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Bouillibasse that is "worth the trip."

Joe H Feb 2, 2008 08:34 AM

Last week my wife and I did our best to eat our way through the French Riviera. Having made bouillibasse myself for almost fifteen years and being somewhat obsessed by it I spent a great deal of time doing research on where I would find the best. The result were restaurants in Mougins (closed in January), Marseilles (L'Epuisette which Johnny Apple raved about) and L'Ane Rouge considered by some to be the best fish restaurant in Nice. We made reservations at L'Epuisette where it is their every day specialty and also at the similarly Michelin starred L'Ane Rouge where several days notice must be given.

I should note that when I make bouillibasse I use a two and a half pound rockfish and a two and a half pound red snapper for the fume after I first saute garlic, leek, fennel and onion in olive oil then adding the several pounds of fish heads and frame followed by white wine, a bouquet garni and water. The bouillibasse itself starts with leek, fennel and celery sauteed in olive oil and butter along with bay leaves, anise seed, saffron, garlic, tomato paste and white wine along with several cups of San Marzano tomatoes and the fish fumet. Mine is non traditional in that I add clams and mussels, then chunks of the fish followed by shrimp and scallops; finally, I add Pernod. I've made my own rouille as well as garlic bread. I say all this because I am quite proud of the "shellfish" bouillibasse I make and believe it is the equal of any I've had in the Washington, D. C. area. This includes Eve, Yannick Cam and a number of other restaurants here.

L'Ane Rouge was far superior to any I have had here or anywhere else.

This was an almost four hour meal that cost E 70 each (US $105) and included twelve different fish including rascasse which, to the best of my knowledge is unavailable on this side of the Atlantic. Regardless L'Ane Rouge like Marseille's L'Epuisette owns their own fishing boat and uses that which they catch themselves.

The "traditional bouillibasse" (again this MUST be ordered several days in advance; while there several other tables saw what we were having and asked for the same dish only to be turned down) starts with the serving of three small bowls: one has the house made rouille which is a kind of garlic mayonnaise flavored with a tinge of cayenne, also a bowl of freshly grated Reggiano and a bowl of house made 1/4 inch thick croutons. This is followed by the presentation of a four quart copper pot almost filled with the broth. It is ladelled one spoonful at a time into each bowl. Two minutes after this exercise the server leaves having finished the spooning. The taste of this broth is unlike any I have ever had anywhere else: there is an earthiness to it and almost a light rust or bronze color. It is rich and creamy but not a thick consistency; rather much like velvet. But the flavor! The flavor!!! I am told it is because of the rascasse that the rustic note is introduced. This is not a one or two bite dish where each successive spoonful is downhill after the first. Rather, this starts strong and continues almost infusing a need to slurp every drop for fear of never tasting anything this good again!

But this is only the start.

They then bring out a wooden platter about 18" by 30" which is overloaded with twelve different fish in a huge pile spilling over the sides of the platter along with a mound of mussels in the middle. This is first presented at the table then four servers (not an exaggeration: four) stand aside the platter on a separate table, each fileting a fish. A square, shallow fourteen inch across white ceramic bowl has each filet placed on a side of it. Sliced potatoes which, I believe, were cooked in the broth, are layered in a mound in the middle of it followed by a small pile of really fat mussels on top. The copper pot is brought back out and, at the table, each bowl receives another five or six ladles of broth.

The procedure is to again sip the broth while also spooning or slicing into a filet. Croutons are slathered with rouille with Reggiano scattered on top; all of this is then dipped into the broth and then a bite is taken to compliment the fish. Meanwhile the wooden platter is taken back into the kitchen.

A half hour or so later when we finished the four fish, the potatoes and mussels the platter is brought back out and the procedure repeated with four more fish fileted and presented to us with more potatoes and broth ladelled on top. Forty five minutes after starting this we again finished and the platter was brought out one more time with several more fish and an eel or two.

