L’Aphrodite, Nice – Molecular Gastronomy
June 1, 2007
The weekend magazine of Nice-Matin on May 26, 2007, told us that David Faure, the chef of Aphrodite, a good, but conventional, restaurant in Nice had added a R…évolutionary menu, featuring the deconstructivist molecular gastronomy of Ferran Adrià. Looking at the photos it appeared to be more of a rip-off of Wylie Dufresne at WD-50 in NY with his coconut custard “fried egg,” using mango instead of carrot for the yolk. So, of course, I immediately made a reservation and Linda and I went for dinner on May, 30, 2007.
We were seated at a nice table in the enclosed front terrace. When we said we were planning to order the new menu, we were reseated at a spacious table in the corner of the interior dining room so that the staff would have plenty of room to prepare the spectacle. The staff told us that they had started rehearsing the preparation four months before and that the new menu has actually been served for two months. We were the only customers for it that night, although there are sometimes more. It was recently served to a table of eight, which they said was not easy. The limit is usually four, and, of course, everyone at the table must have it. At 85€ it is not beyond most diners, especially as that includes the apéritif. The regular tasting menu at the restaurant is 60€. Aphrodite, where we have eaten well before, is in an upscale neighborhood of Nice; it can attract business lunches also. But most of its clientèle is probably not into food adventure.
The apéritif, Cocktail Maison à la Glace Sèche, is the only course in which a choice is offered; Linda chose apple and I chose litchi. The fruit juice and champagne are put in a large spherical glass and a piece of dry ice is dropped in, which fills the glass to overflowing with a cloud. One then drinks the cocktail through a vanilla straw, an amusing effect.
The theme was continued next with the Nitro-Dragon. A purée of tomato with liquorice and mint is spooned out of a container and dipped into liquid nitrogen. It is then passed to another spoon and handed to the diner, who puts the whole spoonful into his mouth. He is instructed to breathe heavily. This causes the iced purée to melt and steamy vapors to come out of the nostrils, creating the dragon effect. The texture of the “sorbet” is crystalline, which accentuates the flavors. There is a sort of ephemeral effect. We each had two spoonfuls.
Un peu de pain sans pain ??? was then brought to the table. This was a large glass container of several confections which we could use instead of bread during the rest of the meal. Included were: Parmesan flavored fried brick, the Tunisian dough somewhat like phyllo; a delicious long strip of deep-fried potato; a long, non-sweet wafer; what seemed to be just the crusts of a small round loaf of bread. We needed some right away to neutralize the liquorice in the dragon dish before we started on the excellent bottle of 2001 Michel Bouzerau Meursault les Genevrières which we had ordered to go with the four seafood courses to come.
The first of these was La Sardine dans tous ses Etats, four different preparations of sardines. There were a rich, smooth sorbet of sardines in olive oil; a full length filet with the head still attached which had been fried into a honey-flavored wafer so it looked like a fossil; and pieces of smoked and of marinated sardine. I liked the dish, particularly the sorbet, which was not sweet. The only sweetness came from the honey, which was a good idea, but overdone. It was counterbalanced by a vinegar foam placed next to the sorbet on a biscuit.
Then came Sphérification Chaude. Four mussels with some saffron threads had been encapsulated in a clear mussel jelly. They were served in a warm rouille foam and dressed with pistou. (Rouille is the garlicky mayonnaise spiced up and colored with cayenne which is traditionally served with fish soup on the côte d’azur. Its name, literally “rust,” comes from the cayenne color. Pistou is the Provençale version of pesto. It usually doesn’t include the cheese and pine nuts of the better known type from the neighboring Italian Riviera.) We were instructed to put a whole mussel in our mouth and make the flavor explode when we crunched on it. I liked this dish for its dramatic, fresh tastes and Linda did not.
