Cafe Constant is one of Christian Constant's restaurants. It opens rather early by European standards (7pm), is relatively cheap, does not take reservations, and got great reviews on Chowhound. We thought this would make the perfect first night place. However, it was, not just bad, but gross. It made a lean cuisine entree look like fine dining. The plat du jour was a chicken dish that tasted as if it had been cooked three weeks ago and heated up for the evening; the texture was as tough as rubber and the overly buttered mashed potatoes did little to mask the issue. Who wants to hear about bad food, right? So I will stop there and note that both the foie gras and rabbit terrine were decent, but take this as public service announcement to anyone considering this option for their trip to Paris: just don't. There are much better quick, cheap places to eat and you don't want to be disappointed your first night in the city.
Now on to a much more appetizing report. On Monday night, our first reservation of the trip renewed my faith in the Parisian dining establishment: Louis Vins (http://www.fifi.fr/) We chose this restaurant based on Mark Slater's (the Ray's the Steaks sommelier) recommendation and I can't wait to thank him for his advice.
Louis Vins is a 40 seat restaurant, with kitchy French decor, a warm ambiance, and a great wine list! We arrived and while the waitstaff did not speak English they kindly offered us an English language menu. We were the only non-Parisians (or at least non-French speakers) in the restaurant and were surprised, but did not hesitate to take advantage of this cheat sheet.
First, we were treated to an amuse bouche of wild mushroom soup and offered the wine list. We chose what I think was the best wine of our trip (and there were many contenders). A 2005 Bordeaux. For the duration of our trip we stuck with wines in the 35 - 45 euro price point and were never disappointed. One of my other favorite parts of enjoying these wines was lingering over a 2.5 - 3 hour dinner, with the waiter/waitress pouring the wine so it lasts throughout the meal. American waitstaff can often be inclined to over pour to encourage ordering another bottle (thus increasing the tip) and/or hurrying the meal.
Voila -- our wine of the evening -- robust, tannic and perfect for the food that was to come.
The menu included on the prix fix options like nearly all in the city and offered about 8 choices each for entrees (in France the appetizer), plats du jour, and desserts for a bargain price of 28 euros. Again we had the benefit of the English language menu, so I can actually detail what was in every dish.
I started with the pesto encrusted goat cheese over field greens with balsamic vinaigrette. The goat cheese was heavenly. I am a sucker for goat cheese anyway, but this was sweet and layered with flavor owing the pesto crust. The tartness of the field greens added a subtle contrast. B chose the jumbo prawns, wrapped in filo dough and lightly fried. These shrimp were perfectly done, with the most delicate wrapping, making for a nice crunch.
For dinner, I had the Cod with chanterelles over mashed potatoes. The cod fillet was generous in size (about 10 oz) and cooked so that it was both flaky and juicy, and the veritable field of mushrooms that accompanied it rounded out the flavor and made for a meaty, earthy, and cold weather-appropriate fish dish.
B ordered the most decadent main dish of our trip: roasted duck wih foie gras surrounding mashed potatoes, and accompanied by salad greens tossed in a vinaigrette. The duck was roasted and de-boned and the combination of the rich, tender duck, with the smooth rich foie gras was delectable and very filling!
Now for my favorite part of any meal: dessert. I ordered the chocolate terrine with Creme Anglais and the same chocolate crunchies (yes I am sure that is the French word) that Michel Richard uses on many of his desserts at Central. It was so rich, like eating the filling of French truffle, so pretty much perfect. B had the baba au rhum which was a moist single-serving cake topped with one shot if not two shots of the rum and yellow raisins.
The inclusive bill for this meal came to about 100 euros. Even with the exchange rate approaching dismal lows (1.47 Euro to every dollar), this was a great value.