Keisuke Matsushima, Nice
December 28, 2006
22ter, rue de France, Nice. 04.93.82.26.06
Closed Sunday & Monday.
On December 27, 2006, Linda and I went to dinner at this newly expanded restaurant. As Kei’s Passion, it had gained a Michelin star last March and we had dined there in June; (see our blog post for June 6, 2006.) Kei is reported to be going on to bigger and better things. We were the first to arrive, just before 8:00, and received a warm welcome. The new dining room is done in a spare Japanese modern style, which is very calm at first, but which reflects too much noise when full.
The apéritif cart arrived right away and two glasses of good champagne were poured; an amusing tray of about ten hors d’oeuvres was brought. Some of them were faux desserts: the glazed tomato with chunky salt looked like a candied, sugared cherry. The puréed eggplant with a salted wafer looked like a chocolate pudding. They provided a pleasant distraction while we looked at the menu which offered, in addition to the à la carte selection: a limited menu at 65€, a “December 2006” Menu at 90 € (or 135 € with wine pairings,) and a Dégustation Menu Surprise de Kei at 130 € (170 € with wine pairings.) We took the 90 € choice. Kei came by to say hello and went back for a busy night in his kitchen.
The first course was two grilled langoustines served on a pumpkin purée with slices of pear and arugula. It was dressed with “jus de tête;” that is a sauce made from the crushed heads of crustaceans, reduced and strained; it was very good.
The next course was less successful: a “bonbon” sphere of fois gras and truffle encased in a potato crust and served on a foamy lentil base. The foie gras was overcooked and the truffle not cooked enough to give off its flavor.
The pleasant meat course was three pink slices of wild boar filet served with small winter vegetables: a beet, a carrot, a parsnip and a turnip. A very nice, but a bit too salty, wild boar consommé was poured over it all; however, spoons weren’t served so half of the consommé was left on the plate.
The pre-dessert was litchis with a white cheese sorbet. For dessert I had a nice thick slice of rum roasted pineapple (Kei’s favorite ingredient) with a pineapple/basil sorbet and a coconut sauce. Linda had asked for something else and had a good pear dessert.
Having turned down the wine pairings based on our experience at Kei’s Passion six months before, we ordered from the reasonably priced wine list. The Cuilleron “Chaillées d’Enfer” Condrieu at 85 € was excellent. We weren’t so ambitious on our red wine choice and the 2001 Moulin de la Gardette Gigondas at 44 € was a bit rough, even though the sommelier had put it immediately into a carafe while we enjoyed the Condrieu. The wine service was friendly and efficient. The numerous dining room staff was young, cheerful, effective and knowledgeable. There was one Japanese waiter who only had to care for one Japanese couple that night. But the kitchen fell behind after all the tables had ordered; we had a substantial wait for our meat course and, at that point, other tables were waiting to get started. The clientele was what one would expect during the holidays: people out for a nice evening. Most were French, but there seemed to be another American table, and one table each of Italians, British and Japanese. We had been startled when the first five men who entered were all wearing ties, but that degenerated badly soon, as it usually does nowadays.
I think that the clientele will be a problem for Kei. He is located right in the middle of Nice’s mass-tourism zone. He also will attract many Japanese travellers. So there will be no lack of business, most of whom will be ready to spend some money, but not all of whom will be really interested in the cuisine. And even among those interested, there may be more curiosity than knowledge and appreciation. Even on the night we were there, not a touristy time, two tables had just one dish, plus a dessert, and left; (probably a good thing considering the overload in the kitchen.) The location and the spare décor do not make it obvious to those who have not read of him that the chef has serious ambitions. No matter how dedicated the staff and how full the house, a restaurant cannot keep up quality in the face of a confused and indifferent clientele. If you contrast this with Jouni’s new two-tier approach, more elegant location and a clear target of a second star, it is hard to see how Kei can keep up. And he may be chased by Nice’s other upcoming chefs: Stéphane Viano, Benjamin Bruno, Luc Salsedo, Anthony Riou and others we don’t know of yet. But we wish Kei all the best and will be regular customers.