Les Cocottes de Christian Constant
Les Cocottes often gets described as a local version of an American-style diner. I don’t know if that’s true. For one thing, everyone speaks French. And for another, there were no snappy apron-clad waitresses pouring bottomless cups of coffee, no trucks parked outside, and no plumber-cracks hanging over the backside of the stools. After all, this is Paris, ya’ know.
In fact, Les Cocottes sits on a pretty prestigious piece of land, in the seventh arrondissement, not known for good-value restaurants, or truckers. But Les Cocottes is a good value, and what makes it even better, the food is worth every centime.
Since there were three of us, instead of being seated at the counter, we were led to a high table, to share with two Chanel bag-toting women. (I didn’t look, but I’m sure there were no exposed anythings behind them.) We started with a few starters, including a copious Vraie salade César Ritz.
Served in a cast-iron Staub cocotte, like the main dishes to follow, this version was cool, crunchy and creamy, perfectly prepared; bits of tender chicken, ice-cold lettuce, and hard-cooked eggs, with a housemade garlicky dressing spooned over the top. It was priced at around €10, and while eating it, I wondered why the other cafés around town, which serve salads for the same price, have such a difficult time making a simple salad without resorting to canned corn, rice, bottled dressing, and the other stuff they can’t seem to help piling on the plates?
Les Cocottes is in a chic quartier, sitting on a pricey piece of land, full-staffed, and with a kitchen full of honest-to-goodness cooks in whites running about. They got all the elements just right. And while it wasn’t a classic Caesar Salad, they get brownie points for pointing out that it’s an alternative version. It was pretty great and I’d certainly brave the crowds lined up here for just for another one of those salads.
The main courses are all served en cocotte, each in an aforementioned Staub casserole, which are available for purchase, lest you feel compelled to stick one discreetly in your purse. The chicken fricassée was a creamy stew with a moist leg of chicken nestled amongst pearl onions, mushrooms and a hint of smoked pimente d’Espelette adding a faint suggestion of heat, flecked over the top. Most of the cocottes on the menu were hovering €15, with specials climbing a bit higher.
We finished by splitting La fabuleuse tarte au chocolate de Christian Constant, which was kinda agreed wasn’t all that fabuleuse: one dining companion compared it to chocolate pudding pie. That’s normally not such a bad thing, but la tarte was lacking the intense deep-dark chocolate flavor we were craving, and that its dense color promised. The crème chantilly, however, was fabuleuse.
With a no-reservations (and no clipboard) policy, there’s often a wait because of the popularity of Les Cocottes. We arrived at what I assumed was the sensible hour of 1:45pm for lunch, yet the place was packed and we faced a thirty minute wait. Luckily the crew is on top of things and keep an eye on who’s next. One can order wine, which is very reasonably priced by the carafe, and wait for seats. I recommend stopping by near the beginning or end of service, though, to avoid the wait.
When we left, I noticed the crew cleaning the kitchen until it was spotless, and there wasn’t a bit of stainless steel that wasn’t gleaming. That’s always a sign of professionalism and dedication; cooks respectful of their working space. Plus the kitchen uses chervil, one of my favorite, but seriously underused, of all the fresh herbs. (Try some finely-chopped over your next salad and you’ll see what I’m talking about.) In the winter there’s usually a casserole of game on offer, for those of us who love le gibier.
Les Cocottes de Christian Constant
135, rue Saint-Dominique (7th)
Tél: 01 45 55 15 05
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