Open Monday through Friday, noon to 3 p.m. and 6 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 6 to 11 p.m. AE, CB, MC, V. Reservations.
Prices: lunch main courses $4.25 to $9.75; dinner main courses $7.25 to $12.
MEMO to Holiday Inns: I applaud your effort to strive beyond the usual motel restaurant mode, to donate your dining room to French ambition and individuality. And I hope that one setback won't make you quit the game. But Cote d'Azur has a long way to go before dining there is more than an act of charity.
Perhaps the menu overwhelmed the kitchen's abilities. It is one of the most refreshing French menus to be seen around here, with rotisseried duck and lamb, a long list of seafoods from smelts to cuttlefish, rabbit and quail and tripe and - helas! - eight choiecs of potato prepartions. There was no surprise, just disappointment, in finding that many of the dishes on the menu were no longer available.
I am sure you meant well. But do you still mean well? The entrance is a come-on of whole red snapper and shellfish on a sea of ice, flanked by baskets of fresh vegetables and fruits. But are the signs reading, "Do not touch" meant to keep the diner from finding the red snapper but a hollow shell? By the end of the evening one may recognize the entire enterprise as a hollow shell.
Cote d'Azur started with plently of points on its side. The room is light and pretty, edged in brick and trimmed with decorative tiles, leaded glass and window boxes. The walls are lined with deeply cushioned banquettes, some wrapping around so that all four diners at a table can wallow in their comfort. On the tables are salmon pink napkins and cloths. If only the salmon looked so fresh.
One day at lunch the poached salmon tasted as if it had been exiled from the front table display and banished to my plate. Rubbery and sullen, it was further punished with a bland, oily hollandaise. The mussels were better, tasting lively and fresh, thus rewarded by a respectable sauce poulette.
When the fish really misbehave they dump them into the bouillabaisse to keep company with other tough little creatures. Their fennel-saffron broth is too good for them, but you can ruin it by stirring in some of the rouille, the traditional spicy, pungent garlic mayonnaise which here tastes like Russian dressing with equal parts of garlic and sugar.
Not only the fish have their Siberia. Bad little veal steaks are assigned to the grill as paillards de veau. In New York the dish is fashionable; at Windows on the World it has been a high accomplishment. At Cote d'Azur it is a rigid wafer of dry meat with grill marks apparently meant to compensate for lack of flavor.
Almost as severe a punishment is a platter called "Les Trois Mousquetaires," in which four - not three - assorted medallions (lamb, pork, beef and veal) are presented, supposedly each with its own sauce. We were warned by the maitre d'hotel that the chef didn't like to make it because it is too much trouble, but we decided to risk his bad temper (Chefs from Marseilles have fierce tempers, the maitre d' added). The four little medallions had been long reprimanded and emerged dry and mean, all covered with the same onion-pepper-tomato sauce. The chef apparently hadn't gone to too much trouble after all.
Blasphemy is a term not used in cooking, but there ought to be some stern notation for misappropriation of culinary titles. A chef may get away with leaving out the green beans and potatoes in a salade nicoise and shrinking the dish to a tuna salad vinaigrette with an acnchovy and pimento garnish, which is still good, though at $3.25 one could expect more authenticity as well as ambitiousness. But Le Canard moulin de Mougins - considering the reverse side of the menu actually invokes Roger Verge's nouvelle cuisine of the restaurant Moulin de Mougins - has as much relation to nouvelle cuisine as a Classic Comic has to literature. The duck is a pleasant enough dish for what it is, but that means a chewy rotisserie-cooked ducked in a thick, fairly sweet sauce scented with ginger and studded with mushrooms.
Then there are the vegetables, certainly not from the basket of fresh vegetables at the entry. Soggy frozen green beans, frozen asparagus, carrots and potatoes that taste as if they have gone through some factory process or other before reaching the kitchen. I wonder who eats those beautiful vegetables on display.
While the maitre d'hotel seemed knowledgeable - so knowledgeable that he warned us away from serveral dishes and even refused to serve one we requested - the waiters didn't know what they were doing, though they didn't seem to mind doing it. The wine carried in one hand, a wicker wine basket in another, a waiter struggled to open the bottle, then struggled to fit it into the reclining basket and finally, poured it with a flourish as if it had been carefully cradled from cellar to table.
If there is one thing Cote d'Azur does efficiently, it is use up leftovers. A duck Madagascar served at lunch had been the previous evening's duck a l'orange diced and littered with green peppercorns in a soggy pastry shell, the fire of the peppercorns neither disguising nor marrying well with the sweet orange flavor. After that, we were curious about the Pot Pourri Maison, which we were told was a mixture of all the leftover soups (the possibilities on the menu being fish soup, potato soup and consumme with vegatables).
In th context of such meals, the pastries showed to advantage, even with the napoleon being just short of leaden. By dinnertime the pastry tray looked as if it had been a battleground, the layers toppled and corners flattened. The last chance we gave the kitchen to redeem itself was answered by burned coffee. With lunch at more than $15 a person and dinner at more than $20 a person, we too felt burned.