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19 Restaurants That Define France

THE SNACK STAND
The sentimental notion of the French as a people who spend two hours at table in the middle of the day only goes so far—who says they don't eat on the run?In Nice, schoolgirls and functionaries form long lines at Bar René Socca, purveyors of what the owner calls "fast food Niçoise." It should taste this good everywhere. Socca, the indigenous savory chickpea-flour crêpe, is licked by flames in a wood-burning oven. Pissaladière is a tart of sweet onions on a bready base. Sold in a flimsy container with a plastic fork, stockfish—salt cod dried until it is as hard as wood—is better than that served in most of the city's restaurants. The fish, brought back to life in water, dissolves into fibrous, deliciously chewy flakes in a stew of potatoes, onions, and tomatoes. The magic (and funky) ingredient is stockfish intestines. Vive le fast food!
BAR RENé SOCCA, 2 Rue Miralheti, Nice; 33-4/93-92-05-73; lunch for two $8.

THE ALPINE CHALET
Hikers, bird-watchers, watercolorists—anyone heading out for a day in the French Alps—have two choices: pack your own provisions, or break for nourishment at a rustic farm restaurant like Philippe Muffat-Meridol's Alpage Les Têtes. The handsome turn-of-the-century pine chalet with a roof of red-cedar shingles is in a delirious eagle's-nest setting, at an elevation of 4,900 feet, 40 miles southeast of Geneva above the chichi ski town of Megève. The Leutaz parking lot is as close as you can get to Les Têtes in anything but a four-wheel drive. From there, it's a heavenly one-and-a-quarter-mile nature walk to the restaurant, warmed by cast-iron stoves and festooned with giant cowbells threaded on studded leather straps. Beefy red-and-white checked oilcloth covers chunky pine tables built by Muffat-Meridol, who also makes and serves his own wonderfully rough pork terrine and subtly smoked saucisson. Cured by a friend, ham has a roundness and richness that reflect its prolonged aging—12 months. Fondue savoyarde, the region's culinary emblem, is a teasingly nutty marriage of Vieux Comte and Beaufort, the latter often from artisan cheese makers who use milk from Muffat-Meridol's cows. A meal winds up with a refreshing little green salad, a bit of the goat cheese made downstairs, chestnut cream capped with crème fraîche—and a goat-milking lesson.
ALPAGE LES TêTES, Rte. de Leutaz-Very, Megève; 33-6/09-40-55-12; lunch for two $32.

THE TASTE OF TOMORROW
Traditionally, covered food markets in France offer nothing to cure immediate hunger beyond fruit and the odd finger food. Saveurs d'Auvergne, a new-wave market bowing next month, changes all that with a satellite bar and restaurant serving the same artisanal products, as well as dishes made from the same first-rate ingredients sold just yards away. Located some 300 miles east of Lyons, the consortium groups sellers of charcuterie, beef, poultry, fruits and vegetables, cheese, bread, wine, and pastry.
SAVEURS D'AUVERGNE, Ave. Ernest-Cristal, Clermont-Ferrand; 33-4/73-63-43-54.

THE DINOSAUR
Rural all-in-one café-restaurants—equally reliable for gossip and tête de veau—were once as common in France as telephone jetons. No more. Which is why you have to admire the Auberge Ensoleillée, a Burgundian stronghold whose chef has never heard the word fashion applied to food. Take a seat next to a mushroom gatherer and start with the nine hors d'oeuvres variés, including cervelas (rosy pistachio-flecked sausage) and crunchy red-cabbage salad. Follow with a regional classic, coq au vin or boeuf bourguignonne. Who says nostalgia isn't what it used to be?
AUBERGE ENSOLEILLéE, Dun-les-Places; 33-3/86-84-62-76; dinner for two $24.

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