Le Club 55

Plage de Pampelonne 83350 RamatuelleFR • +33 4 94 55 55 55 • club55.fr

There is an old French saying that roughly translates to mean, “may this misery never leave us,” which is as sarcastic as it is perfect for describing what it was like to sail to Saint Tropez for the day and dine on the beach at Le Club 55. Yes, I live an extremely charmed life and I work very hard to keep that in perspective. So I tell you this not as a “look at me,” but rather as strong nudge to YOU, because if you should ever find yourself in the South of France, you owe this to yourself. Yes, it’s a bit of commitment (two hours from Cannes each way), but sacre bleu is it worth it!

Strung together like a bunch of Gilligan’s Island-esque straw huts, this place continues to grow and sprawl across the sand like the Zabar’s of the Cote d’Azur. And also like Zabar’s, it is as far from fancy as it is from Cannes. This is toes in the sand and swim suit on butt couture.

But don’t let the casual façade fool you, because getting a table is serious business, and so is the food. For example, their crudité bests some of the finest restaurants in the world, including Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Bohemian in NYC. Served on a bountiful wooden board (pictured) and loaded with farm-grown fireworks in the form of vegetables. The tomatoes speak for themselves, needing no salt, nor sauce. The radishes bite back. And the red pepper tastes like a conversation you simply can’t get enough of. Oui, it is an Ultimate of ultimate proportions.

Two other stellar dishes are the beef tartar served with crack-tastic chips and the bone-simple, equally magnificent, perfectly cooked whole fish. And that seems to be the name of the game here. Keep it simple, because when they strayed and tried to get a little too fancy they missed.

For example their salad with shaved parmesan and black truffles didn’t hold up to the rest. I’m guessing because the truffles weren’t real. Blasphemy to say, but they were virtually flavorless next to the crudité, which makes zero sense. And the other concoction getting trickier still, would be the odd variation on a caprese salad, made with tomatoes, goat cheese, hollandaise and mint. It wasn’t awful, but after having seen the tomato as a solo act, this seemed like a crime to drown it with such an odd combination of flavors.

On the simpler side of things I did also find a miss, ruined with a very simple error. The langoustines were very (and sadly) overcooked. But misses aside, Le Club 55 is a triumph, as if anybody needed another reason to love the beach.

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Bistro Bis

15 E St NW Washington, DC 20001(202) 661-2700bistrobis.com

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Located in George Hotel this is a great option for those who want convenience of location without sacrifice on awesome. The décor is very nicely done, as one might expect from the chain. Elegant and classic, yet somehow also modern.

As for the food, I kinda blame out waitress for getting us off on the wrong foot, claiming the steak tartar with quail egg and a porcini mushroom aioli, to be the best she’s ever had. Obviously she’s never been to Manzo in New York or Pastis in Cannes, because both of those destroy Bis’ very lame attempt at an Ultimate. As John Bender from the Breakfast Club would say, “Not even close, Bud!”

Now what she should’ve recommended was the seared foie gras over a hazelnut pain perdu with pickled rhubarb and spiced rhubarb gastrique. It was so friggin’ yum it almost restored my faith in Capital Hill… almost.

The other dish our waitress could’ve gone with was the octopus. My second fave of the night, perfectly charred and dolled up with chorizo, sweet peppers and spring onions placed over a bed of squid ink pasta and drizzled in a white bean emulsion. This is one of those dishes that sounds too complicated for its own good, but they somehow manage to pull it all together.

Another pleaser, not quite at the level of those other two starters was the frisee salad with applewood smoked bacon, duck confit and a poached egg dressed in an aged sherry vinaigrette. It won’t quite rock your world, but if it’s what you’re craving then you’ll definitely be happy.

For entrees, I tried both the sea scallops and the trout and I have to give it to the trout, no contest. Made in a classic prep with a twist they use capers, lemon, crisp ham and parsley brown butter and then accompany the fish with haricots verts and a pommes chateau. It was moist and flavorful and exactly what the doctor ordered. And yes, I have a doctorate in eating.

The sea scallops, however, failed to bring the zazz that one might expect from its preparation. Again, a twist on a common thai black rice dish, made with the additions of coriander roasted carrots, smoked shitake mushrooms and a ginger-port wine reduction.

I like what this chef is made of though, reaching for the stars and catching just enough to make me want dessert. But sadly I had to rush to catch the Acela home so I guess I’ll have to return for seconds, especially for the apple tart (pictured). Damn does that look good!

3 teeth

Plage Belles Rives

32 Boulevard Edouard Baudouin 06160 Juan les Pins, France+33 4 93 61 02 79 • bellesrives.com

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According to legend, the Hotel Belles Rives is where F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Tender is the Night back in 1925 and while that may very well be true, it has little to do with the food at their restaurant, which at the end of the day is all I really care about. Sorry Scotty.

Funny coincidence, though, this place seems to be attracting famous writers ever since, because I actually dined with Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. Two writers I infinitely admire and while that alone should be worth 5 knives, the restaurant was not, even with its unprecedented writer juju.

