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Au Petit Gari

Our vacation on the Cote d'Azur was lovely in many ways, but foodwise, it was nothing special. Oh sure, the cheese from the maitre fromager was lovely, the cracklingly fresh baguettes we bought almost every day were splendid and difficult not to wolf down in one go, and the gorgeously fresh and flavorful steaks we fried up at home one night were delicious, too. It's, of course, no secret that the French have fantastic food at their disposal. But in terms of restaurants, we had little luck.

A lunch in Aix-en-Provence made my airplane food the following Sunday taste delicious. Gloppy and stale-tasting potage aux legumes, followed by limp pasta in a watery sauce of tomatoes, olives and supposed anchovies, though there was nary a fish to be found therein, does not a glorious French lunch make. A dinner at a small and cozy place in Vieux Nice called L'Atelier was marred by terrible service and filets de rouget that neither Ben nor I could choke down due to their overpoweringly fishy flavor. The cafe in St-Paul-de-Vence where we stopped for lunch one day served up an amazing mustard sauce that I could have poured into a bowl and sipped on all day, but the pork chop it smothered was gristly and tough.

Our only real success was at a tiny bistro called Au Petit Gari on Place Garibaldi, near the famous Cafe de Turin, where the oysters are sparkling and fresh. After a particularly harrowing parking spot episode, we staggered out of the car and around the square, trying to find a place to eat. We came upon a small restaurant, decorated kitschily with old-fashioned plates and ashtrays and kitchen utensils. Inside a group of women caroused happily at one table and a family tucked into their food at another. We had a seat and were promptly shown a menu on a large chalkboard toted around to us.

To start, Ben and I shared a wedge of Camembert baked in the oven with purple potatoes, white wine, crisped breadcrumbs and toasted pine nuts. It was delicious - warm and cheesy and spiked with just anough wine and texture to make it interesting. Ben followed up with a pasta dish, while I had a piece of chicken that had been stuffed with a wonderful breadcrumb mixture flavored with parsley and capers. The chicken came with a mound of the homey mashed potatoes laced with olive oil.

When it came time for dessert, we had no choice but to order the profiteroles that had been served to another set of diners and had brought a feverish gleam to Ben's eyes. Our waiter asked us if we wanted one puff to share and two forks, or one puff each. Well, we'd just have one and share, of course. We're not gluttons! The waiter winked and went off to the kitchen, only to return with one plate filled with two huge, freshly baked creampuffs, deeply-flavored vanilla ice-cream oozing out of each, and glossy dark chocolate sauce napped around the entire business. I'll just go right ahead and admit that we practically licked the plate. As we wiped the chocolate sauce from our chops, the chef came out of the small kitchen with his warm jacket and backpack on and visited each table to thank us and say goodnight before going out into the chilly night.

It was a lovely dinner - homemade and delicious and filling. The kind people who worked there made the evening even better. I should mention that it was good value, too. Our bill, with two glasses of wine, came to 46 euros.