Cafe Constant in Paris

There are many gourmet eateries in Paris where you can eat the most delicate, the most recherché and the most exquisite food in the world. The only problem: to eat in one of these restaurants you'd need a second mortgage or pillage little Timmy's college fund.

I am not exaggerating. Once I ate at La Tour d'Argent (and this is after they lost two of their three Michelin stars). The bill for two? Roughly €600.  And my main course was an omelet (the only vegetarian dish they could come up with). A more recent example was Passage 53 that I mentioned and the bill was more or less the same amount (for three people though).

I am not a cheapskate but the idea of spending on a single dinner a sum on that would keep an entire Vietnamese village going for a year does not sit well with me.

That is why what I enjoy the most are simple brasserie-bistros that serve delicious food for a reasonable price. My favorite in that category is Cafe Constant on Rue Saint Dominique. It belongs to a well known French Chef (he is one of the judges on the French Top Chef) by the name of Christian Constant. Oddly enough, he has two more restaurants on the same bloc (one of them, the Violon d'Ingres has a Michelin star).

Cafe Constant is a typical Parisian brasserie. Quite unassuming. No reservations. First come first served is the norm. People who wait your table are wearing their daily casual outfits. No uniforms, no pretension.

The place doesn't look like much from outside:


And it doesn't look like much from inside:

The menu is short and the dishes are very modestly priced. Appetizers are €11 and main course dishes are €16. Their daily menu for appetizer, main course and dessert is about €23. This is their menu for February 2013.

While the setting, the decor and the menu looks like typical brasserie fare, the food is definitely Michelin star-level. Take a look at this:

This is lobster bisque with a large lobster ravioli inside topped with real caviar and a slightly creamy foam. Normally, I am not a bisque fan, but this is by far the best I ever had. And whenever they put it back on the menu I order it (it is more expensive than the €11 appetizers, I think they charge €16 for it, but it is worth twice as much).

My other favorite is the "basse côte d'Aquitaine aux échalottes." They translate it as "Aquitaine steak with shallots."  Bass cote is a humble cut of meat. I think it is called chuck roll or chuck eye roll in English. But most chuck roll pieces are quite chewy and tough and are best used in stews or slow cooked dishes. The one they serve in Cafe Constant is as tender as a filet and as tasty as an entrecôte (rib-eye).

The puree is creamy without being creamy. My picture doesn't do justice to the dish but I looked at other people's pictures and they are not any better. I guess this is a dish that does not lend itself to cell phone photography (actually, what does?). The thingy in the middle is the heart of a baby romaine lettuce.

Forget the picture, take my word for it. This is the only chuck eye roll in the world that you can eat medium rare. It is as soft as "Tagliata," another favorite beef dish of mine.

The wine list is short but you'd find one or two choices from every region in France and the price quality ratio is pretty good. I usually select one of the Burgundy's because of my weakness for the Basse-côte, but I tried most of their Bordeaux and they are all very good.

There is one problem with the place. If you just go there, there is a good chance that you will wait for at least half an hour to get a table. Solution: Go there when they open at 7 p.m. It is unfashionably early for Paris (and very late for Florida) but at least you will get a decent table. And you will enjoy your food while those hungry people outside feel dejected.

And when you are done, the night will still be young for you to walk up to a cafe around Ecole Militaire. Just sit down, order a nice café-Calva (coffee and Calvados brandy) and wait for the lights of Eiffel Tower to come on at 10.

Life can be so tough...


New Recipes: Seafood on a Black Rice Bed

This is a simple recipe I adapted from Nigellissima.

As you know, I like using the black rice known as Venere Nero (Venerable Black). It originates from the Po Valley and it is black naturally (as opposed to the squid ink variety). And it has a nutty taste. This recipe is based on that rice.

Prepare the rice ahead of time, because it take about 45 minutes to cook. I prepare it in the pilaf style. Which means, I put some olive oil in a pot, add the desired quantity of rice and stir for about 5 minutes. Then I add water and salt. And let it cook until all the water is absorbed. At the end, close the lid tightly and let it rest for 5-10 minutes. That is the pilaf technique.

Using this technique, water should be twice the quantity of rice, i.e. if you used a cup of rice, add two cups of water. But with black rice, I discovered that you need to add two and a half cup of water or it stays crunchy in the middle.

New Recipes: A Couple of Easy Cheesecakes

I never made cheesecakes until recently.

