Le Petit Nice, Marseille
October 22, 2013
Le Petit Nice gets its name from its warm micro-climate site along the corniche south of central Marseille. It was founded in 1917 by Germain Passédat, the grandfather of the present chef, Gérald Passédat. His father, Jean-Paul, took over Le Petit Nice in 1954 and still runs the 16-room hotel, which is part of the establishment. Jean-Paul gained a Michelin star in 1977 and a second in 1981. In 1985 Gérald took over the kitchen after eight years of training in several of France’s best known restaurants. In 2008 he won the third Michelin star. Linda and I had dined at Le Petit Nice about ten years ago. We returned to stay and for dinner on September 12, 2013.
We were seated at a table by the window with a view along the corniche towards the calanques. We could watch the sunset effect and the big ferries coming out of the port towards Algiers, Tunis and Corsica. I started with the cocktail maison, Champagne flavored with red fruit and basil. It was somewhat more substantial and interesting than our normal Champagne aperitif, which Linda had this evening.
We were served spoons with pickled little cuttlefish shards and diced vegetables.
This was okay, but a bit too vinegary to go with the apéritif. Then we had very good, little tomato and anchovy pizzas to be eaten messily by hand. I was apparently too occupied to take a photo.
We ordered the Ménu Découverte de la Mer after a considerable discussion with the Maître d’Hôtel warning us how big it was and how long it would take.
As the warnings were right about the length of the menu, in mid-meal we consulted with the genial sommelier and he chose a bottle of 2009 Meursault “Le Limouzin” from Michel Bouzereaux. This was earthier and more substantial than the Condrieu and went better with the more substantial later seafood courses and the cheese.
There were only very brief course titles on the menu, which I have shown below. As each course was presented, the server would describe it, but most were quite complicated and so my descriptions are only our best recollection of what he said and what we ate. There may have been variations from the printed menu for whatever the chef found in the market. There are undoubtedly errors and omissions, but they will not affect your overall understanding of the cuisine.
There was a slice of raw white seabream, or sargo, with a slice of cucumber and a green purée. Then a little bowl of smoked sargo in a fish and vegetable broth was served. This course was delicate and a good starter.
The server said langoustine, but it seemed too big for that. But it had the softness of langoustine rather than langouste; anyway it was delicious. It was dressed with carrot slices and little carrot gnocchi all in a rich shellfish broth. Alongside was a slice of celeriac root in a green broth with just fried greens. Excellent.
Le loup Lucie Passédat
Lucie Passédat was the Gérald Passédat’s opera singer grandmother; this dish was one of the first created by Gérard and was dedicated to her. The chunk of steamed Mediterranean sea bass was topped with zucchini and cucumber stripes and a truffle slice. It was served in a spiced tomato sauce with basil, which created a momentary, interesting bitterness.
This was presented, not as dentex, as in the course title, but as daurade; I’m not sure which it was, but it was good. This was served on top of a fish and vegetable reduction. In the back is an eggplant and vanilla cake.
The two rouget, or red mullet, filets were served in a fish broth with a bit of anise flavor. They were on top of zucchini stripes, which seem to be sort of a signature here. Alongside were two crisp rouget pieces in a thick fish reduction.
This thick slice of chapon or red scorpion fish, (like rascasse, but bigger) continued the chef’s selection of Mediterranean predator fish. Their diet of smaller fish and crustaceans gives them a good flavor of the sea. This was served in a meat sauce, which added to its substance. Alongside were a mushroom broth and a little bowl of shredded vegetables which were too vinegary and peppery for our taste.
Les anémones de mer
Sea anemones are another Mediterranean bottom-feeding predator, but not mobile like the others. Some were cooked into the light fritter, which we were told to eat first while it was still hot. Some were in the green, chlorophyll-laden mousse of watercress, arugula and lettuce. It was garnished with a couple of mussels, a spoonful of caviar and a bit of milk foam for visual effect, the only use of a dairy product before the cheese and dessert. The green broth offered a good flavor of the sea and provided an intermezzo between the rich chapon and the lobster.
Le homard bleu
The Breton blue lobster was the first and only exception to the Mediterranean origin of the fish. It was served on a tomato sauce that was a bit too peppery for our taste. There were chunks of summer vegetables. This was substantial, rich and very good.
The evening had been quite spectacular. We were not bowled over by every dish, but, considered as a whole, the meal was a real tour de force. Just the fact that we were able to eat so much and that it held our interest says a lot. I cannot think of a better fish restaurant anywhere in the world, although cross-cultural comparisons can be tricky. And so, somewhat after midnight, we went up to our room for a good night’s sleep. In the morning, we enjoyed breakfast, which is served in the bar.