Last summer I went to Nice for a long weekend visiting some friends and enjoying walking through the winding streets of Old Nice. On a whim I entered a restaurant called La Petite Maison and had the most marvelous lunch of artichoke salad, followed by an omelet filled with black truffle that was light as air. Dessert was a delicate, crisp crepe topped with fragrant tangerines. Later, I found out that I had stumbled on one of Nice’s best restaurants. Chef/owner Nicole Rubi is the doyenne of Nice’s restaurants, and celebrities like President Sarkozy love to eat there when visiting Nice. There is another La Petite Maison in London – so Rubi’s team knows how to transplant Nice well.
The entrance table is piled with fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, celery, and potatoes, as well as bottles of French olive oil, pasta, and rice. The heavily laden table announces the Mediterranean food on offer.
The restaurant has been redesigned by a French architect and has the feel of a southern French restaurant. The restaurant is on two levels. On the ground floor there is a long bar crowded with giggling beautiful young models, and men in chic casual clothes, flirting shamelessly.
Each table is decorated with whole, plump yellow and red tomatoes, a bottle of olive oil, salt and fresh ground pepper along with a paper bag filled with crusty hot baguette. As your waiter hands you a menu he instructs you to eat the tomatoes sprinkled with olive oil, salt and pepper just as customers do in the restaurant in Nice.
Chef Alain Allegretti, a Nice native, most recently headed up restaurant Allegretti in New York, is a handsome, young man (he is in his early 40’s) whose ideas of an excellent meal is, “everything has to be absolutely fresh” brought from Nice to New York. The restaurant features both Nicole Rubi’s signature dishes but also his own.
To start the evening you can choose from among six “saveurs” or small appetizers, such as a baby artichoke salad in light vinaigrette. The artichokes, the glory of Nice’s food culture, melt in your mouth. This was followed by stuffed vegetables Nicoise style, which means anchovies and black olives, fragrant with thyme and herbs. You can also choose the famous Nice onion tart whose dough is crunchy and lightly salty. Chef Allegretti loves raw seafood and shellfish. They come to your table drizzled with olive oil and capers.
If you are in the mood I suggest you try the creamy truffle scrambled eggs. The smooth, delicate flavorful will blow away all your worries and give you a new lease on life.
The menu is evolving as the restaurant takes its place among the best in Manhattan. However, as it stands now it is very strong on salads, seafood and lots of artichokes as I experienced on a second visit. I had the best wild stripe bass I have tasted in a long time. The fish cooked to perfection was served on a bed of braised artichokes, surrounded with tender spicy mushrooms, stewed tomatoes smothered in fresh basil. The whole dish beckoned the warm sun and the luxurious life of the South of France.
For dessert, the warm chocolate cake is a must.
In the next few months Chef Allegretti promises to add a Black tagliolini pasta dish served with shrimp, sea urchins, and Serrano peppers and a roasted farm chicken cooked to order that made La Petite Maison in Nice famous.