The so-very-French facade of Bistrot D'Antoine, the site of a transformative meal in Nice
I have a confession to make: contrary to what it might seem like because of what I write here, not every meal we eat is a fantastic one.
For example, this past Sunday I made the hubby a welcome home dinner. He'd been out of the country for two weeks, and when he got back from his long, dusty trip, I wanted to welcome him home with a really nice, home-cooked meal. But even though I had great help from my parents, managing to throw together a meal these days while entertaining (read: protecting the house from) the Gravy Baby isn't an easy feat. As a result, my menu was pretty basic: grilled steaks, buttermilk mashed potatoes, fresh corn, salad and brownies for dessert.
The problem was, I overcooked the brownies. I didn't burn them, no. I almost feel like if I'd done that, I could have come up with some sort of "I was running after the Gravy Baby and things got weird" sort of excuse. Instead, I'd simply misread the recipe and baked them for almost twice as long as I should have, on a really low temperature. The result was something that tasted like chocolate sponges.
I relay this to you today not because I'm about to reminisce about a mediocre meal we had back in Nice last month. Quite the opposite, actually. But I don't want you to take this as another one of those "oh, Biscuitwheels and her usual rants about eating well." It's not. I know I have a tendency to gloss over and present only the very best of what we eat, cook and experience. I do this intentionally, for a few reasons. One, it's always nice to bask in the warm memory of something that was truly delicious or fun. Two, I feel like there are enough negative critics out there that I don't need to contribute to the noise of what people consider to be bad food. Three, I'm not an expert. I'm just a big fangirl of the food/travel/life experience. I don't even consider myself a "foodie" most of the time -- certainly not when I have an irrational craving for Kraft Dinner (it happened, once, in Malaysia. It was a dark day.)
And, even with all the exaggeration with which I tend to write, the excitedly swirling arms with which I both type and talk, I have to say just one thing, underlined: the meal that happened to us at Bistrot D'Antoine in Nice was truly a life-changing, exceptional experience. We happened upon this little bistrot the way most food-seeking travelers do -- through a series of internet searches, trolling onilne discussion boards, and reading critics' reviews.
Overall, what stood out to me about the meal was that everything about the place felt so traditionally French, from its chalkboard menu to the salade nicoise, but yet everything had a modern twist. For example, instead of the cooked tuna that is the cornerstone of most nicoise salads, ours arrived with pan-seared, sashimi grade tuna, still rare on the inside, and freshly cured sardines. I have a true weakness for fresh-cured sardines. I get kind of emotional every time I see a plate of them approaching, and this time was no different.
With four of us plus the Gravy Baby partaking in our midday bistro meal, we decided to conquer le menu by ordering three dishes from each course. One of our other salads was a trio of lightly cured fishes accompanied by a perfect brunoise of vegetables and dressed arugula. The thing that struck me the most about these two dishes is that even though I've probably had several variations of the same kind of plate before, both of these salads felt completely new and different.
After spending a good fifteen minutes raving to each other about our salads (who knew that salads could be rave-worthy?) and congratulations passed all around on having the good fortune to have landed at such a great little place, our entrees arrived. We'd ordered a cocotte of cochon, which we soon discovered were slowly braised pork cheeks in a red wine reduction so smooth and sexy that I honestly kind of wanted a little bit of private time, alone, with that sauce. Too much? Would it be too much to also talk about the rich, creamy polenta that accompanied the cocotte, and how I lovingly spooned that sauce over my polenta and spoke soft, loving words to it?
And, of course, no visit to a French bistro is complete without a duck course. Our canard arrived with a perfect sweet crust of something magical (at this point, I had lost all ability to take notes and ask questions about the food we were eating), gratineed potatoes and some sort of delightful turnip puree that to this day I honestly would contemplate eating every day for the rest of my life.
For dessert, we ended with a trio of classic southern French desserts -- a wobbly panna cotta with a fruit puree, macerated strawberries topped with sweetened mascarpone, and a delightfully airy yet rich chocolate mousse. I wish I could've said to you that the desserts, after all that fuss, were a letdown. But they weren't, not one bit. In fact, my brother-in-law proclaimed the panna cotta to be the gold standard by which he'll measure all panna cottas that he eats from here on.
Sadly, I'm afraid it'll be like Chasing Amy for him -- a dream he'll never realize again. Unless he goes back to d'Antoine.
Bistrot d'Antoine | 27 Rue Préfecture | 06300 Nice, France | Tel: 04 93 85 29 57 | Open for lunch and dinner; reservations a must