Ah, Nice — it is very, very nice. (How many times do you think that pun has been made in the history of the world?) I felt very lucky to spend a long weekend in this Côte d’Azur town by the sea, soaking up the Mediterranean light, skipping stones across the sea and eating socca. What’s that, you ask? Read on…
Nice has its own cuisine and while salade Niçoise plays a role (though I didn’t have any), perhaps the most beloved food in town is socca, a flat chick pea pancake snack.
At Thérèze’s stand in the Cours Saleya market, the socca is baked elsewhere and delivered by motorbike. I had to fight for the last two portions, but the crisp-edged, sponge-centered pancake was worth the battle, especially when crowned with a jaunty sprinkle of pepper. We gobbled it down by the waterfront.
Of course, I couldn’t stop there, not once I had the taste of socca in my maw. We sampled two more: Lou Pilha Leva (photo left) was disappointing, flabby, cold, and over-salted (to be fair, Thérèze’s socca was also too salty). The clear winner was Chez René Socca (photo right), where I stood in line for 15 minutes and was rewarded by finger-stinging bits of pancake, the crisp surface giving way to a delicate creamy chick pea tenderness. The accompanying glass of rosé wasn’t bad either.
I’ve had pissaladière, Provence’s onion-topped pizza before, but this version at Restaurant de Gésù was among the best I’ve tasted. The onions were sweetly softened and the bread base had a pleasant chewy cakiness.
Just when I thought I knew Italian cuisine… it turns out raviolis are Niçois as well. These handmade beauties at Oliviera were filled with meat and topped with a lively tomato sauce. The restaurant doubles as an olive oil shop, and the kindly owner is knowledgeable about his wares, matching different oils to different dishes, like a sommelier might pair wine.
It is very, very difficult to conduct an internet search of restaurants in Nice — there are a lot of “nice restaurants” out there! But our Guide Routard (which I’ve transposed in my mind as “rude guitar”) suggested Oliviera, and that was where that I ate my favorite meal of the trip. It was nothing special — just a plate of verdant spring vegetables: artichokes, slim and snappy asparagus, tender young fava beans, and arugula. All was bright and raw, garnished tout simplement with curls of Parmesan, a squeeze of lemon, and a drizzle of special olive oil from the Luberon. I left feeling refreshed and rejuvenated — and clutching a bottle of that special olive oil. Nice is very, very nice indeed.
Look for a red awning in the Cours Saleya market. Beware: She stops serving at 1pm.
Lou Pilha Leva
10 rue du Collet
tel: 04 93 13 99 08
Chez René Socca
2 rue Miralhetti
tel: 04 93 92 05 73
Restaurant du Gésù
1 place du Gésù
tel: 04 93 62 26 46
8 bis rue du Collet
tel: 04 93 13 06 45