreuse of the ornamental sweet potato.

 A garden it seems is never static... nature surprises, enthralls and disappoints us.   My new creation is mine now but we will see what nature has in store for me. ... It's all part of the fascination of gardening.   And creating a garden is not at all the same as maintaining one.  Hmmm.