Restaurants are among the most sensitive and reliable weathervanes in any city—nothing offers a prompter take on the pulse of local life than its successful new restaurants, which is why chef Mickaël Gracieux’s L’Aromate in Nice is so intriguing. Like Miami twenty years ago, Nice is on the cusp of a major generational change as the retirees who loved silver-plated cloche service are replaced by a younger crowd now forging a new culinary identity for the Riviera’s capital.

Gracieux, an intensely serious and talented young chef who trained with Joël Robuchon and Alain Ducasse moved to Nice with his Niçoise girl friend Elise a year ago. They renovated an atmospheric former peanut-roasting plant, transforming it into a casual, cozy place with distinctly different menus at lunch and dinner. “I want to democratize haute cuisine,” says Gracieux on a rare rainy morning in sunny Nice. “Traditional fancy restaurants put most people off. My idea was to create a restaurant with serious food that’s also convivial, friendly, fun and affordable.” Mission accomplished. Working all alone in his glass-enclosed kitchen, Gracieux cooks to a full house day and night. His menus change regularly, but dishes that I’ve loved include his starter of crab in shellfish gelée with a curry-fennel cream, sublime potato ravioli with herb jus and Avruga (herring) caviar, and heavenly piccata of Charolais beef with a light crust of salt, pepper and hazelnuts served with potato purée.

20-22 ave du Maréchal Foch, Nice, 04.93.62.98.24. Lunch menus €25-35, dinner menu €50-70. Prices are per person without wine.

Originally published in the July/August 2009 issue of France Today

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