Hint: The French Riviera and F. Scott Fitzgerald are involved.
Early last summer, while driving along the southern coast of France, I made a pit stop in Antibes to visit the famous Hôtel Belles Rives. F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, lived here for a few blissful years in the 1920s, throwing fabulous cocktail parties in their wisteria-wrapped garden, the kind that ended up inspiring his ode to the French Riviera, Tender Is the Night.
The property has existed for decades as a popular seafront hotel, and last year, its restaurant, La Passagère, won its first Michelin star. This is all the doing of chef Yoric Tièche, who has been celebrated for his innovative revamps of traditional Provençal recipes.
The menu was totally out of my price range, but a quick look around—marble pillars in the dining room, lithe Frenchwomen silently sunbathing on neat rows of lounge chairs on the jetty—told me this place just might be worth the splurge. Opulence over restraint surely would have been Fitzgerald’s motto. And anyway, how often do you get the chance to dine in the former summerhouse of a great American novelist?
I’m seated at a table. My waiter recommends the niçoise salad, but in my opinion, the occasion calls for something nobler. Surrounded by water, seafood seems an obvious choice, so I opt for the pissaladière roasted sea scallops.
Pissaladière—the name is an elision of the French poisson (fish) and sale (salt)—dates back to the 1300s, when Spanish sailors showed up in the region seeking to trade their salted anchovies for something more exotic. The result is a kind of savory tart topped with caramelized onions, olives, and, of course, anchovies. You can find it at most bakeries and bistros around France.
But the version at La Passagère is quite a departure. In fact, it’s downright sacrilegious. Rather than use the scallop for a new topping on the tart, Tièche deconstructs the classic ingredients of pissaladière (bread, olives, anchovies, onions) and rebuilds them around the scallop. The resulting dish is a single scallop, topped with a toast round and purees of olive and anchovy, served in a scallop shell.
This, I soon discover, is a genius move. Scallops have a natural sweetness, which is why they work so well with simple methods of preparation. You don’t need a lot to make a scallop taste good, just bread crumbs, olive oil, and six minutes in a hot pan. Add the pissaladière components and you’ve got a match made in heaven. The salty olives and anchovies provide contrast to the tender scallop, while the toast—smeared with a little onion marmalade—makes for a satisfying crunch.