Recently I had the opportunity to spend a month in the French Riviera city of Nice. I fell in love with the city just as I did with Portland 7 years ago. What’s not to love? A city full of fabulous food, wine, and people, and sun that doesn’t stop shining. A hop, skip, and a jump from Italy and Corsica, and a four hour plane ride to the Mosel in Germany, in case there is a once in a lifetime killer party happin’ (I’ll explain later.)
Killer Party in the Mosel
Now some of you are probably thinking, “I’ve been to Nice and it was overrun with tourists and the pizza sucked.” Well you’re right and right again. But the city if full of hidden gems that you probably won’t find on a weeks stay or by consulting your Rick Steve’s guide book. Here’s what I found and where I found it…
Cheryl’s Top 10 Food/Beverage Picks in Nice (and Corsica!)
1. Fois gras soup with 2 floating oysters (Keisuke Matsushima)
2. Jacquesson nº 731 (Amada) and Jacques Selosse NV Grand Cru (Vinivore) Champagnes – it was a tie
3. Brie de Melun layered with mascarpone and freshly shaven black truffles (Vinivore)
4. Macaroons (LAC Pâtisserie)
5. Domaine Valette, Mâcon-Chaintré 2000 Vielles Vignes Cuvée Speciale (Vinivore)
6. Fois Gras de Masion (Resto Wine Notes)
7. Soupe de Poisson (U Fanale in Corsica)
8. Aged Fromage au pur Lait be Brebis (Some little beach hut in Calvi)
9. Brioche (little boulangerie on the corner of Rue Foderé & Rue Bavastro)
10. Chateldon 1650 Louis the 14th Mineral Water (Bistrot d’Antione)
While in Nice I decided to take some French classes. The school was Actilangue and I really enjoyed the company of my professors and fellow students. My vocabulary strong point is culinary terms. Thus whenever a question dealing with Champagne, foie gras, or bread came up I was an A+ student. On the economy and politics, not so much. As much as I wanted to learn grammar, I also wanted to hit up the market everyday for Mediterranean shellfish, Corsican cheese, farm fresh eggs, fougasse, dozens of varieties of olives, and the seasonal specialties of Provence – prickly pears, Jerusalem artichokes, chestnuts, cêpes and chanterelles, figs as large as a pétaque boule, and the daily hidden treasure such as a small wrinkly red pepper that tastes like a sweet pepper in the flesh but hides some pretty spicy seeds inside. The market closed everyday at 1PM and school let out at 2:30PM (after a 2.25 hr lunch break – I miss that!) So what’s a girl to do? Plus-que-parfait or fermier chèvre? The subjonctif or langoustines? It was obvious. I took to the street to learn French.
The best thing I learned in school was of a wine bar on Rue République called Vivivore that one of my professors frequented. This place was great! A fabulous selection of mostly French wines by smaller producers, many whom practice biodynamic viticulture and produce sulfite-free wines. It was here that I purchased some of my favorite champagnes (Jacques Selosse, Drappier), learned the whereabouts of some excellent restaurants (Amanda, Keisuke Matsushima, Bistrot d’Antione), and where to get some really good wood oven Socca. This is also where I met Manu who is a big fan of rosé wine. We in the US should learn from Manu and drink more rosé! (At least, in the warmer months.) This place is a new venture for the owner, Bruno. It has only been open for a few months and as I sip wine at the bar and chat with him I am reminded of the long hours and stressful days of starting a business. But this one is sure to succeed. Not only does it offer a fantastic selection of wine, it also serves cheese (see top pick # 3), charcuterie, small plates, and desserts from the best pastry shop in Nice – LAC. You can buy wine buy the glass or purchase a bottle at retail cost to drink there.
The sister shop of Vinivore is La Part des Anges – “the Angel’s Share”, referring to the wine that is evaporated while aging in oak casks. They also have an impressive selection of wine by the bottle or glass, small plates (the charcuterie plate has foie gras on it!), and a genuine and knowledgeable staff.
Banon – An unpasteurized Provençal goat’s milk cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves and doused in eau-de-vie.
I spent a few days in Corsica with an old honored Pix employee. Meet Anne – 21 yrs old, taking Spanish classes in Seville and decides to drop out and see the world. When she arrives in Nice she has about 20 euro, a check card that doesn’t work and a credit card that doesn’t work any better. I remembered my youth, being in Asia, dropping out of the “engineering” program in the Philippines and heading to Thailand where I would discover a whole new world of food and more importantly, a whole new way of life. After my first bowl of Tom Yum Soup I decided freeze dried astronaut food would never cut it and traded in my oxygen tank for a culinary career.
