Some people go to the French Riveria for fun. I went for a pilgrammage. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I recently finished my Master’s in English at Oxford, and that my dissertation was written on F. Scott Fitzgerald. Over the years, I think I have read everything written by him, everything written by everyone who knew him, and everything written about him. And I still adore him the same way as I did when I finished reading The Great Gatsby for junior year English when I was seventeen nine years ago.
Being here in Provence, I couldn’t bear to be so near to Cap d’Antibes and Juan-Les-Pins, where he and Zelda lived while he was writing Tender Is the Night, and where friends Sara and Gerald Murphy had their estate, without going to see it. I was planning for going on a little drive-by photo trip to their villa, but on further investigation, I discovered that it had been made into a hotel knowns as Belles Rives. Mr. English and I passed the day there while my mom and Alain went to Biot to see the glass blowers. Along the two-day sojourn, we traveled to some of the most famous places on the Riviera: Cannes, St. Tropez, Grasse. But we all agreed at the end, that Cap d’Antibes had something special, and we all loved it best.
We discovered a little bistro called Le COQlicot off the beach that was swarmed with locals, though the other bistros around stayed empty. We knew this was the place. I had a simple mixed salad and some perfect French French fries. Mom and Alain had Provencal salads, an interpretation of the Caprese. And Mr. English had sticks of beef with bernaise, salad, and fries. We felt very proud of being so local, what with the three-hour lunch service, and the calf testicles on the menu.
Salade Provencale, with Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Basil, Olives, and Garlic Toasts
Salade Mixte, with lettuce, onions, peppers, and olives
Frites, perfect and twice-fried
Aigolettes de Boeuf with Sauce Bernaise, Frites, Salade
The proprietor of our little hotel recommended that we try this plein air restaurant called Le Jardin, or the garden. We sat out back and ordered yet another fish-based prix fixe menu. Just when I expected to be bored, I realized that Picasso had retired from painting and gone to work in this kitchen. The food is what would be called tame avant-garde. The Greek salad was deconstructed, and the yogurt-cucumber sauce was piped through a whipped cream canister, as was the savory whipped cream on my wine-glass gazpacho. We all ordered Truite Escabeche, or trout with a raw marinated vegetable salad. It was gorgeous–reeking of smoke, jeweled with sabayon, and crowned with, seriously, a tomato skin cracklin’. It was by far the most inveterate but imaginative dish I have had since I arrived, and was also coincidentally the most delicious. We all wanted to eat it all over again, and I will be doing some testing to resurrect it chez nous. Lastly, we all had the trio of creme brulees: chocolate, vanilla, and mint, which not only had different flavors and colors, but curiously and invitingly different textures. This restaurant is not to miss, reasonable, local, and imaginative, in the old city amidst small stone streets–charming and modern all at once.
Deconstructed Greek Salad
Gazpacho with Whipped Cream
Trout Escabeche, with fennel, peppers, onions, snow peas,
and tomatoes, with sabayon and a tomato cracklin’
Trio of Creme Brulee: Chocolate, Vanilla, Mint
HOTEL LA JABOTTE
We stayed at a little hotel just off the beach in Cap d’Antibes, and they offered a copious continental breakfast and a nightly new cocktail for cocktail hour. Breakfast was set for all the guests in the terraced courtyard, and we had a full basket of croissants, walnut wheat loaf, and baguette to spread with the housemade fig preserves, Nutella, butter, and BonBel cheese. My favorite were the madeleines baked in mini-muffin tins and fairydusted with colorful sparkling sugar. We also received interested French flavors of Dannon yogurt (Granny Smith, Sour Cherry, Apricot, Strawberry), freshly squeezed orange juice, French press coffee, and ripe melon. What a way to start any day.
At cocktail time, I ordered the drink du jour: Champagne Violette, champagne with violet liquor and a crucified blackberry and white-sugar rim. It came with a little tray of darling bites: a mushroom cap stuffed with caviar of peppers, salted long radished, and dried fruits. Perfect, and a pleasure, to sip under the lazy afternoon trees.
Mini-Muffin-Shaped Madeleines with Colored Sparkling Sugar
The Breakfast Bread Basket: Croissants, Baguette, Walnut Wheat Loaf
Housemade Fig Preserves
Dried Fruits, a Pepper Caviar-Stuffed Mushrooms, and Sea Salted Radishes
Champagne Violette: Champagne, with Violet Liqueur, and a Blackberry
Here, I spent the afternoon at Scott and Zelda’s house, now the hotel Belles Rives. Though Scott’s picture hung in the foyer, I was more taken by the sheer beauty of the location, rather than the history that I thought would overwhelm me. The water is warmer here, and shallow, and it has something like mica that sparkles in it like diamonds. Water skiing was invented here, and under the globe-lit sit Belles Rives still lurks a collection of top-end ski equipement. The sky and the sea stretched out all around the jutting jetee to the mountains in the distance. The house was draped in violet bourganvilla, and the honeycomb stones that built the villa patched into the palmed landscape with grandeur and insouciance. At few places have I ever been so happy, perhaps thanks to the cocktail I ordered there: La Piscine, champagne on the rocks. When in Juan-Les-Pins…
La Piscine: Champagne on the Rocks
I had been to Cannes eleven years ago, and like I found Aix, it seems changed, overrun. But of course, still stately as ever. We passed through for lunch and found a little pizza place in Le Suquet. I highlight it here not because it was the greatest pizza of all time, but because they did fantastic cheeseless pizzas, a local interpretation of the Italian version so common to us, but far better for the Riviera heat.
Fettuccine with Roquefort and Walnuts
We drove through St. Tropez at evening, and I found it charming. We found a high-end dealer of all fabric Provencal, and my mom bought a lovely blue and yellow medieval rooster pattern tableclotch to replace her blue and yellow olive version from a decade ago. Mr. English and I sat in Place de Lices watching the games of Petanque, and plotting our strategy to decimate each other at the game on our return to England. For dinner we went to La Table du Marche for yet another fish-based prix fixe. Everything was gorgeous and strangely large, but I have to tell you the dessert was an abomination. The fresh chilled tomato soup had that light sweetness to it that I’ve only ever seen executed in France. The frisees in the Paysanne salad were elephantine. And the mustard herb butter on the cod was perfect. But my favorite bit? The macaroni gratin that I substituted for my potatoes: gruyere, gruyere, gruyere. It was decadent, but oh so good.
LA TABLE DU MARCHE
Chilled Fresh Tomato Soup with Tapenade Toasts
Salade Paysanne: Frisee, Endive, Poached Egg, Lardons
Cabillaud (Cod) with Herb Butter and Potatoes Autrement (Smashed with Tomatoes and Olives)