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Monday, May 17, 2004

Les Fables de la Fontaine: A lovely fishy lunch chez Constant

April 28th, 2004

042804LesFablesdelaFontaineAnother place on my must-try list this week is the newest addition to chef Christian Constant's plan to take over rue St.Dominique. His latest venture is a casual seafood restaurant, just on the other side of his flagship, Le Violon d'Ingres, from his other small place Café Constant.

I really liked Café Constant when I was there in August. I had a lovely plate of calf liver, cooked rare in a vinaigrette sauce with plenty of chopped chives, and a simple yet fantastic tarte aux mirabelles. Mirabelle is a type of tiny yellowish-green prunes from Lorraine that is perfect for fruit tarts as they are sweet, but with a good level of acidity, and extremely fragrant. The mirabelles alone are almost a good enough reason to put up with tourists in France in August.

With that lovely experience from the café, I decided to give his newest experiment a try. The new place, Les Fables de la Fontaine, is a tiny little room with barely ten small tables to fill the place. The room decor, to keep up with the seafood theme of the food, is in bright shades blue and white, adding to the cheery atmosphere.

I ordered two dishes, Oyster Tartare to start, then St.Jacque Rôties au beurre demi-sel (roasted scallops in lightly salted butter).

The restaurant served a sort of amuse of toasts with somewhat pungent parsley and garlic butter. The parsley butter tasted somewhat like the herbed butter commonly used on escargots. The toasts were nice, but nothing exciting really.

042804OysterTartareMy starter was oyster tartare, which, in fact, was oyster and salmon tartare. The tartare was very good, fresh tasting, with the sweetness from both the salmon and the oysters, and spiked with a little fresh ginger. The look of the thing, on the other hand, was not so nice. The small gray bits of oysters studded throughout the salmon looked a bit, well, umm, why don't you see for yourself? I liked the dish a lot, nonetheless.

042804StJacquesThe second course, St.Jacque Rôties au beurre demi-sel, was also lovely. The scallops were extremely fresh and sweet, though a bit on the small-ish side. The butter on the scallops was also just bit too acidic. Someone in the kitchen was just a tad heavy-handed on the lemon. But even the acidity didn't ruin the sweet, fresh, and perfectly cooked scallops for me. I was just sad that I found the butter too acidic to mop it all up with my bread. Oh well.

042804BrieAfter dinner, I was shown a fabulous looking Brie de Meaux from Ile de France. I was full, but couldn't resist. The cheese was fantastic, just perfect ripeness. The texture is firm yet unctuous, and the taste was much more flavorful than the other brie I've had lately.

I had a glass of lovely and slightly acidic Sancerre, a perfect accompaniment to my food. I didn't take down the name, but it was in the by-the-glass menu.

042804tartefineauxfraises042804danslafenetreI also couldn't pass up the desserts, which were put tantalizingly on display at the window just in front of my table. When I first arrived, I saw a line of uniformed waiters, evidently from Le Violon, bringing tray after tray of fabulous looking desserts. How could I not have a taste? So, full as I was, I ordered a beautifully simple tarte fine aux fraises. The tart was lovely, with a base of crispy puff pastry and a delectable layer of vanilla pastry cream, topped with beautiful strawberries. It was quite nice, even though the strawberries could stand to be just a bit more ripe. Or, perhaps I was just expecting too much so early in the season?

All three restaurants on rue St.Dominique are so clearly a labor of love for both chef and Madame Constant. Both times I was at the café and Les Fables, I saw the chef popping in and out multiple times to check on things and exchange pleasantries with his diners. Once he came by my table squinting at the unfinished piece of liver with a mischievous grin on his face, asking provocatively if I didn't like his food. I, of course, took a break from my pause and dutifully finished off the plate in three bites. Never mind that I had dinner at L'Arpège the night before and lunched chez Robuchon earlier the same day, under his gaze, I would have much rather sneaked the rest of the food into my new bag than leaving it on the plate for him to see.

Madame Constant, a willowy woman with a regal Hermès scarf, was also a constant presence (pun intended, ha ha), at both places. She was the one who served both the cheese and dessert courses for me at Les Fables, smiling and nodding bien sûr sympathetically when I said yes to the cheese but asked for a toute petite morceau.

The café, especially, has such a good mix of people, some were obviously high-rolling Le Figaro readers who came because of the reputation of the chef and the high score from the paper, while others were so obviously ouvriers, blue collar workers, who just thought of the place as a nice inexpensive place in their neighborhood. And both the chef and Mme Constant were just as pleasant and friendly to all of them.

Just my kind of place, and my kind of people.

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