“You’re ruining my childhood,” Lolo moaned, deadpan with a flicker of an eye roll. She had pulled off the perfect teenage response to her parents’ glee.
Her father broke the news at dinnertime. It was early July, and Canadians had just been approved to enter France this summertime. Straight after Philippe had arranged our flights, he rang Mirazur. The restaurant didn’t just have three Michelin stars. It also ranked #1 among all restaurants on this planet. We were counting our own lucky stars.
Lolo was less taken. “Nine courses!” she cried. “How do you eat all that?”
Yet something told me she was modestly intrigued, for when the appointed lunchtime arrived, our 15-year old donned her favourite dress and, with a small bowl of Chocapic cereal lining her stomach for the hour’s drive, she seemed well disposed to face the day.
A small army welcomed Mirazur’s guests and deposited their cars along the moyenne corniche, meters before the Italian border. Each employee wore a navy Mirazur face mask – an extra this summer, with the unusual benefit of all mouths and nostrils actually being covered. (Things are getting sloppy in the Côte d’Azur.) Inside, the airy, wood-and-glass dining room offered wide views of the Mediterranean and a perched view of the Riviera coastline toward the guava-persimmon-pineapple palate of Menton’s old town.
We settled into a corner table beside the panorama, and Philippe chose an elegant Nuits-Saint-Georges to suit the occasion. The server returned with three thin-stemmed glasses.
“Non, j’en prends pas,” Lolo said. She sounded perfectly French. Her phrasing was so fluid, her voice so luxurious, that I did not understand a single word she’d said. For my daughter, it was a double-win. She had out-classed her mother’s linguistic abilities (easily done), and she had convinced the waiter she was of-age.
Philippe crooned over the first taste and, once two glasses were filled, he encouraged our daughter. She took his glass in her hands, swirled it, breathed deeply, and declared the bouquet “douce.” Soft. Fruity. Then she tipped the honey-coloured nectar to her lips and pronounced it serviceable.
“We’re ruining your childhood,” I reminded her.
“You’ve already ruined my childhood,” she said.
We had arrived at Mirazur on a day of des feuilles. This summer’s menu rotates through four themes, taking its inspiration from le rythme du cycle de la nature. On some days, like today with its waning moon, the menu focused on leaves; others days it contemplated roots, flowers, or fruits. It was a beautiful vision, made even more magique by the poetry of French menus – and I was content that, by hook or by crook, my family would get their greens.
We plowed through a round of leaf-based tapas, and a mound of tender leaves and sushi atop a tapioca pearl cracker. A bloom of piping bread arrived with wild celery-infused olive oil, and we counselled one another against eating it. There was only so much room. Still, its oven-fresh aroma was beguiling and the slices were small.
Each course brought the clink of new utensils crafted specially, we learned, for the restaurant. One knife was made in Switzerland from surgical-grade steel. Studying the tools before me, I mulled over the possible next course. Was the far-right utensil a spoon, or with its flat edge was it a fancy fish knife?
Lolo picked up her spoon-knife and spun it in her fingers. “What’s this?” she said. “A shovel?”
That was more like it. My daughter had returned.
What arrived next was neither soup nor fish. A cluster of the restaurant garden’s tender leaves; crunchy, peeled hazelnuts; and turnip shavings cut into the shape of leaves mounded atop a velvety, vermouth-infused sauce. The shovel was meant to scoop up every ounce. (The inevitable next question: “What’s vermouth?”)
The rythme of courses was steady without feeling rushed. It was a table of food, but also a table d’art. The next item made me think Mondrian. Calamari, green apples, celery, basil, and ginger had never looked so sharp.
If the calamari was a Mondrian, the caviar was an exquisite origami. When a waiter presented our next plates, I wondered aloud combien de chefs it took to create this bijou of French caviar, cucumber, and stracciatella.
“Trente-six chefs, Madame,” he said – 36 chefs for 40 covers. By the nonchalance of his reply, I was not the first diner to ask.
Philippe and I knew how to pace ourselves. We had dined at Mirzaur in 2015, when the restaurant had “only” two Michelin stars. We’d received the celebratory email in 2019 when the owners shared, with émotion immense, news of their elevation. Five months later the restaurant was voted the best restaurant in the world in Restaurant’s Top 50. Mirazur had been climbing through the list for a decade – but there was nothing like being #1. Suddenly the race was on. Philippe had managed a table with visitors last year, but a table for two in August was frankly im-poh-SEE-bleh. Impossible. This summer is different. (Isn’t it, though.) Five weeks ago, when Philippe rang for a réservation on a traditionally popular Sunday lunchtime, the receptionist asked, “Would you prefer 13h15 or 13h45, Monsieur?”