Next was Textures & Températures. Lobster and pumpkin chunks had been sautéed and put in a bowl. A glob of very cold shellfish icecream was added. Then a hot flat parsley broth was poured on in front of us and we were to eat quickly. The lobster pieces were very good, as was the broth, but the dish didn’t work for me. The ice cream was too cold at first to have much flavor and then melted so quickly that the combination became a morass. On the other hand, it was the favorite dish of the reviewer in Nice-Matin.
Comme une Papillote en Surprise followed. Two fresh scallops had been quickly seared on a very hot iron. They were put on top of a bed of julienned and braised fennel in a bag of special heat-resistant clear cellophane. The staff explained that the bag was then filled by a little device like a vacuum cleaner with smoke from a little fire of thyme. The bag was tied up, reheated in the oven and served on a plain plate. We were instructed to put our heads down to the bag and inhale as we released the ribbon holding in the thyme smoke. This coated our mouths with the flavor, which had also impregnated the scallops and fennel. We thought that this dish was an excellent combination of interesting flavors and that the gimmick was not so complex that it detracted from the cuisine.
The first of the three desserts was Le sorbet du jour à l’Azote Liquide. A purée of exotic fruits – mango, passion fruit, pineapple and banana – was whipped vigorously while liquid nitrogen was slowly dipped into it. Served immediately, it had an unctuous rich smoothness not found in even the best regular sorbet. The flavor was very good.
L’œuf au Plat Virtuel followed. Except for looking the same, this had no resemblance to WD-50’s “fried egg,” which is served as a room-temperature early course prepared in the kitchen. Aphrodite brought out a trompe l’œil breakfast-like setting: strips of fresh brioche on serving plates, encapsulated mango in spoons, whole eggs, a small pepper grinder, two different spatulas and little frying pans. These pans, and the metal plaque they are on, have been super-chilled. An egg was broken into each one; its shell had been emptied and filled with the liquid for a coconut pannacotta, which congealed as it was stirred in the pan. It was put on the plate, the mango yolk was added on top and a grind of faux-pepper was added. The dish was quite cold, slightly sweet, refreshing and fun.
The third dessert, Le Déconstructivisme, moved from trompe l’œil breakfast to trompe l’œil hors d’œuvres. We each were given a tray with blinis, crème-fraiche and caviar, properly presented in a little bowl over cracked ice with a bone spoon. But the dish is really a virtual Irish coffee! The cream is slightly sweetened and laced with Irish whiskey. The “caviar” was small encapsulated coffee beads. Some of each on the blinis makes a tasty and entertaining dessert.
The five mignardises, « Morphing Sucré » , are presented on a white tray and we were given instructions in which order to eat them: an effervescent (really) lemony, fruit jelly; a dark, fruitless vanilla candy; an orange peel lollipop; a wafer of white chocolate with dried porcini powder; a rich dark chocolate lollipop with fruit chips. The orange peel flavor really came through and the mushroom, white chocolate combination was superb.
And so we were quite full, entertained and bedazzled after two and a half hours. The first question is: was it really good cuisine? Ferran Adrià’s El Bulli is usually voted to be the best restaurant in the world so obviously his deconstructivism is more than just show.
One test is: Which courses, or parts of them, would fit into a Michelin two-star menu dégustation, purely on the basis of taste? I would say just the non-breads, the sorbet of sardines in oil, the scallops in thyme smoke, the exotic fruit sorbet, and the orange-peel and white chocolate/porcini mignardises. But what I’ll probably remember and talk about the most are the two trompe l’œil desserts. I imagine that David Faure will be working on an eventual new version of this menu. One big enhancement would be to offer wine pairings, which would expand the possibilities of innovation and surprise. More appropriate décor and music would help. He shouldn’t be afraid to raise the price of the R…évolution Menu as his ideas and execution get better. He could require reserving the menu in advance. The efficient and friendly staff obviously enjoys serving it, but it is a lot of work. We admire his daring and imagination and wish him the best of luck.
10 bd Dubouchage, Nice
04 93 85 63 53
Closed Sunday and Monday.