Mad About Paris, Much more than a guide
Think of a three-course-meal starting with a nice slice of terrine de foie gras, followed by a generous piece of veal cutlet and ending with a rich, old-fashioned crème caramel. Think further that you’re in Paris, in the pretty, bourgeois 7th arrondissement close to the Eiffel tower. And now guess how much you will have to pay: 50 Euros? 60? Well, that would be true if you didn’t have a seat at Café Constant. They only charge 23 Euros (30 US$) for the whole meal – and it’s hard to say why.
Food is good here in Rue St. Dominique, it is even excellent. All the products are first class, and you can choose from a wide range of classic French fare. The menu lists filet de bar and pavé de cabillaud, duck parmentier and juicy steaks of all kinds. When we were there recently, we had fabulous quails stuffed with foie gras on a bed of seasonal vegetable stew – so why on earth are they so much on the cheap side? Our smartest guess would be: because the owner, Christian Constant, is an old-fashioned man. A decent cook. A nice guy from the south of France.
The French know Monsieur Constant from quite a few tv cooking shows nowadays, he seems to like sitting on jurys and chasing candidates in his grumpy style. When he opened Café Constant in 2003 he wanted to reinvent “le vrai bistro parisien”, the real Parisian bistro. They’ve become, believe it or not, a rare species in the French capital where many small restaurants had to close over the years due to the economic downturn – and an overall lack of quality. That’s where Christian Constant came in. He didn’t want to stand idly by.
His bio is one of a born chef. He says his mother was his first teacher and lessons began when “he was tall enough to chop vegetables“ ). What followed was the classic career of a French chef: apprenticeship at the age of 14, kitchen helper at the “Ledoyen” in Paris at 18, co-worker in the one-star Michelin bistro of his aunt, then at The Ritz, soon executive chef at the two-star palace “Les Ambassadeurs” sitting in Hotel Crillon, Place de la Concorde. But he dreamt of his own restaurant, and in 1998, at the age of 45, he finally opened his Violon d’Ingres, a high-end eatery only a stone’s throw from Café Constant.
When the latter opened it became a typical insider’s tip right away, a name only whispered in food-lovers circles in order not to spoil it. But the secret couldn’t be kept for long, as is always the case with really good things. So today, when you walk down Rue St. Dominique at lunch or dinner time, you’ll spot the waiting crowd from afar. Café Constant doesn’t take reservations, so everybody has to come early to give it a try. It’s always worth it.
Never mind that, in the meantime, the insider’s tip has turned into a culinary hotspot known to the many foodies around the globe. You’ll share your meal with Japanese and American tourists, with savvy Germans and, yes, some French natives as well. So far, the kitchen seems to completely ignore its own celebrity and the globalized crowd; the guys at the pots and pans keep on doing their job, and they do it very, very well – in a setting that feels quite weird, actually, with its out-dated furniture, the shabby decoration and an overall provincial air. But hey, who cares about ambience when you can eat very well and the full French way at prices that almost beat those of a fast food chain?Café Constant 139, rue Saint-Dominique