The addition of our teen wasn’t evident. Lolo’s palate had grown, but she still delighted in a bowl of fluorescent-orange Kraft dinner. Understandably, the pop of the caviar was a step too far. By August, though, we’d reckoned our daughter would welcome a little indulgence. For the whole of July, she had lived a parallel life to the rest of Antibes. While boaters, paddleboarders, kite surfers, and gloriously explosive sunsets tried to distract Lolo, she sat captive in Bellevue’s bayside study, logging on each day to a “reach-ahead” science class based in Toronto. Lolo relished the 2:30 p.m. starts. She didn’t rejoice as much over the sessions on frog dissection. Mercifully the task was online, but the scissors and pins came with realistic, computer-voiced cues and abundant squishing noises.
“At least you can’t smell anything,” I’d told her encouragingly. You never forget formaldehyde burning through your nasal cavity. “And at least you didn’t have to scramble the frog’s brains.”
“You had live frogs?”
Lolo will never be a surgeon. In anticipation of this meal, I’d recalled the iconic French plate cuisses de grenouille. What if Mirazur brought a plate of jazzed-up frog legs to our table? I’d guffawed at the thought.
Fortunately, the closest we got on the day was a tail of crevette nestled beside baby courgette balls and bathing in another green sauce (for which I was losing the detail, but this one contained spinach). The black dots were month-old, fermented garlic that looked and tasted a lot better than my month-old stuff.
A couple more courses swept by – including the saintliest-ever morsel of Saint-Pierre, draped in a purple perilla leaf and accompanied by its emulsion, which was like a cross between basil and mint. Guinea fowl and lamb (with accompanying leaves) moved the menu back on land.
After six savouries – I swear there were more – came an additional option of fromage, but for reasons of space, we only ogled the trolley. There were still three desserts – cannily described en françis as the “pre-dessert,” the “dessert,” and the “mignardaises” in order to avoid eating three desserts. The first was happily ethereal, like the world’s fanciest palate cleanser.
Lolo understood that idea. “I remember we had one of those in that fancy hotel in Maine,” she said. Philippe and I tried to remember. It was nearly a decade ago. “You know, the restaurant where they made you wear bibs with a lobster on it.”
Of course. Her parents wearing plastic bibs at a fancy restaurant. That was the sort of thing a kid would remember.
“They brought lemon sorbet in the middle of the meal,” Lolo said. “It was tasty and everything, but I thought, ‘This is strange because I didn’t order it. And it’s so small – isn’t this meant to be a fancy restaurant?’”
Philippe and I laughed. The things kids never say. To be fair, today’s fresh fig granita (or a raspberry equivalent for the fig allergy among us) was far more than a palate cleanser, but its delicacy and crispness created a similar effect.
The main dessert – is such a phrase even appropriate? – was a voluptuous concoction of dark chocolate, olive oil, rosemary, and an unexpected twinge of sweet charcoal. The combination was silky and addictive.
Lolo sighed in relief. She had soldiered through raw fish and cooked fish and lamb and a heap of green things, all of which she’d normally avoid. “You can’t go through all that without having chocolate,” she said.
Three hours after we’d begun, Philippe and I sipped macchiatos (“noisettes” in the South of France), and we all fingered the mignardises, which managed to be mostly green. As we contemplated an afternoon well-spent, we toyed with the inevitable question: What was your favourite course?
Philippe and I made contributions big and small – the tangy sorrel pesto inside a sweet potato tapas cone, the seared calamari with its ginger-infused sauce, the melt-in-your-mouth Saint-Pierre, the seductive chocolate…
“I dunno,” Lolo said. “They’re all so different. I’m honestly just as happy with gnocchi poêlés.”
You find bags of gnocchi à poêler in the refrigerated section of a French grocery store. Often they’re sold in lots of three for a better price. You melt a knob of butter in a pan, toss in the potato dumplings, and spin them around until they’re golden. For extra flair, you dredge each gnocchi bite through a runny egg yolk.
Mirazur still ranked #1 for Philippe and me. (It still ranks #1 in the world, too, since the 2020 survey was cancelled.) And as parents, we simply enjoyed a veiled compliment about our own kitchen – and the fact that we hadn’t totally ruined a childhood.