Anne and I ate way too much cheese so we had to work it off by playing pétaque. It was lunch time in the Il Rousse when we started playing, thus we had the court to ourselves. An hour later the real players trickled out of the bars and restaurants only to find 2 young American girls throwing balls in all directions. Soon we had our own private coaches. “You must not throw the cochonnet more than 10m!” they would tell us. And then we were invited to play a game with them. Turns out the following day the World Cup of Pétaque was happing right there in Il Rousse and one of our fellow players was a pastry chef hired to create a 6 foot sugar sculpture for the special event! Too bad we had a boat to catch. Next year we’ll be back as l’équipe les États-Unis!
Here is where to go for necessities such as socca, champagne, pasta and fresh fish:
Socca – Bright yellow spot on Blvd Riquier & Rue Scaliéro
Socca is a Niçiose Specialty; a sort of chickpea flour crepe grilled in olive oil. A much better choice for a snack than another bad slice of pizza.
Fresh Ravioli – Maison Quirino 10, rue Bavastro
Nice is so close to Italy you could probably run there. Thus the abundance of pizza and fresh pastas shops. This one has a great selection of ravioli, sauces, and daily take-out specialties like cooked rabbit, stuffed vegetables, and lasagna. Small cheese selection also available.
Beer – De Klomp 6, rue Mascoïnat
A beer bar in the old village. Great selection with an Achel Trappist special going on when I was there. Also noteworthy is a beer bar on the pedestrian street rue Massena, across from “Super Dallas!”
Fish – Marché du Pêche Place St. François & Marché du Buffa rue de la Buffa at rue Gambetta
The Marché du Pêche is open everyday except Monday. Here you can find fish mongers selling whole octopus, sole, tuna cut to order, anchovies packed in salt jars (done on site), sea urchins, langoustines and of course mussels. If you are looking for fresh oysters head to the Marché duBuffa where you can pick up a 20 piece wood box of local Huîtres de Bouzigues for a mere 9.90euro!
Wine – Vinivore 32, ave de la République & La Part Des Anges 17, rue Gubernatis
Both of these wine shops offer a great selection of small producer, hard-to-find wines, many of which are biodynamic and sulfite free. Wines are available by the glass or by the bottle at retail price to enjoy with their daily selections of cheese, charcuterie, salads and plats du jour. Very friendly and knowledgeable staff!
Fresh Produce – Le Marché Cours Saleya
This market offers up great regional produce such as (in September) olives and olive oil, goat cheese, chestnuts, salts, 12 types of greens, aromatic grapes, giant figs, Jerusalem artichokes, chanterelles, eggs, herbs de Provence, endive, leeks, and prickly pears. There is a Corsican booth that sells Coppa salami, Brebris Cheese, chestnut flour, even Corsi-Cola! On the weekends, pick up some fougasse smothered in olive oil, eggplant and red peppers, and off to the side of the market on Place Gautier one can find some obscure looking red peppers that taste like red bells but have some heat in the center. Open everyday 7AM-1PM except Monday.
(BEWARE! Do not try to pick a prickly pear from the many prickly pear trees in Corsica. They are not groomed like the ones in the market and you will regret it for 2 days!)
Cheese – La Ferme Fromagèrie 27, rue de Lépante & Marché du Buffa rue de la Buffa at rue Gambetta
Let me just say that I spent 5 weeks in Nice and never ran into a formagèrie! Is this really France? Supposedly La Ferme Fromagèrie exists. It is where the wine shops Vivivore and La Part des Anges buys their fantastic cheese. There is a cheese stand in Marché du Buffa (not the stand that has samples of gummy bears) that has an excellent selection including Epoisse de Bourgone, Banon (goat and sheep cheese dipped in eau-de-vie and wrapped in cheastnut leaf), and St. Nectaire.
Pâtisserie – LAC 18, rue Barla
Hands down the best pâtisserie in Nice. Stunning pastries, fabulous macaroons, and some pretty tasty chocolates.
Bread – Marché Cours Saleya & a little boulangerie on the corner of Rue Foderé & Rue Bavastro
The weekend market is a great place for fougasse covered with everything from cheese and ham to artichokes and herbs, all brushed with the famous Provencal olive oil. The rest of the week line up at the little corner boulangerie on rue Foderé for great baguette au levain and a brioche worth eating in its entirety.
