We sat down for lunch at the Café de Turin — a seafood specialty restaurant nestled in the former post station for mail making its way from France into Italy via the Turin poste. What started a century ago as a café serving coffee and refreshments to weary mailmen, has morphed into one of Nice’s most upscale seafood cafés, still housed in its original building, now designated as a national monument.
The restaurant serves its own oysters, grown in both salt-water beds in Provence, as well as up north in Normandy. All oysters come with a rating number, with No. 1 being the largest oysters on the market and descending down to No. 3, which most closely resemble our large U.S. oysters. The No. 1 oysters weigh over 300 grams each and are larger than a man’s hand in size.
They’re served simply, with choices of fresh lemon wedges or Tabasco or, with some polite pleading, seasoned red wine vinaigrette. Later, we learned that the restaurant also offers a garlic aioli (French mayonnaise) for the other cold seafood.
We ordered a dozen of the No. 1 giant oysters and Richard, the charismatic general manager, struck up a passionate conversation with us about seafood in Nice and, in particular, in his restaurant. He loved having Americans dining with him and told us he wants to travel to Boston to compare the oysters and shucking tools with his own. His pride about oysters and seafood proved contagious and he had us easily convinced that his restaurant served up the very best of the best. We spent quite a bit of time chatting with Richard, who explained the history and farming of the restaurant’s oysters and introduced us to the family patriarch, who currently manages the business.
It takes about five, rather large bites to finish each No. 1 oyster, which tastes much brinier and flavor-intensive than oysters in the States. As seafood purists, the staff only serves the seafood with dense, hard, pumpernickel bread and nothing else. Not even pommes frites (French fries) grace the restaurant’s dishes of steamed mussels. So, seafood purists only!
We also got to see the elaborate, artful platters of raw and steamed seafood being served to the restaurant’s less jet-lagged patrons! Each offered a mouth-watering variety of fresh fish, prawns, clams, large crabs, oysters, and mussels.