The point is to taste each fish individually because there is a variance in taste and texture from one to another.

I can imagine that other restaurants (Mougins and L'Epuisette) are as good or almost as good but this was one of the most incredible feasts that I have ever had. Also a very real bargain-if you will-for the price we paid. Unfortunately, it's an experience that you cannot find in America-you have to experience this there. And not in Paris, either. I've had bouillibasse at Le Dome which is considered by most to be the best in that city. It doesn't even approach what you can have here let alone at L'Ane Rouge.

Remarkably, this was not the best meal of the trip. That would be a tie between L'Oasis outside of Cannes and in Theoule Sur Mer at the remarkable seaside L'Etoile des Mers who make a fantastic bourride. The two Michelin starred L'Oasis's website: http://www.oasis-raimbault.com/ But these are a topic for another time.

I've met far too many people who have gone to the French Riviera and returned having had bouillibasse that they were disappointed with. I was also told in Nice and Cannes that true "traditional bouillibasse" made properly has become a rare production and genuinely difficult to find even there. For anyone visiting the Cote d'Azur you should go out of your way to plan for this or the other restaurants. It really is "worth the journey."

For those of you reading this who are on the French Riviera...I am jealous.

  1. a
    An American Living in London Feb 15, 2008 10:42 AM

    Loved your report so much and wanted to read your blog but the address you have for it wasnt linkable. If there is a different blog address-please supply. Thanks again for your report.

    2 Replies
    1. re: An American Living in London
      Joe H Feb 16, 2008 08:33 AM

      Thanks for the nice words. I don't have a blog but my e-mail is wwthrills@aol.com.

      1. re: An American Living in London
        Joe H Feb 16, 2008 01:19 PM

        While this was a totally different experience, in its own "rustic" way it was just as unique and just as enjoyable: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/328474

      2. s
        Steve Feb 14, 2008 10:07 PM

        Great report Joe, I am officially jealous.

        "I've met far too many people who have gone to the French Riviera and returned having had bouillabasse that they were disappointed with."

        One of the reasons is because bouillabaisse is not from the French Riviera. It is Marseillaise, where it is more likely to be taken seriously. There are about a dozen places in or around the city of Marseille where it is served traditionally. It is part of a true micro-cuisine, it is traditional only to sixty or so villages. That does not mean those places are as good as Ane Rouge - judging from the accolades- but the average tourist plopping down at a seaside restaurant in Nice is actually missing the mark by a wide margin. In terms of French culture, the distance between Marseille and Nice is like the difference between New Orleans and Austin.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Steve
          ChefJune Feb 15, 2008 08:02 AM

          Truth to tell, Steve, the only bouillabaisse that is unique to Marseilles is "Bouillabaisse Marseillaise." Bouillabaisse is made all over Provence, and not always with seafood. It is very often made with chicken. (and btw, the Bouillabaisse de Poulet is as delicious as its seafood counterpart, and not nearly as expensive.) Most people are not aware that Bouillabaisse is a method of cooking, and not a specific recipe.

          Julia Child has a recipe for Bouillabaisse de Poulet in one of her books (can't remember which) that she got from a (now defunct, I think) restaurant in St. Tropez called Chez Tante Paulette. and Clifford Wright, the noted food historian has documented Bouillabaisse here: http://www.cliffordawright.com/histor...

          1. re: ChefJune
            s
            Steve Feb 16, 2008 08:57 AM

            I stand corrected. Just goes to show how much there is to know about French cuisine plus how it changes from one area to another. In France, there is regional cuisine, of course, and then there is micro-regional cuisine.

            Still, the style of serving, ingredients, and eating that Joe H. posted about is definitely "Bouillabaisse Marseillaise." There was a conference about this in Cavalaire sur Mer back in 2003 with a handful of places especially decked out for this traditional repast.

          2. re: Steve
            s
            sarapeater May 9, 2008 03:51 PM

            re: "There are about a dozen places in or around the city of Marseille where it is served traditionally"
            I've heard of Hotel le Rhul - where else can I find traditional "worth the trip" bouillabaisse in Marseille?

