Smackdown: Niçoise Salad

Named for the city of Nice on the southern coast of France, this classic spring dish is simple, yet much-debated. Anchovies or no? Canned tuna or fresh? Even O.C.’s French spots go their own way.

Champagne French Bakery Cafe

South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa, 714-429-1502,

→ About four ounces of moist, flaked albacore tuna is strewn with pitted Nicoise olives, ready for tossing in or just nibbling. (above, $10)
→ Serviceable and fresh, a hunk of baguette with a pat of sweet-cream butter adds crunchy, chewy carbs to the mix.
→ An ample dose of sprightly Dijon vinaigrette has the personality to tie it all together.
→ Chunky red potato salad with shallots is a tasty change from plain potatoes and plays well with green beans, egg slices, and tomato rounds

Bistro Papillote
OC Mix, Costa Mesa, 714-697-1707,

→ A cube of faintly smoked, lightly cooked salmon replaces the traditional tuna. Its blocky form makes it tricky to mix in. ($12)
→ Wedges of fresh tomato, cooked fingerling potatoes, and a stack of al dente green beans add more color than flavor.
→ Small, brine-cured kalamata olives pack a mean punch of strong, if Greek, flavor.
→ Thin crescents of crisp fennel bulb on my salad supply texture and brightness, but everything on the plate cries for more seasoning and a bolder vinaigrette.

The Verdict
Champagne bakery. Its hallmark elements of albacore tuna, authentic olives, and robust dressing make this a classic French salad.

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