Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tomatoes at La Miranda

Another food memory, once again in France. I would wonder if readers are tiring of this cycle of posts, and yet . . . who could tire of the undeniable romance of French fare? Done simply and well, certainly not I. This memory is of tomatoes. Other things, too, but mostly tomatoes; some very particular ones. Deep crimson and full of taut tomato flesh. Not the pale, dry, mealy disks that pass for tomato slices in many places. No, these were real, juicy tomatoes with more meat than membrane and seeds. Sliced and served up in a perfect rustic arrangement of a tart, with a quintessential French butter pastry crust, simple. I don't remember ever before (or since) tasting a tomato that was the epitome of tomato; a tomato in which you could taste the earth it was grown in, the sun that ripened the fruit, the farm freshness, the . . . terroir. Does anyone talk terroir when talking tomato? If they don't, they should. And these would definitely be AOC tomatoes. Where were they? Served at La Miranda, a tiny restaurant in Vieux Nice. The restaurant has an extremely limited menu, dictated by the chef's whims of the day—by the market of the day, certainly. Only the freshest ingredients, prepared in such a deceptively simple style. Tomatoes that are allowed to take center stage as what they are, no fancy foam of this or reduction of that. Simple. Maybe five or six ingredients in the tomato tart (ingredients for crush from scratch included). Yet somehow I know that if I tried to replicate it, it would not be the same. The restaurant was small, simple, and stunning for all that. The menu is presented on slate with chalk. There are no reservations allowed, and in fact there is no phone number that any customer can call—at least there was not at the time I ate there with my husband, during the first week of July 2002. We were led to the restaurant by ex-colleagues of my husband; people in the restaurant business, so it's no surprise they'd know where to take us. I don't know if they are still there, but I hope so. I hope that I might have the chance to return. Until then, I keep tucked away like a soft-skinned treasure, one of the best culinary gifts I have received: the memory of what a tomato tastes like when it's just a tomato, ripened to perfection and served up simply. A tomato as tomato. A slice of summer, luscious and bursting with flavor.

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