Armagnac – La Belle Cave 8, rue Bavastro
The wine shop has almost every year of Chateau de Laubade between 1930 and 2000.
Restaurants & Brasseries
Keisuke Matsushima 22, rue de France
French haute cuisine from a Japanese chef. 1 Michelin star
Amada 17, rue Tonduti
Japanese haute cuisine with French influences from a Japanese chef. Extremely friendly owners.
Bistrot d’Antione Rue de la Préfecture
French dishes done right in the old town.
U fanale Route de Porto, Calvi
A twenty minute walk away from the touristy part of Clavi (Corsica) and well worth it. Call 2 days in advance for the bouillabaisse.
Le Tono 18, ave Georges Clemenceau
Wine and tapas bar.
Resto Wine Notes 6, rue Ste Reparate
Wine bar serving dinner and live music. House-made fois gras is fabulous!
Bastille Day 2007
On July 14 Pix threw its first annual Bastille Day Block Party – and what a party it was! Thanks to the crafty recruiting work of our SE store manager Leb Borgerson, we had an incredible line up of music, starting things off right with Pocket Parade and Pants Machine following up. Employee Mickey Pollizatto gave a stellar performance as CJ and the Dolls and Leb took a break from running the show to perform with Gus Elg in a Quiet Countries vs. Wilding collaboration. Point Juncture snuck in a very nice set before a quick rain shower.
Meanwhile in the lab the pastry chefs were working on the world’s largest croquembouche! We submitted paperwork to the Guinness book, but they simply wanted to call it a “Wedding Cake” and thus to qualify it needed to weigh in at 6.818 tons (15,032lb)! (Apparently they don’t know a croquembouche is empty in the center.) So we said, “screw ‘em” and proceeded to set our own record. After 7 hours of construction (not to mention the 28 hours spent earlier stuffing 2000 puffs) and at a towering 5’6” we heard a noise. A crack to be exact and the whole thing crumble like an earthquake had just taken place. After a swig of Cognac it was almost kind of funny (I said almost.)
Out on Failing St. a pig was boiling away and the Champagne Oyster Bar was hoppin’. Other tasty French food and beverages included Chicken Pâté from Simpatica, Lillet, Pietra (chestnut beer from Corsica), cheese plates, Cognac, Pastis, and two 12 L bottles of Buzet. But in reality this is Oregon, not France, and the drink of choice was the Beer Float – Rouge Double Chocolate Stout with a couple scoops of Pix mocha ice cream.
Throughout the afternoon there were chef demos by Robert Reynolds (Chef Studios) and Steve Jones (Steve’s Cheese), Petanque games, waiter races, a Citroen car show and grape stompin’.
And then there was the Throwdown. No, Bobby Flay didn’t stop by for a croquembouche challenge. This was a Pinot Noir throwdown – Oregon vs. Burgundy. Remember the Judgment of Paris? It was something like that.
Andrew Rich Willamette Valley 2005
Charles Audoin Marsannay Longeroies 02
Domaine de L’Arlot Nuit St Georges 1er Cru 02
J. Christopher Sandra Addle 04
Mongeard-Mugneret Bourgogne Rouge 03
Michael Gay Chorey Les Beaune VV 04
Eyrie Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir 2002
Domaine Drouhin 2004 Pinot Noir
Even though Mongeard-Mugneret Bourgogne Rouge 03 scored the most points as an individual wine, Oregon came out on top as the overall winner! Whoot!
As the sun when down the kids came out to play. On the main stage we had Bobby Birdman and Copy giving the crowd something to celebrate while Juice Team DJ’s and DJ Erick Beats filled the voids and kept everyone jovial. The night climaxed with a stellar confetti filled dance party featuring Yacht. Clean up was a bitch, but well worth it.
See you next year?
To the following businesses, employees, and individuals that made this event Trés Grande Choses!
Leb, Michael, Vanessa, Emily, Leila, Cammie, Danielle, Erik, Jazpur, Ally, Shaz, Daniel, Jobie, entire North Pix front staff, Laura and Seattleites, Carnitas Chefs, all the amazing bands and DJ’s, Steve’s Cheese, Robert Reynolds Chef Studios, Citroen Car Club & Bill Lonseth, Wine and Spirit Archive Project, J. Christopher, Eyrie Vineyards, Andrew Rich, Sunshine Dairy, Casa Bruno, Simpatica, Le Happy, Alliance Francaise, Provvista, Lucky Madison, Batdorf and Bronson Coffee Roasters, Portland French School, Normandie Imports and the North Portland Community – we love you all!
