Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Dining in Cannes: The Less Expensive Alternatives

by Jim Byerley

First the bad news. Old favorite Maitre- Pierre has closed. Always providing one of the best bangs for the Franc, it provided gourmet level dining at reasonable prices. Now, sadly, the old place is locked up, trash litters the doorway. Wonder where regular patron and fellow food fan Roger Ebert goes now? For those who weren't born with trust funds or jobs with big expense allowances, the good news is that there are still some not-so-pricey dining choices beyond pizza and chop suey.

One oldie has been reborn. Le Mechant Loup is one of the many bistros that line the picturesque Rue St. Antoine in the section known as Le Suquet. There are more ambitious menus on the block, like Relais des Semailles (9 Rue St. Antoine), but the tiny Loup is hard to beat for charm. In the late '70s and early '80s, Mechant Loup pioneered the limited choice menu that still survives at Le Maschou (see later). It then changed hands, was renamed and the menu became very nouvelle ambitious. Bigger may be better in some cases, but not necessarily when discussing menus. Now, the food, under yet another management, is just OK. The original name has been restored, but the prix-fixe menu, still with many choices, is a pocket friendly 125 FF. Salad of endive, walnuts and Roquefort was a tangy starter. The steak was rather stringy, however, and smothered with a most unsightly pepper sauce. The chicken tended to be dry, but its more visually aesthetic cream sauce provided effective camouflage. Creme brulee wasn't too bad and the waiter couldn't have been friendlier. Get there early for one of the few outdoor tables that offer you a front row seat on the promenade St. Antoine.

Just down the hill from Mechant Loup, the cave-like Le Maschou is justifiably the most popular kid on the block. After a day of brain -frying wheeling and dealing, it is such a joy not to have to make a decision at dinner. A tasty sangria-like cocktail arrives as you are seated, as does a basket of bread slices that have been toasted over an open fire. To smear on the crunchy bread is a garlicky-cheesy spread. The patron then asks you to make one simple choice..."beef, lamb or chicken?" That may sound like Delta Airlines talking, but believe me the Loup cuisine bears no resemblance to airplane inedibles. Bring on the wooden plank with sliced prosciutto and melon. The biggest basket of fresh vegetables this side of the marche de Nice is deposited next. The tables here are tiny and crammed together, so you may find yourself gazing at your dinner partner through the celery stalks, while your elbow has a close encounter with your neighbors ribs. Could that be Isabel Adjani dining in the corner? No way, in a simple place like this? Main courses are simply prepared and are succulent. A baked potato on the side is a rarity in France, and here they are plump from the fire. Desserts, too, are steadfastly uncomplicated. Creme caramel, chocolate mousse, coffee ice cream, berries, etc. Since Mechant Loup is so small and so popular, reservations well in advance are de rigeur. The beauty in the corner got up and donned her sunglasses, though it was now 1 a.m. Ms. Adjani, to be sure.

Try Le Restaurant Armenien (82, La Croisette) if the urge to dine non-French strikes. This marvelous find is reportedly the favorite Riviera spot of entertainer Charles Aznavour. The prix-fixe menu is not exactly cheap at 250FF, but you will certainly get your Franc's worth. The appetizers outnumber those at Colombe d'Or. The entire table disappears as olives, marinated cabbage, spicy beans, cucumber salad, hommus, lentil salad, spinach pie, stuffed grape leaves, cheese pie, sautéed eggplant, bite sized pizzas, peppers, etc. are deposited. Oh yes. There's delicious home-made bread too. The main courses are just as numerous and include lamb shish-kebobs, sautéed onions, stuffed zucchini, ,meatballs with cracked wheat, a wheat and beef stew, mussels, okra and a nifty variation on lasagna. Still room for baklava, sesame-nut sticks and jellied squares dusted with powdered sugar? How do you say "uncle" in Armenian?

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