If Les Cocottes is modeled on an Amiercan diner, it must be a very classy one.
After our foray into Constant-land last year, I went back to give Christian Constant’s latest addition to his stable of restaurants on the Rue Saint Dominique a canter. Les Cocottes is a “concept” restaurant for which Constant recently received an award (and there it was, a framed gilded palm leaf on the wall right behind my dining companion). The concept is based on that of an American diner, except that the short-order cooks are all hidden away out of sight and no waitress comes around asking if they can warm up your coffee for you. As in a diner, you can eat at any time, from breakfast until late evening.
The downside, if downside it is, is that the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so in view of its popularity, queuing for a perch at the long bar or at one of the tables along the other side of the narrow space (done up light wood and pastel colors, with dark walls) is almost inevitable if you go at lunch or dinner time. Still, it didn’t seem too long before we were shown to a table at the far end, near the kitchen and well away from the cramped queuing area.
Another particularity of the place is the high tables, which are the same height as the counter, reinforcing the sense that you are in fast-food heaven. And, as in any fast-food joint, there’s no temptation to linger once you’ve downed your briskly served food. Definitely not the place for a romantic tête-à-tête. That is not a criticism – far from it – because, like all the other places owned by Constant, the food’s the thing.
The only disappointment was the vraie salade César Ritz. Not being a connoisseur of the finer points of the Caesar salad, I have to take my companion’s word for its wrongness: wrong lettuce and wrong croutons, with whole anchovies, which should have been pulverized in the dressing. But I have to say that when I swapped half of my paté de campagne for half of her salad, I found it quite entertaining. But nowhere near as good as the creamy paté, whose finely ground meat had been mixed with the perfect amount of herbs, spices and alcohol. It was a grand match for the bottle of Clos Marie Pic Saint Loup (€34) that we chose from the fairly limited but clearly well-chosen wine list, priced from €27 to €60. A good choice of wines by the glass is also offered.
You could probably get away with taking a vegetarian friend to Les Cocottes, as the menu included a couple of veggie choices. My main course, a fricassee of asparagus, garden peas and morel mushrooms topped with a perfectly poached egg, could only delight any vegetarian epicure. It was blindingly good. So was the traditionnel pigeon rôti, petits pois fondants à la française, which was declared the best squab ever tasted by my dining companion. The beautifully roasted meat was red, textured, juicy and unexpectedly tender.
Adding to the pleasure was the fact that both these dishes came in the signature cocottes – those upscale, must-have cast-iron cooking pots from Staub, which do genuinely seem to concentrate flavors and eating pleasure.
Desserts were the daily special, pannacotta topped with finely chopped fresh berries – deceptively simple, wickedly tasty – and the fabuleuse tarte au chocolat de Christian Constant (made by the other Christian Constant, a famous Parisian chocolatier?), which really is fabulous, with its intensely chocolatey ganache on a chocolate-flavored shortbread crust.
Go forth and eat.
Les Cocottes de Christian Constant: 135, rue Saint Dominique, 75007 Paris. Tel.: 01 45 50 10 31. Métro: Ecole Militaire. Nearest Vélib stations: 43, avenue Rapp and 37 avenue Bosquet. Open daily for lunch and dinner. No reservations. A la carte: around €38*.
*three courses, not including wine. www.maisonconstant.com
© 2008 Paris Update
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