The dining room at Mensae.
When we arrived at Mensae last week, we were greeted by the welcoming smell of garlic cooking (okay, if it had been fish I would have found it less welcoming) and huge smiles from the staff.
After last week’s relative disappointment at Tondo, I was keeping my expectations low about Mensae, in spite of all the good things I had heard about it and the difficulty of getting a reservation (I must have tried unsuccessfully 10 times to get a table). I figured that the only reason we got in that evening was because it was Bastille Day, and most Parisians had left town for a long weekend.
The smiles were genuine and generously lavished on us throughout the evening, making a great meal even more enjoyable.
We all loved our starters. Bonnie had a watercress soup that was surprisingly rich, with a deep bacony flavor, topped with a haddock mousse with yuzu. Jeff was thrilled with his ceviche of mullet with herbs, and I happily tucked into my incredibly tender grilled octopus, prettily curled like an apostrophe atop a purée of fennel, with sauce vierge to add extra zip.
We all worried a bit that the main courses wouldn’t live up to the starters, but while they were slightly less inventive, they were all generous and excellent without sending any of us into ecstasy.
My lamb was as tender as the octopus and was nicely complemented by confit of red peppers and “burnt” herbs. I didn’t really get that last part, but there was a nice green sauce on the lamb. Jeff’s quasi (fillet) of veal was equally tender and came with grilled asparagus, pleurotes (oyster mushrooms) and a meat sauce flavored with Tio Pepe (a dry sherry). Bonnie had the cod, perfectly cooked and simply (perhaps too simply) presented, with barigoule (Provençal-style braised artichokes) and lovely fresh peas on the side.
The desserts brought us back up to the high of the first courses and then some. Each one was exquisite in its own way: the rich “vacherin exotique” flecked with bits of lime zest; the light, crispy millefeuille with fresh strawberries and pistachios; and the chocolate mousse that was like none other I have tasted – light and fluffy, yet with deep, dark flavor.
When we left the restaurant, all pumped up from the excellent meal and wine we had just had, I wanted to show my friends the amazing crosstown view of the Eiffel Tower from the Pyrénées Métro stop. As we arrived, the crowds of people who had been watching the fireworks from that vantage point were just dispersing, all still blissfully ignorant of what was happening in Nice at that very moment.
When the news came through later on, it cast a bittersweet retrospective pall over the evening and made the importance of savoring every good meal seem even clearer.