Metro Station: Ecole Militaire
Type of cuisine: French
Days & hours of operation: Mon to Sun noon – 2:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.
Credit card: Visa, MasterCard, American Express
Christian Constant is the proprietor and head chef of four acclaimed restaurants on rue Saint-Dominique, including Le Violon d’Ingres. The restaurant has a modern olive-green façade with an awning that boldly displays its name. We stepped inside to a long and rather narrow space containing three dining rooms. The first room has a table d’hôte where one may dine in a family-style atmosphere on tall stools around a communal table.
Our table was in the next room, where our friends were already seated across from the bar. Here, wall benches and chairs are upholstered in ivory-colored vinyl. Cream-colored table runners on light-wood tables complement the setting. Brasserie-style coat racks are affixed to the walls so that one can stash one’s overcoat while dining. The narrowness of the restaurant and the presence of coat racks over the tables give the room the appearance of a comfortable railroad car.
While we were sipping kir royals, the waiter produced two different types of amuse-bouche for us to nibble on. One was a savory choux pastry called gougère, the other a tiny pizza. Both whetted our appetites, which was the point of it all.
For the starter, I selected Pithiviers de gibiers à plumes et à poils, sauce Grand Veneur. A Pithvier is a puff-pastry pie, and in this case it was a generous slice stuffed with boar, partridge, and doe. These game meats did not at all taste gamey—the meat had been ground and prepared with other ingredients to produce a moist and tender mixture. Sauce Grand Veneur is a huntsman’s sauce, and it added hearty flavor to the dish. I learned later that Grand Veneur is prepared with red-currant jelly, which accounts for its slightly sour taste.
My partner had the Bouillon d’herbes potagères, cuisses de grenouilles à l’aix doux. This was a light and frothy vegetable broth served atop three ravioli stuffed with small pieces of diced frog legs. Even tinier croutons gave the dish an interesting texture. My partner enjoyed this dish, as much because it was light as because it was flavorful.
Adhering to the theme of game, I ordered Palombe en crapaudine poêlée à l’os, pommes de terre en robe des champs, griffées au jus truffé for the main course. I was served a wood pigeon cooked rare that had been flattened and sautéed in a pan. It was accompanied with slices of small potatoes roasted in their skins, all served with a truffle-flavored sauce. The pigeon was succulent and flavorful. A finger bowl was placed alongside my plate in the event that I wanted to nibble at the bones.
My partner ordered the rôtisserie of the day, which the waiter announced in English was pork chop served with sucrine lettuce and stuffed cabbage. When she received her plate, she noted that the cut of meat was in fact not a chop, but rather, a lean cut of meat with no bone. Still, the copious portion was quite tasty, and she ate every bite!
Light and dark country breads were served as well as a plate of toasted country bread. Alongside, a serving dish containing a great slab of lightly-salted butter was an invitation to adorn our bread with liberal applications of the rich dairy product.
The choice for the wine accompaniment was difficult because everybody had selected different types of main courses. To try to accommodate the different dishes, I ordered a bottle of Sancerre – Lucien Crochet – La Croix du Roy, a fairly light-bodied wine with a raspberry bouquet. Although I enjoyed the wine, I found it too light for my wood-pigeon dish. The pigeon would have benefitted from a medium-bodied wine.
The dessert menu gave me opportunity to try something that I have never tried before: Mont-Blanc glacé aux marrons comme autrefois. The wide-brimmed, shallow dish that I was served contained a dessert consisting of a foundation of cooked meringue upon which rested a scoop of chestnut ice cream; a layer of squiggly chestnut spread; a layer of candied chestnut; all topped by spun sugar. Oh, did I forget to mention that the meringue had been drizzled with dark chocolate syrup? This dessert was not only delicious, but also fun to eat, because each layer revealed different texture and flavor.
My partner ordered Tarte des Demoiselles Tatin, crème crue fermière which is one of her favorite desserts. It too was topped by spun sugar, and was served with a large dollop of clotted cream. The apple chunks were generous and warm through and through, to the delight of my partner, who often finds that Tarte Tatin served in restaurants is hot on the outside but cold the in the middle, due to incomplete reheating of the pie.
For an after-dinner drink, we ordered Sauternes and Muscat, both sweet wines. We were surprised, though, that the wines were served in standard size wine glasses, rather than small ones. I could not finish mine because it was too generous a portion.
The service was attentive, friendly, and helpful. Our waiter brought over the label of the Sancerre wine that we had ordered when I mentioned to him that I wanted to note the name.
We did not see the final bill, because our friends paid for the dinner. However, to give an indication for the cost for two, we estimate that it came to 157€ for two starters, two main courses, two desserts, and a half-bottle of wine. We did not note the prices of the before and after-dinner wines.
Travelers whose budgets cannont accommodate these prices will find great fare served at lower rates at the nearby Les Cocottes and Café Constant, both run by Christian Constant.
Tom Reeves has been a confirmed Francophile since he first traveled to France in 1975. A native of northern California, he moved to France permanently in 1992. Reeves’ love of French language and culture inspired him to create Discover Paris!, a travel planning service that caters to Americans interested in cultural travel to Paris. His book, Paris Insights – An Anthology, has been called “the kind of insider’s view of the French capital…that first or even second time visitors pine for.” He publishes a monthly newsletter entitled Paris Insights about history, culture, and contemporary life in the City of Light, and posts daily information about the French capital on Facebook.