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Sep 20, 2009 12:14 PM

La Zucca Magica in Nice -- still magical?

I've read dramatically conflicting reports on this vegetarian (but not vegan!) spot. Mark Bittman loves it. Many others hate it. Anyone been there recently?

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  1. There is no cooking equipment on the premises of La Zucca Magica other than microwaves. So it seems that the food is prepared elsewhere and reheated. Marco has a good gimmick going, place does well anyway.

    Also says something about the veracity of these celebrity reviewers like Bittman.

    1. I went last night for the first time. It was packed with people enjoying the funky ambience and the low prices. The food ranged from mediocre to poor.

      3 Replies
      1. re: beaulieu

        Not surprising for reheated food to be poor. But Marco's got a good gimmick, he's busy every night, suppose the draw is the vegetarian/funky pumpkin thing. (Maybe that's why he moved here from Italy!)

        I'm so tired of the same old mediocre restaurants on every list of Nice restaurants, La Merenda, Zucca Magica, Le Safari. Truth is, there's actually a very good restaurant scene in Nice if you stay away from these lists! Keisuke Matsushima, Parcours, Les Viviers, David Faure just to name some. Dig deeper and stay away from these tired lists!

        1. re: menton1

          Right. David Faure is Aphrodite. I would add Millésime 82, Flaveur, Luc Salsedo and Le Diamant Noir.

        2. I live in Nice but I've never been tempted by this restaurant - it looks tacky and I agree with the other comments. My favourite in the Port is Le Local (rue Rusca) behind the church. Honest (modern) Italian cooking with a deli attached. Can't beat it for food and atmosphere. Lunch is best

          1. My father is in Provence for the Spring Semester, and some other gigs. He just ate there last night, and had this to say:

            "I was told it was going to be the menu du chef as the first dish was placed on the table in front of me. Did I want red, rose or white wine? No, there is no wine list, I was told. I asked for a demi of red.

            The first dish was a salad of sliced orange with pâte d’olives and fennel. Probably had some balsamic vinegar and spices as well. Very refreshing. This was served first, before the wine arrived.

            The wine arrived after the salad. It was okay, some local press. Nothing to rave about.

            Soup of lentils and barley with twists of a cracker like consistency (chickpea flour?) arrived a little while later. The seasoning was aux herbes de Provence, but I have to say that this potage seemed so wholesome, I wanted to go on eating it forever, although it was a generous bowlful. (I hadn’t had any lunch this day, having been trapped by my job in a recording studio.)

            Next came an artichoke a la romana served with wheat gnoccho (with parmesan in it.) A smallish artichoke, whole, completely tenderized with olive oil and rosemary. There were some little prickly moments, but it was highly palatable and the dumpling was scrumptious. The gnocchi was about the size of a Chinese fried dumpling, only flatter.

            Then came a cannelloni filled with ricotta and chopped chard seasoned with cinnamon. There seemed to be some tiny white raisins in there, too. The cinnamon was astonishingly well proportioned, strong, but it went well with this savory pasta course. I was beginning to feel fed, and wondering what was coming como segundo when I was presented with: “Un petit dessert”

            Fruit tart (pear, Clementine and kiwi fruit) with its boule de glace (vanilla with crunchy toffee swirls.) Excellent, if a bit unoriginal after the foregoing.

            I was offered a coffee at this point. Now I am someone who likes coffee WITH dessert. This is something one has to make a point of asking for in France, and I am prepared for this, but when the dessert is served without any discussion or even forewarning, there is no chance to do this.

            This leads me to my principal critique of this dining event: I really think the service could be a lot better. I was there early, and yet the service was bit slow. The attitude was palpable: Do you know the restaurant? Here is what you get. Bada boom. Admittedly it is a tiny place with a very kitschy décor and one could say “what do you expect?” These guys cannot think that this is high restauration. As I was having dessert a couple that came in after me managed to get the waiter to admit that there were some bottled wines available.

            A secondary critique is that there could have been a green salad. All of the dishes had either a brown or a whitish color to them. Some nice greens would have been an attractive addition, and would have added another crunchy note later on.

            The price was 40 Euros with the wine and coffee. Fair enough. I have absolutely no complaint about value here, in a country where an oil change costs at least twice that much. But I think one less opener and a really substantial dish after the pasta would be a more proper meal. Like an eggplant imam baaldi or a baked tian. That AND a green salad."

            11 Replies
            1. re: simon838

              When you say your father ate "there", do you mean la Zucca Magica?

              1. re: Parigi

                Yes. That's what this thread is about isn't it?

              2. re: simon838

                I found it interesting the criticisms seem to be based on a North American paradigm: slow service, no green salad, and no coffee with dessert. When in France do as the Romans do (or something like that).

                1. re: PhilD

                  Meh. My father has been living in Europe, and Provence specifically, off and on for about fifty years. He definitely qualifies as a local at this point. Salad isn't a foreign thing in the south of France. "Mesclun" is a Provençal word after all.