The other thing Belles Rives has going for it is the view, but if you’re going to head all the way over to Antibes from Cannes, then I’m not exactly sure why you would stop here as opposed to Eden Rock, which is far more stunning on every metric imaginable.

But since this is where I was, and not at Eden Rock, I partook in a feast of average, starting with an octopus salad, tossed over potatoes, tomatoes and onion. This was chased by an unmemorable sea bream with potato puree, roasted tomato and passion fruit.

The unexceptional performance persisted through dessert with an inventive sounding sea urchin lemon meringue. And while you are probably wondering what kind of Chopped basket brought upon this insane combo of sea urchin in dessert form, please don’t spend too much time trying to figure it out, because the dish is nothing of the kind. It’s just a lemon tart in dome form, with meringue spines poking out all over the place to make it sort of loosely resemble the shape of a sea urchin. Sort of how the restaurant sort of resembles a place you might actually think was worth the money, but it isn’t.

Nonetheless, it will still be a meal I will never forget, because how often is it that you get to hang with geniuses the likes of Thomas Friedman and Maureen friggin’ Dowd?!

2 teeth

Husk

76 Queen St. Charleston, SC 29401 • (843) 577-2500 • huskrestaurant.com

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Charleston just might be the only place on Earth where heading down a deserted alley would be sage advice, because when you do, you will find some of the most charming buildings, forested crypts and even parking lots that will take your breath away! In fact, the alleys are so stunning that they put the streets to shame. Granted that’s not saying much, since most of the main drags are swarming with a touristy hell.

But within this swamp of tank tops, mandals, and baseball caps that promise to “Make America Great Again,” there is a beacon of hope that goes by the name of Husk. Located in an old historic landmark, the building has been impeccably refurbished and decorated to the nines inside, my guess is by a SCAD alumni.

But a secret she ain’t, in fact, the news has spread so far and wide that I heard about this place from two different people in Cannes, France, so be sure to make a reservation well in advance, because this James Beard winning haunt packs ‘em in as if they were selling the antidote to Walkers (I felt it fitting to have a Walking Dead reference, being that much of it is shot in the Carolinas). And they flock here for good reason, because it doesn’t take long for them to impress, kicking things off with a magically refreshing Blueberry Hill cocktail, made with tequila, blueberries (obviously), orange juice and jalapeno for that nice little hit of spice to balance the sweet. Granted it’s more refreshing than it is anything else.

Another early crowd-pleaser was their bread. Baked with salty goodness in the form of bacon, I haven’t had anything like it since Cyrus in Healdsburg, CA (RIP). But try to contain yourself, because you’ll want to save room, and lots of it, after all, this is the South, and land of the lighter fare it is not.

For our appetizer, wifey and I split the hushpuppies based on the waitress’ recommendation, and while I liked her very much, I think she missed it wide on those puppies. I’ve had droves of better.

Also disappointing for me was the panzanella salad with fried chicken. The salad, was rather basic and while the chicken had great smokiness, the crust was a bit on the soggy side. Plus, I hate to say it, but I’ve had MUCH better fried chicken in Orlando at Highball & Harvest as well as in New York City (blasphemy!) at ABC Kitchen.

But just as the hype started to exceed the reality, the shrimp and grits rose to the occasion, done in such a way that almost tasted more like a sweet corn polenta, topped with roasted peppers, onions and tomatoes. It was in a legue of its own and only bested by one other, at Walton’s Fancy & Staple in Austin, Texas.

Unfortunately Husk is not exactly the storied success it was built up to be, but it also had its moments. Therefore I think it’s a worthwhile stop amongst your visit, should you grow hungry in your search for alleys.

3 teeth

The Ultimate Soufflé

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Blue Hill at Stone Barns – Pontico Hills, NY – The Ricotta Soufflé

Once upon a time, back when Blue Hill hadn’t jumped the shark yet, you could still order from a menu. And once upon a time on that menu lived a dessert the stuff of fairy tales. Like eating a cloud filled with dreams, whipped into a poof of fluffiness that would even make a Pomeranian jealous. I think it’s safe to say that this is the crowning achievement for eggs and chickens alike.

L’Affable – Cannes, FR – Grand Marnier Soufflé

As Grand Marnier soufflés go, they all could pretty much pass as Ultimates, because A, they’re soufflés. And B, because they have booze in them. But not just any booze, a light, citrusy booze with notes of spice in it that warm the cockles of your soul. Or maybe that’s just the residual heat from the oven still trapped in the ramekin. Well, whatever it is, this particular GM soufflé manages to just barely top the previous frontrunner, Capo in Santa Monica (formerly on the list). It’s just that indescribable X factor. That 1% more fluffiness. That sensational whipped crack they put on top and that drizzle to follow, like a one-two punch and game, set, match. Yes, I’m aware that I just mixed boxing and tennis, but you have to admit, that would make for a VERY interesting new hybrid sport.

Red Hat

1 Bridge St. Irvington, NY 10533 • (914) 591-5888redhatbistro.com

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I honestly love so many things about this place. Good food, great location, wonderful decor, fantastic service. The owner really seems engaged with the place and it shows.

