Chez Davia – My Favorite Restaurant in Nice
Many of you have asked me questions about Chez Davia, to which I previously had no answers. Who is depicted in the portrait? Is “Madame Davia” really the owner’s name? Who was the original owner? How long has it been there? Is it a family business? Are the young men who work there her sons? Here are the answers thanks to M. Pierre Alobelli who was kind enough to answer my many questions.
Chez Davia is an authentic “Petit Bouchon”, what the French call a small, family owned restaurant. This charming restaurant has existed in Nice, France for nearly 60 years, under the same name and operated by the same family for three generations – truly a rare find in France today.
It is one of those special places that I found by accident. I first dined at Chez Davia in 2001. It was January and I still remember the soup – a “potage” of pureed garden vegetables, French comfort food. My server lifted the lid of a huge Creuset pot to reveal the fragrant and steaming hot soup. I felt like I was in my grandmother’s kitchen except for the basket of French bread, the wine, the French music playing on the radio and a few thousand other details.
The restaurant felt warm and cozy with the flickering candle light, red and white checkered tablecloths, half a dozen fresh baked tarts and clafoutis presented around a floral arrangement. Photographs and paintings of people and dining scenes decorated the walls. Lying discretely under another table in a far corner of the restaurant was a large and very well-behaved Rottweiler named Malcolm. We loved Malcolm. At the end of the evening when we asked permission, Malcom was allowed to come out and greet us. He gently walked to our table and waited to be petted. He never asked for food and no one fed him from the table. Eleven years later, Malcolm is no longer there. On a back wall of the restaurant you can see a photo of Malcolm, proudly posing at the front door of his kingdom.
Chez Davia The Food!
Food Glorious Food. How in the world can such a tiny restaurant offer so many culinary delights in such a small space? The menu is mind boggling. Traditional French, Italian, and Niçoise. Coq au vin, Veal Milanese, Chicken Cordon Bleu, Lasagna, Pissaladiere, Bouillabaisse… The listings on the regular menu may make your head spin. Then add to that the daily SPECIALS. I capitalized that word for a reason. There is not just one or two “Plat du Jour”. Most days there are at least six, usually more. Choosing seems an impossible feat. Here is where Madame comes into play. If I haven’t decided by the time she arrives at my table to take my order, (often the case) she will make a suggestion and I simply answer “Oui”. I was a little intimidated by Madame at first. Maybe I still am a bit. Oui, certainement, I am. When it’s time to order, it’s time to order. (She doesn’t understand how hard it is to decide.) I’ve never been disappointed. Her suggestions will be the daily specials, the freshest seasonal offerings. Tonight you can have stuffed peppers, lamb chops, Magret de Canard, Daube (Provençal beef stew), Filet de Sole, or Dorade (Sea Bass). Then, alas, which side dish to have? Will it be a huge platter of their amazing “frites”, the stuffed eggplant, steamed vegetables, or a beautiful green salad? Don’t miss out on the delicious onion soup as a first course, but be careful not to fill up before the second course. The servings here are very generous.
My goal is to go through the entire menu before I die…which will be impossible because Madame keeps serving up those daily specials.
Going back repeatedly!
Over the years, our customers and friends, upon discovering Chez Davia, didn’t seem to want to go anywhere else. (Yes, you, Bob M. and all others who may recognize yourselves.) I must include myself on the list. Out of five nights, we dined four nights at Chez Davia. No doubt it would have been five nights except that the restaurant is closed on Mondays. You may wonder why people would go back to the same restaurant when there are so many choices in Nice. However, once you’ve enjoyed the delicious cuisine, seen and smelled the other dishes being served to other diners at other tables, heard Madame describe the daily specials, it is only too tempting to return again…and again. You will want to try everything. We are not the only ones to return. I have met other customers there who have been coming to Chez Davia for 20 years and more.
A great meal and a great price!
Not only is the food scrumptious, it is an incredibly good price. A three course prix fixe menu is 18.50 euros. I’ve had so many challenges trying to finish the three course dinners that I tried ordering only one thing a la carte. It is still an enormous amount of food. The veal Milanese literally hangs over the edge of the plate. If you order Salade Nicoise as an appetizer, come with a very hearty appetite! It is a meal unto itself.
I used to ask them to bring me smaller portions so I wouldn’t feel wasteful when I couldn’t finish my meal. The more important reason was that I hated getting ‘The Look” when I left too much food on the plate! I don’t think they were listening.
Chez Davia has room for about 30 inside with a few more tables on the little patio outside. The restaurant stays bustling, sometimes with people waiting outside and others having to be turned away, but they work to accommodate “non-reservations” as much as possible. It’s always a good idea to reserve, or go early. Be there at 7 pm on the dot when they open and you will likely get a table since French people typically dine a bit later. Come at 8 pm without a reservation and you will have to take your chances.
Answers to our questions from M. Pierre Altobelli
M. Pierre Altobelli was kind enough to answer my many questions, giving me an even deeper appreciation for this special restaurant.
The most important question first, please…Will Chez Davia continue long into the future, so I won’t be disappointed when I return to Nice?
“Tout d abord, notre restaurant ‘Chez Davia, sera toujours la a ma connaissance et encore pour longtemps je l’espere”
First of all, our restaurant “Chez Davia” will always be there to my knowledge and for a long time I hope.
Where did the name Davia come from? Is that your mother’s name?
Madame Davia was name of my maternal grandmother. My mother’s name is Alda Altobelli.
How many languages does your mother speak? It seems like she can communicate with anyone from any country.
My mother speaks French, Italian, and English.
Who is depicted in the portrait on the wall?
That is my mother’s mother…my grandmother, Madame Davia.
Can you tell me a little about the history of Chez Davia?
Chez Davia has existed since 1953. Our “cuisine” was originally created by a chef from the Presidential Residence (Elysee Palace in Paris). He stayed for over 30 years which is why the dishes here are not totally Niçoise style. He is responsible for creating several of our specialties: the soupe à l’oignon, coq au vin, escargots, sole Provençale, clafoutis, and crèmes caramelles. Since our family origin is Italian, more precisely Bolognaise, you will discover that we have an authentic culinary understanding of Italian cuisine (pasta and zuppa) as well. In those early years the Italian President (Allesandro Pertini) and his wife often traveled to Nice where Chez Davia was a particular favorite of theirs. Today, my brother and I are the third generation in the continuation of “Chez Davia” restaurant.
What is the training and experience of the chefs there today?
It is my mother who tells the chefs how she wants the dishes to be prepared, relying upon her past and her experience. She worked as “cuisiniere” here for nearly 10 years during the era of my grandmother after our original chef from the Elysee Palace had to leave us.
How is it possible to prepare so many choices, always fresh and delicious, in such a small kitchen?
In fact, it’s true, that visually the menu seems extensive, but in reality all the dishes (recipes) join together in some way. What this demands is a style of cuisine that is more instantaneous rather than one with a lot of preparing ahead.
And then… you know from my experience, I have noted that in certain modern restaurants the choices are becoming more and more limited, restricting the freedom of the customer….What customers enjoy here is the comfort of having choices, therefore, being pleased.
I think, ultimately, that is the reason they come back -without the pressure of feeling that a selection is being imposed upon them. ..and of course because our cuisine pleases them.
I translated Monsieur Altobelli’s answers which were originally in French. (Something is often lost…It all sounds better in French.)