Rosa Jackson's Edible Adventures

Tuesday, 23 September, 2008

Secret sushi

Etsuko

After ten years in Paris, Nice sometimes feels like a small town despite being France's fifth-largest city and home to its second-busiest international airport. The longer I live here, though, the more I realize lies beneath the surface.

A few weeks ago, for instance, I would have sworn that there was no good sushi in Nice. It turns out that I just hadn't looked in the right place: a hidden courtyard in rue Ségurane, a street near the port that I often take on the way to yoga or my beloved Biocoop.

I might have continued to stroll obliviously past this unmarked doorway for months had it not been for my artist friend Stéphane, who let me in on the secret over coffee at the market. "But you can't just turn up by yourself," he said mysteriously. "You have to be invited."

A secret sushi society in Nice? I was beside myself with suspense. A few days later I joined Stéphane, his wife Caterina and carefully selected friends for lunch at Bodhi Zen, whose curtained entrance reminded me instantly of Tokyo. In the front room the cook Etsuko works in an American-style open kitchen, while the back room is reserved for Shiatsu massages with Etsuko and Qi Gong with her French partner Wilfrid. Etsuko also cooks group dinners on request and teaches Japanese cooking on Saturday mornings. Four times a week she cooks lunch by reservation only, with homemade tofu on Mondays and Tuesdays, a "Zen bowl" (rice topped with whatever strikes her fancy that day) on Wednesdays and sushi on Fridays. The dining room seats no more than about a dozen people, most of them around a long, shared table.

Sushi

The first thing that struck me was the generosity of Etsuko's sushi lunch, which is presented on a tray that includes 15 pieces of sushi and maki plus Japanese omelette, soup, salad from the Cours Saleya market and dessert (that day a grapefruit jelly made with agar agar). Next, I was thrilled by the variety and freshness of the fish: salmon and tuna make cameo appearances, but the real stars are local fish such as sardine and sea bream. Then I took a bite of maki and couldn't believe what I had tasted. Was that really camembert? Indeed, Etsuko is not afraid to incorporate French flavors into her cooking, and another of her innovative sushis involves goat's cheese and chives (not bad!).

Salad-2

Since that first meal I've returned to Bodhi Zen twice, once for the tofu lunch and another time for a repeat of the sushi. I'm sorry that I didn't take my camera for the tofu lunch, since it was fascinating to see everything that Etsuko can do with fresh bean curd. It was the first time I had tasted homemade tofu, and the plain tofu in a little bamboo basket reminded me a bit of fresh curd cheese, with a grassier taste. Etsuko cooks almost entirely with organic ingredients, and I've already adopted her idea of topping any salad of mixed greens with three different seeds (perhaps pumpkin, sunflower and flax).

Now that I know Etsuko I seem to run into her every day at the Cours Saleya market. I admire her health-conscious approach to cooking, her willingness to experiment and her generosity: the tofu and Zen lunches cost €12 and the sushi lunch €17 for anyone with a membership (which costs €20 a year for the meals, €40 for a full membership). Part of me is reluctant to share this address, but my less selfish side knows that it's more important to support Etsuko's efforts than to  hope that there will always be a place in the dining room for me.

Update: Bodhizen has moved to 4 rue Vincent Fossat in the Borriglione area, 04.93.35.42.12.

Tags: Nice, Restaurants

Comments

6 comment(s) on this page. Add your own comment below.

Tuesday, 23 September, 2008 10:57pm [ 1 ]

That sushi looks even better than socca. Well, almost.

teryll
Wednesday, 24 September, 2008 2:54pm [ 2 ]

My mouth is watering, thanks Rosa! Nothing is more satisfying than great sushi. Sounds like you've found a royal gem!

Wednesday, 24 September, 2008 9:20pm [ 3 ]

David: Hm, sushi or socca? The great thing is that I can now choose!

Teryll, it's true about sushi, isn't it? I consider myself very lucky to have found Etsuko.

elarael
Thursday, 25 September, 2008 9:01pm [ 4 ]

How cool! And so smart and creative of Etsuko, with the membership fee and invitation only. How in the world did she come up with that, I wonder? Great idea to make sure her food is appreciated...hmm, it's inspiring me...

Wednesday, 1 October, 2008 2:35pm [ 5 ]

Rosa,

I just moved to Nice within the last couple weeks from Washington DC to study French at the Université de Nice. It's so funny for me to see this post today because I was JUST starting to crave sushi. How does one go about getting an invitation? You can't exactly just walk in, huh? So fascinating! Anyway, I've been reading your blog with a particularly peaked interest since I got here. Thanks for posting about this :-)

Sara

Wednesday, 1 October, 2008 7:04pm [ 6 ]

Welcome to Nice, Sara! If you call Bodhi Zen and tell them you would like to join the association, I'm sure they will let you reserve a table. Enjoy!

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