Saturday, August 20, 2011

Paris, August (part 3)

After a late night Saturday, we were happy to have Sunday "breakfast" be a relatively late meal, but we were in the mood for something great, and we felt that our weekend was still short on quintessentially French experiences. However, we were also faced with a quintessentially French problem - Sunday in Paris is difficult enough, but throw in the August vacation? More than half the places we'd really wanted to go were closed for the month, and most of those remaining have Sunday as one of their 2 days per week off.

But I travel with the ultimate weapon against these types of scenarios... Nisha to the rescue! I think of myself as being pretty good at internet searching, but somehow she's a total professional at putting together logistic information (who's open, where they're located) with an intuition of which reviews are by people who are likely to point us in the right direction.

So we headed out late in the morning, hoping to be first on the scene for lunch.

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Our walk took us by Les Invalides, a hospital built by Louis XIV to take care of aging and injured soldiers and also provide these veterans a place to live.

I'm proud to report that we've finally reached an age where we don't pose for pictures by actually going to sit on top of the cannon.

After a beautiful walk through quiet streets, we reached our lunch pick, Cafe Constant (English version of the website at top right). I knew we were onto something when the place looked charming and smelled of espresso and baking, yet the only other people there were some old Frenchmen sipping beers and a Japanese couple excitedly translating the lunch menu and making their selections. Perhaps I'm biased, but in my experience a small group of Japanese tourists is usually a strong indicator that I'm going to enjoy something as well.

Unfortunately we didn't take any pictures of the place, and I'm reluctant to grab any from the internet and risk mis-citing the photographer. But if you search it in Google Images, you'll quickly get a good idea of the place. There were way too many dishes that sounded delicious, but Nisha and I both knew: a) we wanted some solidly French cooking; b) we were ordering 2 desserts.

I started with an espresso, which was smooth and non-bitter, but not particularly flavorful. I've now been almost 4 weeks without a really good coffee, and I don't know how much longer tea is going to tide me over! Nisha went the other direction entirely and got a glass of Viognier, because she's awesome. And because it actually was great to have as an occasional touch of acid to cut through the fatty (delicious!) food we were about to eat.

Since we were the first people there for lunch (it starts promptly at 12:00, and we arrived a few minutes early to wait at the bar), we were able to select a perfect table upstairs by the window. The view is nothing spectacular - a local dry cleaning shop - but the weather was the perfect temperature to sit inside but feel a breeze. From the moment we started in on the breads (one of which was sourdough, how we'd missed it!), we knew we were in for a treat.

For the savory portion of our meal, we shared a rabbit stuffed with foie gras and served with mushrooms, and tête, langue, et cervelle de veau croustillante, avec pommes vapeur et sauce gribiche - they had me at head, tongue, and brain.

The rabbit dish was very tasty, as I expect of foie gras, though they didn't quite solve the tough texture that rabbit generally has. The mushrooms that accompanied were awesome, salted enough to have a juicy flavor but still firm enough not to be slimy and the umami cut with citrus and garlic.

But my favorite was the veal. Each of the 3 parts was cooked perfectly, and served with just the right amount of coarse sea salt. If I had to pick a favorite, I would maybe go with the tongue, which managed to have a lightly crisp sear on the outside but still be melty and tender with each bite. Honestly none of the cuts needed a sauce, which I had actually not even paid attention to when I was ordering. But sauce gribiche, or at least the version here, turns out to be something great, and Nisha's promised to attempt a homemade version soon. Wikipedia tells me I should have expected "a mayonnaise-style cold egg sauce," but that hardly describes the bowl I received - finely diced bits of boiled egg in a lightly flavored oil with a ton of fresh herbs, and of course, again, with just the right amount of salt. I also thought it had a garlicky taste, but that could have just been the visual suggestion of all the egg white bits along with the taste imparted by the accompanying meats. In any case, it was delicious. If we go back, I'll be tempted to play  entirely against form and just order this thing again. Even the potatoes were intensely flavorful, and we were happy to sop up every remaining bit on the plate with a portion of bread we'd wisely saved for the end of the meal.

For dessert we had two similar dishes - a crème brûlée and an ile flottante, served with salted caramel sauce in a vanilla creme. The first dish was a classic, but well executed. I never tire of chipping with my spoon through the burnt sugar layer on top and getting the perfect piece to crunch between my teeth with the soft creme. The second was something we hadn't eaten before - a marshmallow-like pile of mousse, but we're generally going to order anything that offers salted caramel. The flavors were not that different between the desserts, but it was fun to taste how preparation style gives different texture to very similar ingredients, and in any case we again left the plates utterly cleaned.

If our experience is any indication of how the restaurant usually cooks, I would highly recommend Cafe Constant. Mid-day lunch can be had for 16€, plus it's an easy place to navigate in English without having to give in and eat tourist food.

I'm honestly exhausted, stuffed, and weirdly hungry after writing about this meal, so I'll leave with just a few snapshots of the rest of our Sunday afternoon in Paris, walking around Montmartre. Nisha covered the evening already, our visit to the Musee Bourdelle.

At least we weren't the only ones tired out by the walk up to Sacre-Coeur. And the view was worth it!

I guess it's not too tough to find beautiful views in Paris, especially when all my pictures are of Nisha!

Meanwhile, Nisha stops to capture the artfully lonely streets  (just blocks away from tourist madness!)...

... while her husband stares wistfully and listens to the old hand-crank player in the park.


  1. I am totally loving your blog and so completely jealous of your life right now! Can't wait to hear all about your future adventures and hope that we can visit at some point this year:)

  2. Hey Kristy!! Thanks for the compliment - especially coming from a world traveler such as yourself. Keeping my fingers crossed that you and Ben make it here at some point this year. Miss you!! PS- love the pictures of ya'll hiking dragon's tooth...makes me miss beautiful VA! :o)

  3. Thanks for posting the review of the cafe....we actually had it on our list of places to try. It's right on the corner near our apt....we're staying on the Rue St. Dominique. Thanks for getting us excited for Paris!