Thursday, October 11, 2007

La Merenda: Nicoise food at its best

A lot has been said or written about La Merenda. That it has no telephone. That it does accept neither reservations (or at least no more than 15 minutes before the beginning of the service), nor checks or credit cards. That the place is so small and cramped that you have to sit on very uncomfortable stools almost on your neighbour's lap. That the chef owner, Dominique Le Stanc, trained under Chapel, Haeberlin and Senderens, left behind him the Michelin stars of the Chantecler at Hotel Negresco to buy this 20-seat restaurant to the Giusti family and cook nicoise specialties on its own in a tiny open kitchen. And, above all, that the food remains the same (i.e. great) some 30+ years (11 under Le Stanc) after the place first opened. And you know what? Everything is true. And Dominique Le Stanc does not seem ready to change this winning formula for all the gold in the world.

When I came in 15 minutes before noon last Tuesday, Le Stanc and his team of 3 were having their staff meal. I asked him if we could get a table for 12.30 and he answered me that the first service was at 12.15 sharp (implying, politely though, that I had to take it or leave it). And of course, I took it and left my name. I had not traveled that far and dreamed about this lunch for so long to ruin it at the restaurant's door.

And once inside, everything was exactly as I had expected. First, Mme Le Stanc is doing a wonderful job at the front of the house as does the other waiter by the way. For instance, when I ordered the stockfish, she really started worrying (as the smell and taste of this dish are, let's say, unique) and brought me some sample just to make sure I would like it (and I did). That's what I call caring for customers.

And obviously the food is magnificent like the sardines stuffed with bread crumbs, emmental and swiss chard leaves. Or the incredibly tasty stockfish (a nicoise specialty of sun dried cod in ragout). Or the crispy and wide open seasonal fried zucchini blossoms. Poor arrongant me who thought I prepared the best ratatouille in the world...I was so wrong. Even my mother, who can be hard to impress at times as far as culinary matters, could not stop talking about the rucola-ricotta salad with figs and balsamic vinaigrette. I should also mention a perfectly aged Banon that was the ideal conclusion to a wonderful lunch.

Le Stanc just demonstrates that the simplest regional dishes, such as an incredible tarte a la tomate, can become masterpieces when they are executed with passion, technique and using the best local ingredients. Unforgettable, reasonably priced and not to be missed when you are in the area.

La Merenda
Open Mon-Fri for lunch and dinner
4 rue Raoul Bosio (street parallel to the Cours Saleya)
06000 Nice

1 comment:

JCH said...

Right on target. There is nothing better in Nice - even the famed La Barale with grandma's still secret recipes does not compare to the La Marenda experience. My wife, friends from the states and I have been visiting for over 7 years: nothing has changed and nothing should, because it is impossible to improve on what is already the best!