It’s located in the loft spaces right on the Hudson river and I highly recommend getting there early during the summer for a drink on the rooftop. Harvest on who?

Inside, they didn’t miss a trick. Feels like you stepped right into a Paris Bistro. Granted, it’s probably 3 times the size of most of the bistros I’ve seen in France, but you get my point.

Now for the food. The moules frites alone is worth a visit. One bite and you’ll feel like you’re in Cannes- just fantastic. I also love their salmon burger for lunch, although their regular burger isn’t too shabby either.

Now for the bad news. They don’t have high chairs, which is a bit odd in such a family oriented town. Also, the menu can be a little hit or miss if you stray from the tried and true, but since I almost always get the mussels and the salmon burger, I’m seldom disappointed.

3 teeth

Cocoon

18 Rue Bivouac Napoleon, 06400 Cannes, France • 624 16 33 97
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Behind this charming little purple awning lies a tour de force of healthy, fresh salad making like the world has never seen. I mean we’re talking salads as good as desserts here people! I know I sound like a mad man, but Cocoon is the crazy one. Crazy good that is. Per the picture above, they have this one salad made with goat cheese wrapped in a pastry, served warm over a bed of caramelized apples all resting on garden fresh greens and tomatoes so flavorful it’s enough to make an American (like me) weep their GMO’s off!

And the best part is that it’s quite reasonable as meals go in Cannes. Plus the service is very friendly and accommodating (meaning they speak English), which is nice for those of us who were lazy and never learned a second language.

5 teeth

 

 

L’Affable

5 rue Lafontaine 06400 Cannes, FR • 04 93 68 02 09 • http://www.restaurant-laffable.fr

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I have been a HUGE fan of this chef (Jean-Paul Battaglia) for over 25 years dating back to his place Feu Follet in Mougins, which is no longer (R.I.P.). Well, thank God I found him again. Only two blocks from my hotel no less!

And just like his last restaurant, the décor is beautiful. However, this time, rather than quaint and old world French, it’s much more modern, in a tasteful way that balances warmth with minimalist lines. The service was also the best we had during our stay in Cannes. Warm and friendly. Which is rare in these parts.

But the food- Simply perfection. I mean nobody does risotto like this chef. Maybe Fraîche in LA (R.I.P.), but apart from that, he’s in a class by himself. I think one of his tricks must be in the beef stock. It makes the risotto so rich and savory, my mouth is literally soaking my keyboard in fond memories right now. And the thing is, he even uses it even on a veggie risotto, giving vegetables the gravitas of a buttery steak.

For my other course, I had seared foie gras- obviously eating healthy that night. Now, here would be my one nit, and it’s a small one, because while it was still great… it was only just “great.” Not phenomenal. Which is the level I’ve come to expect from Jean-Paul (yes, we’re on a first name basis). So what was missing? Well, it didn’t have an inventive preparation, which runs rampant on this menu. Not even the presentation of it rose to the level of everything else, and presentation is this guy’s forte. Like the Steve Jobs of plating. But it is still foie gras, after all, so I can only complain so much.

And last but not least a Grand Marnier soufflé so light and airy I felt like I was flying. Well, it was that or the wine. But whatever it was, it was manifique!

Definitely my new favorite place in Cannes.

5 teeth

Mantel

22 Rue St Antoine, 06400 Cannes, France • Phone: +33 4 93 39 13 10

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Mantel has high marks on Tripadvisor, but apart from the beef entrée, I can’t say it lived up to the stars. Décor is nice. Service was good by French standards- but the food, on a whole, just never seemed to cross that line from okay to great.

The zucchini flower appetizer was a prime example of this, fried and flavorless. Which is rare. Normally there is a filling with zucchini flowers, because they don’t have a ton of flavor on their own. Unless, they are incredibly fresh, but then you wouldn’t want to deep fry them.

Another miss was a special fish for six people that they down in a white cream sauce that didn’t quite taste decadent enough to make it worth spoiling the healthiness of the fish. Perhaps the fish wasn’t fresh and they were masking it? Whatever the reason, it wound up tasting somewhat bland.

The next two things were so close to great, but just fell short. First would be the burrata caprese. The presentation is stunning. But the burrata should be creamier (which is kinda the point with burrata) and the dish lacked the salt it needed to make the tomatoes pop. Granted you can always add that yourself, but at a restaurant claiming to be at a certain caliber, you would expect things to come ready to eat as the chef intended- which ideally he intended to be flavorful.

The other near hit was the risotto with black truffles. This might’ve gotten higher marks from me, but earlier in the week we ate at L’Affable and they are a master of risotto. So by comparison, this one paled. A touch over cooked- and the truffles really didn’t have that strong of a flavor.

And last but not least, dessert. And I had several. The chocolate mousse cake with walnuts was the best. A solid good. Skip everything else. The raspberry tart, for example, was once again flavorless and not worth the calories. Plus, there is a MUCH better one just down the hill in Old Cannes at Astoux and Brun.

Sorry Mantel. You need to up your game.

2 teeth