In the span of one week, Jon and I ate at Mirazur in Menton, Keisuke Matsushima in Nice (one Michelin star each) and Le Pre Catelan in Paris (three Michelin stars). It’s a rough life. That said, of the three meals, our favorite was (by far) dinner at Mirazur.
The town of Menton is the farthest east you can go on the French Riviera before you hit Italy (Ventimiglia, to be exact). It’s a sleepy, but pretty harbor town. Not glitzy or chic, which is why it’s an unusual place to open a high-end restaurant. If you hop off the train at Menton-Garavan, it’s just a 10-minute walk from the train station to the Mirazur restaurant. Just follow the signs for customs (la douane), because the restaurant is located literally yards away from the Italian border checkpoint.
The building exterior is highly unattractive. Our hearts sank when we saw the restaurant’s concrete, Ft. Lauderdale-gone-bad facade, but lifted again when the maitre d’ came out to shake our hands and welcome us. From the moment we were so warmly greeted, dinner was fun, delicious and interesting.
Deciding to splash out, we started with aperitifs of a crisp, Billecart-Salmon Brut rose champagne, which we happily sipped with four excellent amuses, the standouts of which were a colorful and intensely-flavored eggplant-and-creme and tomato-and-avocado pair. The chef-owner of Mirazur, Mauro Colagreco, worked with Alain Passard at l’Arpege (a pedigree that’s what got us interested in the restaurant), so wizardry with raw vegetables wasn’t a surprise. The simple and delicious amuses told us we were in for a treat.We ordered the tasting menu, which was an incredible value at 70 euros a person (in comparison, the 140-euro per person tasting menu at Le Pre Catelan didn’t hold a candle to our meal at Mirazur), ordered our wines, and off we went.
Every course was visually gorgeous and ranged from merely very tasty (the asparagus ice cream in a citrus and fennel veloute) to revelatory (the “spring garden,” the foie gras with citrus and beetroot confit, and the langoustines in dashi broth). The servers were professionally attentive, but also friendly, following our lead and mixing up French and English when describing the food or the fanatical way chef Colagreco guards the restaurant’s vegetable garden. Our fellow diners were almost all French-speaking, and the dining room was full, but not packed, on the Sunday night we were there. It was a good atmosphere, especially after sun set: the lights along Menton harbor twinkled, and the unappealing train tracks passing under the second-floor dining room disappeared.
The photos above give you some sense of how painstakingly the food is presented at Mirazur, and without boring you with all the details, I’ll give a specific shout out to the langoustines in dashi broth (photo at the top of this post), the colors of which reminded me of the scallops dish at L’Astrance in Paris (home to another Alain Passard protege) but tasted fresh and vivid in a way only simple, well-sourced ingredients can.
Langoustines are ugly creatures, and when they’re translucently raw like they were at Mirazur, the chef did well to cover them in a gorgeous blanket of flowers and greens. The lukewarm dashi broth was salty and seafoody, and the langoustines were sweet and delicate. Every ingredient played a big role, and I loved how all these simple elements came together with every spoonful.
The foie gras (third photo down) was melt-in-your-mouth silken, like slinky tofu, but rich and meaty as only foie gras is. The dish was lightened and brightened by the strong flavors of the citrus confit and the vegetal beetroot confit.
Last but not least of my three favorite courses is the ‘Jardins du Printemps’ (fifth photo down), which at first appears to be a dull pile of salad greens, but actually turns out to be a carefully-constructed mix of raw and pureed vegetables. The raw greens are not only flavorful, but also add a variety of texture and crunch to spoonfuls of a green puree that’s hidden beneath the greens. The pine nuts do their sweet, nutty thing and as someone who is rarely impressed by vegetables, I was knocked over by the flavors in this course. The chef guards his garden for good reason, it seems.
Our tab for two came to almost 240 euros, and we thought it worth every cent. Make the trip to Mirazur in Menton and be sure to let me know what you think.