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I spent a long long time trying to decide where we should eat on our last night in Nice. At first, I wanted Italian, then I wanted traditional French, then I wanted Indian, then I wanted Italian again. There was a brief moment of looking at Japanese restaurants, then back to Italian. Everyone else was of no help. No one wanted to make a decision.
Originally, I had planned for an Italian place that the husband had told me he had liked when he lived in Nice. Except that was 10 years ago and the current reviews – the most current being in 2011 – were very, very mixed. I got nervous and started looking for other places to eat.
At first, I was going to ask them to choose between Italian and whatever else I could find but in the end I just decided for them. Everyone met in the lobby at 7:30 and I asked my mom and sister “Have you ever eaten Lebanese?”
“Not really,” they said.
“Well, that’s what we’re having.”
And off we went to Ya Habibi.
Though the restaurant was only 500 meters from our hotel, I forgot to bring the address and consequently it took us more than 500 meters to find. No matter, we got there. Dinner was decided in moments – a Grand Mezze for four. The perfect treat for two who don’t know Lebanese and for the other two who just love a good mezze.
5 cold entrées and 6 warm entrées with fresh pita bread. It’s as simple as that.
Mezze is pretty standard. Hummus is par for the course along with taboule, babaganoush and grilled caviar d’aubergine. But our favorite of the night was the mehamara – a roasted red pepper spread with garlic, onion and grenadine. Sweet and spicy perfectly blended. We could have eaten that all night.
The six warm entrées were also pretty standard. Samboussi, falafel, roukak, moussaka, arayess lahme, and kebbé with grilled mushrooms.
The samboussi and roukak are fried dumplings the first of meat, the second of cheese. Crunchy and soft, no need for any dipping sauce – they were well seasoned.
I really loved the arayess lahme. A pita stuffed with meat and spices. It must have had some mild cream or cheese in it, because it had a creamy texture and was so delightful.
The moussaka was missing the meat. This was stated in the menu. But it was not missing flavor. We sat around the table trying to figure out how they cooked the eggplant. The flavor was perfect with soft flesh and a crunchy skin. I thought they steamed it. The husband is convinced roasting went on. Who knows?
We drank a wonderful Lebanese red wine, that was mostly syrah and cabernet grapes. It had a fruity aroma but a bitter, acidic taste and the two combined to create a complex enjoyable flavor that made me want to buy a bottle to take home.
Though dinner was simple, it was perfect. Good portion sizes, we were not left wanting. Every dish with a wonderful blend of spices. I have nothing but good things to say about my choice of Ya Hababi for our last dinner in Nice. A lovely treat for the pallet when you’re craving something a little different.
By now, my mom and sister have returned to Boston. We’re all going on a diet, but with happy memories full of good food and time spent together. It’s never enough but it will have to do until the husband and I can get ourselves to the States.
Andernos to Toulon is a seven hour drive. As I can’t drive a standard transmission to save my life, the husband did, not most, but all of the driving. I slept in the passenger seat. We stopped off at Nîmes for a break. Why someone thought putting the front piece of an ancient Roman theater at a rest stop is and will always be beyond me. But there it was.
The last leg of the trip took me to Aix-en-Provence for dinner Monday evening. Aix is one of my favorite cities in France, because it’s a university town and I will always be a university student at heart. It’s not by the sea, but on the edge of the Luberon mountains with lovely streets, good shopping and most of all a wide variety of restaurants.
After finding that the restaurant we originally wanted to go to was closed, we settled for L’Antioche, a Lebanese restaurant that we had been to last year and enjoyed.
Dinner was simple. Any Lebanese restaurant should do a good mezze and this one is no exception. Hummus, smoked caviar d’aubergine with sesame, crème fraiche with scallions, fried cheese things with spices, pita bread, taboulé, hand rolled grape leaves with meat and rice, a pita sliced open and baked with lamb and spices, rolled beef “samosas” and falafel. I love Lebanese food because there’s not a crustacean to be found.
I wanted to take a close up photo of the man rolling the grape leaves but I was too embarrassed to ask.
It’s simple, it’s delicious and even though it’s kind of meant as an appetizer, as we learned the first time around – a mezze for two is definitely not an appetizer. Antioche, though not a fancy establishment, nor a big one. Most of the restaurant spills out onto the street.
It is excellent food for a good price. The waitstaff is very friendly and tried not to look when they saw me taking photos of everything, including the low-lit dining room and each plate individually.
That is until I got annoyed with having to stand up and just made a sample plate to photograph.
My favorite was the taboulé, which is fresh and light and full of yummy green things and onion and tomato that my body craved after my spitted pork. The second favorite is the caviar d’aubergine which is, as I said smoked so that it has a wonderful wooded flavor that is captured and absorbed into the taste of the eggplant adding deeper flavor to the complex vegetable.
For dessert? Well, if you’ve never had Arabian pastries you really should. But I couldn’t resist the husband’s offer of more ice cream and so we set off to find a place.
On Cours Mirabeau, the main street of Aix, we found heaven. Organic, homemade ice cream. What could be better? (Salted caramel on top.)
I had coconut and pana cotta-caramel. The husband had banana and speculoos.
The night and my vacation was over by 9pm when we got into the car and drove the 45 minutes back to our apartment. There we were greeted by a very angry and distressed cat. It’s fresh vegetable soups for the rest of the week for me while I digest all the food from this past weekend.