Nice, being the pretty but awkward stepsister of trendy Cannes or Saint Tropez (although that may now change since Brad and Angelina birthed their twins in a Nice hospital) isn’t that fashionable a place to be compared to other places along the Côte d’Azur. It’s a bustling beach town that has a tendency to cater to an omnipresent and often young tourist crowd. That also means the last time I checked with the Michelin gods, it doesn’t have many (if any) Michelin-starred restaurants. Yes, you can get pizza and beer and decent bouillabaisse and moules as well as old school “bistro” cuisine with a few ethnic restaurants thrown into the mix, but ultimately you have to venture outside of Nice to find chefs who are doing something creative. Since I was staying in Nice, I didn’t particularly want to venture outside of Nice to find something to eat. Further research showed I didn’t have to when I came upon Christian Plumail.
Actually, on the website the restaurant is described as the “Universe of Christian Plumail.” And I know why. Monsieur Plumail is cooking classic French cuisine with a Mediterranean edge for modern day palates. His “universe” includes fresh fish and veggies coupled with some unusual but creative combinations of ingredients.
It was a Monday night in Nice and business was a bit slow. There were one or two other tables eating both before and after us but basically we had the restaurant, the chef, and the maitre d’ to ourselves.
We went for the “taste of Nice” tasting menu and were not disappointed. To start we had an amuse bouche of freshly grilled anchovies on toast points with a sprinkling of classic niçoise olives. This was followed by a first course of tiny escargots coupled with grilled octopus and a smattering of fried parsley. Next up: melt-in-your mouth turbot with truffle shavings and sea urchins with a side dish of mushroom mousse.
The foie gras was next. The maitre d‘ brought out a huge glass jam pot (the kind with the rubber seal and the top you open by pushing down a metal hinge) with a foie gras terrine nestled inside. We thought this was the terrine for the entire restaurant; he would scoop some out for us and move on to the next table. Wrong! This entire jar was for us and after pulling the terrine out of the pot and slicing it, he brought us fresh figs and slabs of wonderfully toasted bread. We were nearly beside ourselves.
Luckily, the next course took some time to prepare since we were struggling under the weight of already too much to eat. That night we had the famous poulet from Bresse. The chicken I must say was very good — tender, juicy and worthy of its roasted garlic, potato and carrot accompaniment. Ultimately though, it was an “old school” dish that had been kicked up by the exquisite quality of the ingredients.
For dessert we split a cheese plate which was followed by a cherry sorbet followed by a mille feuille filled with a strange (but delicious) trilogy of mousse flavored with tea and coffee and Bailey’s Irish cream.
It was definitely a new “Universe.”