Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999

1999 Cannes Film Festival Diaries
Dīner ("dee-nay", not "dye-nurr") #4: Where's the Poisson?

by Jim Byerley

Film Scouts on the Riviera 1999 is brought to you by:

Cannes, May 17, 1999

Remember the old days when the diner's favorite catch phrase was "where's the beef?" Now, being somewhat wiser and health conscious, many have cut back on the red meat intake and more often turn to vegetables and fish. Here in Cannes for the 52snd Film Festival, lucky eaters can find on their plates some of the world's best seafood, freshly pulled from the blue Mediterranean.

On this stretch of the Cote d'Azur, the two best bets (if price is no object) are restaurants Tetou in Golfe-Juan and Bacon in Cap d'Antibes. Tetou is located between the highway and the plage, just a 5 minute taxi ride from La Croisette. It is quite unassuming from the outside, appearing to be little more than a fast-food, beach shack. The red, white and blue interior is tres chic, however, with a vaguely nautical feel. Get there before the sun goes down for a lovely changing-of - the - light show on the water. You can do some serious star-gazing here during the festival, as it is a prime destination for the loaded and the famous. Be sure to make a reservation (you should have done it before leaving Los Angeles or New York) or at least make the effort. Bring plenty of cash, too, as Tetou doesn't take American Express (or Visa), or any other credit cards for that matter. The world-famous bouillabaisse is, indeed, worthy of the reputation. Basically, it is presented as a build-it-yourself project. A large caldron of heady fish stock is on the table. A variety of fish are filleted tableside by the exceptionally well-dressed (and bejeweled) wives of the owners. Lobster can be included, if you are feeling flush or have just signed a big deal with Harvey and Bob. Potatoes and crusty croutons can then be added to your bowl along with a spicy aioli. I can be quite happy eating the croutons and aioli alone, though it has been known to send some delicate souls into garlic shock. Heaven! One can also order a simple broiled lobster here, but the main reason for the Tetou pilgrimage is the fish soup. Simple white wines from Bandol or Chateau Bellet are perfect complements. Desserts, which include the awesome confiture, are de rigeur, so go easy on the bread, mon ami.

In nearby Cap d'Antibes is the extraordinary Bacon. The view across the bay towards old Antibes is pure magic and then comes the food. A variety of fish is presented on a platter at your table, so you can check their eyes for freshness and make your choice. Any one of them, simply grilled with fennel or basil, then dribbled with olive oil, is stupendous. There is a chapon en papillote (baked in a bag) that is juicy and flavorful beyond description. For a starter, try the fabulous fricassee de rougets with tarragon. There is bouillabaisse here, too, that (along with Tetou's) is one of the best this side of Marseilles. The frozen nougatine is the perfect finish for the perfect meal. Perfection comes at a price, needless to say, but Bacon is civilized enough to accept credit cards.

In Cannes itself there are numerous choices for meatless dieters. Along the bustling rue Felix Faure are countless seafood cafes all packed together. Yes, like sardines. Each displays a similar spread of fresh shellfish, or fruits de mer, for your perusal. A light meal (stick to the simplest grilled poisson after the raw starters) can be had at any one of these establishments without first breaking the bank in Monte Carlo. Quality seems pretty much the same from place to place, though Caveau 30 (No. 45) and Chez Astoux (No. 43 ) are favorites of regulars. In the same restaurant row are Le Radeau, Pierrot 1er and Astoux & Brun, which all seem to have huitres to spare. There is also the Asian Fast Food place serving sweet and sour crevettes, if you must.

Another stretch for seafood is along the old port on quai St. Pierre. Gaston and Gastonette (No. 7) is the name most often mentioned by festival-goers who manage to venture beyond La Pizza. It is not bad, but seems to have pretensions of something greater. Further on one encounters Au Mal Assis (No. 15). Smartly done up in blue and white, it has a pleasant terrace where the diner can look at the docked yachts and fantasize about other exotic ports. The unassuming menu is heavily weighted towards seafood, though one can find duck, tartare de boeuf and a cow filet if so inclined. Menus are a relatively moderate 120 or 170 Francs. The fresh spring asparagus was slightly overcooked, but tasty with its buerre blanc sauce. The bouillabaisse is not comparable to that at Bacon or Tetou, but is filling and chock-full of fish, potatoes, mussels and garlicky croutons. It certainly won't win any beauty contests. Desserts were pretty basic, though an old-fashioned ile flotant looked pretty nice from across the room.

There are other fishy alternatives in Cannes itself. The casual restaurants that line the beach are popular choices, especially for a sunny lunch. Virtually all of them (Rado Plage, Calao Plage, Zenith Plage, Long Beach, etc.) have a grilled loup or a soupe de poisson listed among their daily specialties. Even the ubiquitous Salade Nicoise (canned tuna, mais oui) is delicious when washed down by a local Rosé, as one sits just off the sand in bikiniland. Back in town, Mère Besson (13 rue Frères Pradinac) is an insanely popular bistro, especially during festival time, requiring advance reservations. Try to make the scene on Friday when the specialty of the maison is the traditional Aioli. Steamed vegetables, cod and mussels are presented with bowls of the tangy garlic mayonnaise. Nothing like my mère used to make. In our household, mayonnaise meant Hellman's.

Near the train station, on rue 24 August, is the plain and simple Au Bec Fin. A menu for 99 Francs is a bargain and they offer a filet de loup, sardines grillés, and moules du chef. Just down the block, on the corner of rue Hoche, is the tiny North Beach Café. This Italian spot is mostly for drinks, but does have a simple menu mainly consisting of pastas. There are three or four varieties of spaghetti with clams (vongole), all tasty and economical.

If you have rented an apartment, and are playing chef yourself, don't miss the early morning market off the rue Jean Jaurés. Picture-perfect fruits and vegetables are tempting, as is the well-stocked fish monger's stand. Try those fresh sardines, if you are only familiar with the canned variety from your Safeway. No comparison. Downstairs it may be the French K-Mart, but the upstairs food market at the cut-rate Monoprix department store is also an option for budding Julia Childs. They stock squid, crevettes and assorted fresh fishes, along with packaged smoked salmon from Norway and Scotland. They also have a sizable wine selection where you can probably find the Gallic equivalent to Chateau Ripple, if you are so inclined. Bon apetit.

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