            1. re: sarapeater
              Joe H May 10, 2008 09:30 AM

              The Michelin starred L'Epuisette is considered to be the best. R. W. ("Johnny"Apple) raved about it in the NY Times several years ago. You do not need to order it in advance there, however you will need a reservation. Fantastic location, too. This is their website: http://www.l-epuisette.com/vallon_an.... If you google L'epuisette you'll also find numerous reviews.

              1. re: Joe H
                s
                sarapeater May 11, 2008 06:48 PM

                thank you. that's a great help. what a beautiful location.

          3. Busk Feb 3, 2008 07:31 AM

            Yet another example of why French cuisine is the best.

            1. ChefJune Feb 2, 2008 11:13 AM

              Wow. Great review, Joe! brought back lots of tasty memories. Next time you go, have their Bourride! It changed forever the way I view fish soups/stews.

              8 Replies
              1. re: ChefJune
                Joe H Feb 2, 2008 11:45 AM

                I had an outstanding bourride at L'Etoile des Mers whose satiny flavor I may have actually prefered to the bouillibasse. Is bourride also available at L'Ane Rouge? I may actually prefer the flavor and satiny texture of this to the bouillibasse although the overall production at L'Ane Rouge was incredible.

                1. re: Joe H
                  ChefJune Feb 2, 2008 02:58 PM

                  Bourride is what we've always had at L'Ane Rouge. Yes, they are famous for it. The first time we went was on Mardi Gras, and it was their first day back open after the winter break. 15 years ago! We waited over an hour for our Bourride, because ordering it a day ahead would not have been possible. It was SO worth it! We've been back, and have sent others often... and often serve it here at our home. It's always a big hit!

                  1. re: ChefJune
                    Joe H Feb 2, 2008 03:13 PM

                    June, I'm actually making bouillibasse as I type this. I have never made bourride but will make it soon. As much as I loved the bouillibasse at L'Ane Rouge I really look forward to trying their bourride. I cannot say enough about everyone at the restaurant from the chef (who I discussed his recipe for bouillibasse through an interpreter) to the passionate maitre d', several staff and a truly experienced and opinionated sommelier who I would dearly love to have for a next door neighbor! This was a restaurant that we fell in love with. I wish I could have dinner there tonight...

                    1. re: Joe H
                      t
                      Theresa Feb 4, 2008 02:25 AM

                      What's the difference between bourride and bouillabaise? Is it just that there is no saffron in bourride, and that the fish used are cheaper ones?

                      1. re: Theresa
                        ChefJune Feb 4, 2008 06:04 AM

                        Sorry, Theresa. I dont know what happened to the post I wrote earlier!

                        The two dishes are very different. Bouillabaisse is spicy, racy, often contains shellfish, and is garnished with the very peppery Rouille.

                        Bourride is very different. It's soft, comforting, made with white fish only, and finished with Aioli (aka garlic mayonnaise), so it's very white in appearance, and seems to be creamy.

                        In Provence, Bouillabaisse is more often eaten in restaurants. Bourride is made at home.

                        1. re: ChefJune
                          rjkaneda Feb 14, 2008 05:25 AM

                          How would you contrast bourride with cotriade, which sounds similar? Had great cotriade in St. Malo, Vannes, and other places in Brittany.

                          1. re: rjkaneda
                            ChefJune Feb 14, 2008 08:27 AM

                            sobstantially different from Cotriade, Bourride starts with a Court Bouillon, and has nothing in the soup/stew itself but the fish. There's no potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, saffron or any of the assorted items that are sometimes added to Cotriade. The fish is always firm-fleshed white fish. As well, Bourride is always finished with Aioli, stirred into the stew at the table.

                            1. re: ChefJune
                              rjkaneda Feb 15, 2008 01:31 AM

                              Merci!

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