Chef Alexis Frasca, a Monaco native, has a passion for Mediterranean seafood, and by working with a crew of fisherman in Nice and elsewhere along the coast, succeeds at offering one of the finest and freshest catch-of-the-day menus to be found anywhere on the Riviera. His very popularly and aptly named bistro, Agua (Spanish for water), may be a simple place on a side street bordering Nice’s old port, but it’s been packed ever since he opened a year ago. Local word-of-mouth about the quality of Frasca’s cooking and produce immediately won him a following of fish-loving regulars.
Frasca, who previously worked with Alain Ducasse in Monaco and most recently headed the kitchen at the Club de la Mer in neighbouring Villefranche, often delivers dishes directly from the kitchen to the table himself. I experienced this during an excellent dinner at Agua, on a balmy night when they were serving in both the white-washed dining room and at the bistro’s exterior tables.
“These shrimp were in the sea just a few hours ago,” said Frasca, an amiable man who’s on a first name basis with most of Nice’s small-boat fishermen.
“With fish this fresh, the important thing is not to do anything but cook them simply to enhance their natural flavours,” said Frasca, as he delivered me a plate of small crimson prawns sautéed in olive oil with a little garlic and parsley. “These were caught by an 84-year-old fisherman off Villefranche. There are not many fish left in the Mediterranean, but he knows where to find them.”
Sweet and succulent, they were some of the best prawns I’ve ever eaten. The grilled rougets (red mullet) which followed had also been landed just a few hours before – they were perfectly cooked and simply garnished with polenta and a ruddy caponata, the Sicilian dish of stewed aubergines, tomatoes, celery, capers and olives.
Frasca’s brother Serge runs the dining room and the restaurant’s short but very good wine list, which showcases southern French white wines, such as the Cassis I chose. Simple desserts run to the very good lemon tart with which I concluded my meal, and while I was enjoying a shot of Corsican eau de vie (fruit brandy) with my coffee, Frasca reappeared. I complimented him on my meal and he grinned.
“My prices are higher than other seafood places in Nice, but that’s because everything I serve is local,” he said. “You’ll have to come back soon, too, because the menu changes daily, according to what the fishermen bring in.”
Needless to say, I won’t need any encouragement to book at Agua again, especially after the friendly English couple at the table next to mine raved about Frasca’s matelote – a traditional winter dish of fish and vegetables braised in fish stock and red wine. Another local fish dish, the stuffed pagre (grey snapper), served to the table in front of me looked delicious, too.
Agua, 41 boulevard de Stalingrad, 06000 Nice, Tel: +33 4 97 19 08 15. Open daily, closed on Sunday evening and Monday. Average dinner €60 each.
Originally published in the December 2013-January 2014 issue of France Today
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