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...