In fact, I am quite ignorant when it comes to baking and desserts. My loved ones think that is because I can never bring myself to implement a recipe without modifying it and that is why I never got interested in them.

Maybe. It is true that modifying desserts is a lot harder and usually ends up in catastrophe. But recently I discovered that I could just focus on desserts I could modify without much risk.

The first cheesecake is something I saw Nigella Lawson make in her new program called Nigellissima. I tried it the next day and true to form, promptly proceed to modify it.

New Recipes: Fainting Imam

Your blog is usually the first thing that gets sacrificed on the altar of I-have-too-much-to-do.  Since nobody thinks that it is a serious commitment, it is quite hard to justify any priority you might want to give to a blog. And once the guilt subsides, days turn into weeks and it is remarkably easy to let it go.

I realized that I have been seriously neglecting this blog, to the point of abandonment. I decided that it was time to do a better job.

In recent months, I tried a couple of new things. Some entailed a few modifications I brought to traditional recipes, others consisted of trying some dished I saw on cookery shows.

Stuffed Aubergines: Imam Has Fainted

This is a vegetarian dish and you can find it in Greek, Turkish and Lebanese cuisines. It is usually called "Imam bayildi" which means (figuratively) Imam was ecstatic or (literally) Imam has fainted.


Passage 53: A Japanese - French Fusion

A few days ago, two dear friends of mine invited me to go to Passage 53.

Since I had never heard of the restaurant I Googled it immediately. It was situated in the oldest "passage" in Paris, the Passage des Panaromas, near the Bourse.

Within the Passage it is almost impossible to find it and I am sure most people walk by it without realizing that this is a restaurant with two Michelin starts.

Can you see it? Credit: The Skinny Bib

The place is so tiny that when you enter the restaurant you find yourself already surrounded by tables. There are twenty seat in all.

The service is handled by four super model-thin young men in black suits. They were attentive, knowledgeable and bilingual. Our table conversation switched between English and French and they were able to switch with us without missing a beat (you have no idea how incredibly rare this is in Paris).

The food came down from up above, brought down by a number of young sous-chefs who stood on the steps of a tiny spiral case (which is from 1798 apparently) to pass on their precious cargo to our waiters.

The decor seems to have been changed recently as the wall were painted white and were left unadorned with the exception of an unobtrusive mirror and a white canvas which blended into the background.

The wine list consisted of Bourgogne wines primarily and the selection was excellent. We opted for a Puligny Montrachet, a nicely mineral Burgundy white that represented its region perfectly.

There is only one menu at Passage 53 and it is a seven course affair. I am not one of those people who take a picture of everything they eat and make annoying audible commentary while consuming their food. The food was inventive, quite delicious and very well presented. I only retained a few of the courses.

The White Course with Squid
The amuse-bouche was a pumpkin soup with a cafe au lait mousse and it was simply heavenly. Their house specialty is something they call "the white course," which, in our case, was a pan-seared langoustine covered with cauliflower shavings. It was cooked perfectly and it was tasty without being spectacular.

They also had a slow baked red onion with chorizo slices inserted into onion layers. It was less "wow, that's delicious!" and more "how did they do that?" kind of dish.

Overall, I enjoyed everything but at the end of the meal, I found myself in agreement with chef Shininchi Sato who said, during a recent interview, that "I don’t think that our restaurant actually merits 2 stars."

It is a lovely restaurant that would be perfect with a single star and a slightly lower price point.


I Finally Ate at Le Beef Club

A couple of months ago, I mentioned that a daring French chef reintroduced British beef to Paris.

Given the culinary patriotism of my Parisian contemporaries, it could have ended in financial ruin for the chef in question,  Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec.

Instead he became the toast of the town, with the likes of BBC running magazine stories about him.

I tried to make a reservation for weeks. I found two telephone numbers for the place. One was never answered and after five or six rings, you got a recording stating that the voice mailbox was full.

I thought it was either obnoxious or pretentious depending on the intent behind it.


The Hemingway Bar and Raspberry Martini

Today the historic Ritz Hotel is closing its doors for two years.

I never stayed at Ritz. It is way above my pay grade. But I always enjoyed a nice cocktail at the storied Hemingway Bar.

From its history you might imagine an imposing space but the Bar is actually quite small.

The entrance is at the right side of that picture. It is a small unpretentious door.

Behind the camera there is a small room/alcove slightly elevated from the rest of the bar with three tables.

The walls are full of Hemingway memorabilia and for some unknown reason you never think that they might be replicas.