Photographs by Tim Gunther Photography
In March, three Pix employees and I ventured off on a Gastronomic Scavenger Hunt through a fabulous little place called France. While in Paris, we indulged in picnics of Pierre Hermé pastries, foie gras, Sauternes, Ladurée macaroons, Roquefort cheese, salmon rillettes, Mulot brioche, Beurre de Échiré, Joseph Drouhin Santeny, cute baby radishes with Sel de Guérande, crème fraiche, white asparagus, pâté de volaille en croute, mustard in every flavor imaginable, St Marcelin cheese, premier cru Burgundy, and baguette upon baguette (whew!). And then there were the bistros, where we dined on fresh oysters from the Il de Ré (with Champagne, of course), steak tartare, frogs legs, escargot, country patés, and Alsatian charcroute and sausages washed down with 4 carefully chosen eaux-de-vies from a menu of over 40.
These foods originated from all parts of France – foie gras from the south, butter from the Pitou Charentes, St Marcelin from the Rhône, frog’s legs from…somewhere. So how do they reach the Parisian bistros we all know and love? It’s a place called “Rungis.”
Rungis is today what Les Halles was until 1971 – the farmer’s market for the city of Paris! The market moved to the Parisian suburbs to expand and keep up with the growing demand and is now the largest wholesale market in th world selling fresh fish, meat, cheese, flowers and vegetables (a few specific exceptions are Tokyo’s fish market and Holland’s flower market.) So of course we had to check it out.
It’s 4:30 AM and our tour guide has arrived to pick us up at the hotel. Since we went to bed an hour and a half earlier, most of us are still asleep and probably still have a buzz going from the eaux-de-vie, red wines, and mojitos consumed the night before. But we put on the mandatory labcoats and hats, and within 10 minutes of being there and seeing the vats of sea snails, huge ray fish, and very large octopus, we are all wide eyed. We were in the fish market, which opens at midnight everyday and closes at 6AM. Talk about fresh.
In the center of the building is a café enclosed in glass where all the workers of the market are taking a break. They are drinking coffee, sipping wine, and enjoying probably the freshest bar food ever while sporting blood stained labcoats. Don’t let me mislead you, this is the cleanest, most sanitary market I’ve ever seen.
From there we move on to the Tripe Pavilion (yes, there is such a thing!) and the cow and pig building. Here you can buy a whole cow or just about any part of it you want. Need 100 cow tongues? No problem. Pigs feet? Got them by the bin full. This may sound rather disgusting to some, but I say, if you are going to take the life of an animal for food, follow the lead of the European countries and find a way to utilize all of it. On to the cheese…
In the cheese warehouse you can find any French cheese you have ever heard of and many you have not – like Mimolette, Salers, Munster, Crotin de Chavignol, Ossau-Iraty, Morbier, Picodon, Bleu d’Auverne, and Valencay, Pavé d’Auge, Saint-Marcellin, and Trappe de Belval just to name a few. We were quite excited to see stacks upon stacks of Brilliant Savarin – the cheese we use at Pix for the “Royale with Cheese.” (By the way, if you go to Cognac you can get a “Royale with Cheese,” happy meal at McDo. Just don’t take any pictures in there – c’est interdite!) I think there were some cheeses in there that weighed more than I did.
Next up, the fruits and vegetables. There are SIX warehouses stocked full of them. Need kumquats, red currants, litchi? They have them. What about Japanese eggplant, 3 colors of asparagus, and micro vegetables. Anything and everything is available at this market.
It’s now 10:00AM. We are sitting in a café with our guide. Some of us are dreaming of coffee and croissant, but the reality is we are in a whole different time zone. A city that comes to life at 12AM and goes to sleep at 2PM. What arrives at our table is rosé and red wine, hot vegetable soup, charcuterie and paté, a variety of cheeses, and a few pastries to finish the meal. I think the guide and I are the only ones who drank the wine that morning, but everyone left with a better understanding of French food, culture, and customs. And then it was time for a nap…
For more information on Rungis:
To hire a guide to visit Rungis: