A couple of years ago we found ourselves in Nice, somewhere on the blog there are pictures from that trip, I'm sure, and unsurprisingly one of my most vivid memories of that trip is one of the silliest. And of course, one related to food.
While we were planning the trip I came across a magazine article by a well-known food journalist. It was the annoying kind of travel article, elitist, smug, "you'll never be worthy of the kinds of experiences I can have" but the writer did mention some discoveries in or near Nice. One of these mentions in particular, as my mom would say, got my Irish up.
|we know who you are and why noone reads your stuff any more|
So we got to Nice and the first night it was pouring and we ate at the hotel and the next morning the sky was blue and the sun was shining and we decided to try to find the mysterious tiny restaurant by daylight. We walked from our hotel in the direction of the Cours Saleya (where the markets are). As in many cities smaller streets "T" into the pedestrian-only zone, and we decided to walk up and down a few of these.
Did I mention that I travel with a man who can find food anywhere? I'm not so bad at that myself, but my ability is instinctive and hasn't changed since I was a kid (as in, follow that man, he looks like he likes a good meal - and yes, that really was Orson Welles), while Himself's talent has been carefully and lovingly honed over years of practice.
We walked right to the restaurant. Far from dangerous-looking, the street had some little shops of the "cute" variety and a small branch of Sonia Rykiel. Merchandise - well, not the Rykiel sweaters, but a lot of everything else - was out in barrels to be picked over by strollers. You don't see this in dangerous areas. In dangerous areas, you see bars on windows. Hey, I'm from New York. I know stuff like this. So anyway, I bought my sister a set of ceramic house numbers, and I bought some lavender to freshen my carry-on, and we looked around.
A door was open, we peeked, saw a long bar with stools, a few tables with benches. Marvelous aromas - garlic, spices (cardamom? toasted coriander seed? garlic garlic garlic) dive-bombed our noses. I stepped inside, greeted the nice young man behind the bar, and asked if they were open for lunch. "We start lunch service at noon," he said. "If you don't mind leaving your name, I'll be happy to hold a table for you." I nodded, then remembered I was in France, and said 'Yes please, that's very kind of you." After I was introduced to his wife and to a lady in the kitchen who looked like she enjoyed food, he gave me a card with his mobile number on it and asked that we call if we changed our minds about lunch. Thank-yous and handshakes all around, and I rejoined Himself outside.
"I thought they don't take reservations."
I shrugged. "We can call if we're not going to make it back for lunch."
"Call? I thought they don't have a phone."
I flashed the little card at him. "He gave me his mobile number."
We walked around, came back for a very good and filling lunch, everyone seemed to know everyone else, local merchants and politicians are the same the whole world over....
And as we left, I asked Himself how he knew the direction to start our explorations.
"Oh, the place is listed in the Michelin."
On the Top Secret--Eyes Only page, no doubt, because otherwise a responsible journalist (or at least a sober one) would have done some basic fact-checking, no?
"Now I have a question for you. How did you get the phone number?"
I smiled as mysteriously as one can when Food Coma is about to set in. "Your tax dollars at work," I murmured.
So the restaurant is called La Merenda, it's still there, I checked, and above I've included some pictures from its website. The food is local specialities, and if they have zucchini blossoms when you're there, you should beg for them.