                  1. re: simon838

                    Even odder then. Certainly salads are popular in France and obviously in the south, but unlike the US there isn't usually a salad course. It is a bit tricky discussing a dining experience second hand though.

                    1. re: PhilD

                      I'm absolutely AMAZED that people continue to pay for food at this place, where nothing is prepared on the premises, and all the food is reheated in microwaves!! How does Marco continue to perpetuate this mystique? Even Mark Bittmann of the NY Times wrote a decent review of the place. Shows one the veracity of critics like Mark Bittmann!!

                      P.S. In most restaurants in France, coffee is served by itself after dessert.

                      1. re: menton1

                        I haven't been to this place, but imho, Mark Bittman is not a "critic." He's a foodwriter. Sometimes a very good one. But being a foodwriter does not make one a restaurant critic.

                        1. re: menton1

                          I have not been either. I wonder if it's because vegetarian food quality usually sets the bar so low that anywhere delivering OK food is held up as a beacon of hope. So pre-prepped, microwave food is actually better than 99% of other veg places.

                          1. re: PhilD

                            I suppose it might be a combination of a mystique combined with undeserved positive publicity. This place is on every restaurant list imaginable, even the "venerable" Guide Gantie!

                            Shame on all of the list compilers.

                            The vegetarian angle might be another answer, but this place purports to be a real restaurant, along with the pricing that goes with that. If folks knew that nothing was prepared on premises and was reheated in microwaves, I'm sure the prices would have to go significantly down.

                            1. re: menton1

                              I feel compelled to write a reply that is a bit more supportive of this quirky spot. We had a delightful meal at an outside table last July. My husband and daughter (24) are vegetarians, Having spent 2 months in the area gorging on incredible dishes neither of them could touch, I was happy to be able to surprise them with a "Menu Degustation" they could enjoy without lengthy discussions about ingredients. We all found the meal delicious. Perhaps it was because it was the height of summer with its vegetable bounty, perhaps it was enjoying the late twilight on the harbor, or perhaps it was because we all speak good French, which admittedly produces more satisfying dining experiences and better service. In any case, I continue to recommend the restaurant heartily. Is it sublime classic haute cuisine? Of course not-- is your favorite hippie-boho-organic joint? It is simply a great choice for a vegetarian or carnivore for a homey, simple, fresh and filling option in Old Nice. Pull in the talons, mes amis.

                              1. re: elisem

                                That's nice, but you paid probably close to 50E per person for reheated, microwaved food. Next time try Le Speakeasy on rue de la Martine. Wonderful real food prepared on premises for half the price. 100% vegan.

                2. I ate there last week and it was the best meal ever. And I'm not sure who or why someone would start a rumor about there being no cooking equipment on the premises. It's an open kitchen. I could see it. And the service was great: friendly and timely enough but not rushed. For 29 euro (about $40), we got a five course meal: the first one tasted like my grandmothers' torta de potata recipe; the second was a stuffed tomato filled with spaghetti with curry; the third was a most delicious zucchini tort with risotto and sundried tomatoes; the fourth was a small slice of heaven (lasagna) made with homemade pasta that melted in your mouth; and the fourth course was dessert: a not too sweek peach and chocolate torte. Simply amazing!! I highly recommend this place.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: MarkM9

                    It's well known among any more-than-one-time visitors and locals that Zucca Magica is microwaved food. Or, as one reviewer put it, an "imitation Tuscan restaurant with the meat and fish removed". No seasonal vegetables.

                    Another reviewer says:

                    "The microwaving was evident in the inside heat of our three middle dishes.".

                    So it's still well-hyped in the guides, but the microwave use is well documented. There is also no room for a kitchen in the back. A conspicuous lack of ventilation equipment as well, essential (and required) in a real kitchen.

                    1. re: lemarais

                      I'm Tuscan and I can assure you it's not "imitation Tuscan food." I'm so tired of posers using my heritage to act pretentious, especially when it comes to food. Ironically, the New York Times, which is often accused of being pretentious, agrees with me. This is an old review, but I found it to be spot on after having eaten there last week:

                      1. re: MarkM9

                        Mark Bittman has been questioned for his reviews in the past... and there are about 20 other reviews, blogs, even Trip Advisor and the like all agreeing about the microwaved food. The "secret" is out, I'm afraid. Looks, though, that with the cooperation of the guides there's still a lot of first time tourists that are taken in. Business is still good.

                        Where else do you frequent in Nice, MarkM9?

                        1. re: lemarais

                          I just recreated several of the dishes I ate at La Zucca Magica in Nice and all my guests raved about them. I wasn't taken. Neither were they. I know good food and this was it. Ciao!

                          1. re: MarkM9

                            What other restaurants do you go to on the riviera, MarkM9?

                            1. re: lemarais

                              I also wondered.

                              "Ironically, the New York Times, which is often accused of being pretentious, agrees with me."