Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Dinner @ Les Cocottes, Paris

Les Cocottes.  Located only a 5 minute walk from the Eifel Tower.  Owned by a chef who owns a series of restaurants.  Open 7 days a week, for both lunch and dinner.  These should be the sort of details that lead me to never consider a restaurant.  Tourist areas are never known for their food being actually tasty.  Or reasonably priced.  And in Paris, a place open on Sundays?  Please.

Yet, as I did my research on places to eat in Paris, I kept seeing chef Christian Constant's establishments mentioned.  He owns 5 restaurants, all in the tourist areas, all different concepts.  All shockingly affordable.  All well regarded.

Hmmm.  I dug in more, and found out that he earned 2 Michelin stars at a previous high-end restaurant, and then branched out on his own, starting smaller, more casual, friendly restaurants focused on quality food in a nice atmosphere at a reasonable price.  So, throwing caution to the wind, Ojan and I set out to have a relaxed simple dinner at one of his restaurants: Les Cocottes.

The restaurant has a fairly simple concept: everything is cooked, and served, in casseroles.  So yes, now I'm adding on "concept restaurant" to the list of attributes that should scare me away.

I'm glad we took the risk, as it turned out to be exactly what we were looking for.  It was casual and comfortable, service was friendly and accepting of our non-French speaking, it was fast and efficient, and, tasty.  Highly recommended.

Setting

Counter Seating.
A long counter runs the length of the restaurant, with stools for seating along it.  This is the area we were seated, served by a bartender behind the bar.

At the far end of the restaurant was a chalkboard menu (although we were provided plastic laminated menus too, and in English!), and an open pass to the kitchen.
High Tables.
There weren't many seats besides the counter, but there were a few high tables with rather uncomfortable looking backless stools for groups.

Food & Drink

When we visited Les Cocottes, neither Ojan nor I were particularly hungry.  We were still feeling hungry at odd times of day due to jetlag, and I for one was not holding back when it came to eating all the pastries and sweets in sight, so I was basically indulging all day long.  I picked Les Cocottes partially because I knew it was casual, and hopefully they would be ok with us not each ordering a 3 course meal.

The menu broken into many sections, each with only a few options.  It was really easy to navigate.  To start, there were two salads, two soups, a few verrines, and three appetizer "suggestions".  For mains, everything is the signature cocottes, dishes cooked in cast iron casserole (four on the regular menu, plus another four "suggestions").  In addition, there was a soup of the day and a cocotte of the day.  The dessert section was the largest, with 10 options!  People say that they wish they could visit the restaurant just for dessert, the desserts are that good.  Desserts are everything you'd expect, including Christian Constant's famous chocolate tart,  chocolate mouse, seasonal fruit crumble, creme brûlée, and many more.  Oh, and fresh waffles served with a generous amount of chantilly cream, and chocolate and caramel for you to drizzle over.

Ojan wanted only a main, and I had my eyes on two starters, so we opted for a soup, a starter, and a single main dish to share between us.  The server didn't seem annoyed with us, with I appreciated.  Of course, we planned on getting dessert, because the dessert menu was so epic.  Sadly, by the time we reached the end of the meal, we just couldn't bring ourselves to eat more food.  Silly jetlag, and over-indulging all day long, getting in the way for more great food!
Vin de pays du Mont Caume Domaine Ray-Jan 2014. 5€.
The wine list was the most reasonable I encountered in Paris.  There were 4 whites and 4 reds available by the glass, all for 5€ or less.  These were also available in several carafe sizes.  Of course, a bottle menu was also available.

I asked for a recommendation based on my order, and the server first suggested a petit chablis, commenting that it was quite dry.  I tend to like less dry white wines, so I asked for an alternate, and wound up with this.

It was totally decent, not too dry but certainly not sweet, and it did go nicely with my meal.  The 5€ price blew me away.

 Les Cocottes was also the first place I saw not trying to sell bottled still water.  There were small cups at each place setting for tap water, which was given by default, using carafes that they kept stocked behind the bar.  Still, I opted for sparkling, since it is what I prefer, but I really appreciated that they weren't pushing pricey water on everyone.

Ojan went for a housemade french-style lemonade, quite sweet and tart, and he really enjoyed it.
Bread Basket.
Basically as soon as we ordered, a cute bread basket was placed in front of us, literally the only item NOT served in a cast iron casserole.

Inside were two slices of a darker, sourdough smelling, sliced bread that I avoided because I dislike sourdough, and 4 chunks of a pretty decent baguette.

As seems customary in France, no oil nor butter was served with the bread, and it wasn't served warm.  I'm usually so critical of places in the US for serving cold bread, or for not providing something to dip into, but, it makes sense here.  The baguettes are just so good you don't need them hot.  It was soft and fluffy on the inside, and crusty on the outside.  A proper baguette.

We mostly ignored the bread though, as we weren't very hungry, and saw no reason to fill up on bread.  That is, until our dishes arrived, and had the most amazing sauces ever.

We ended up devouring the entire bread basket, dunked into our dishes.  But more on that soon.
Bisque de crustacés à l’ancienne, chantilly combawa. 8€.
To start we opted for the seafood bisque, from the "les potages" section of the menu, where we had the choice of a daily soup special that involved melon so I couldn't pick it, or tomato gazpacho, both chilled.

I'm not normally one to eat soup, let alone order soup at a restaurant, but nearly every review I read talked about this amazing seafood bisque, so, I had to go for it.  Plus, I wanted a light meal, and so a soup to start seemed like a good idea (although I knew this wasn't going to be a light choice).

When it arrived, I took my first eager spoonful, and was quite confused.  It was ... cold?  I tried again, thinking perhaps only the top was lukewarm? No, stone cold.  Not at all what I was expecting.  Cold seafood bisque?  It was made even more strange given the fact that the server mentioned that the special soup was chilled, and the menu listed the gazpacho as chilled, but there was no indication anywhere that this one would be a cold dish.

Like all dishes at Les Cocottes, it was served in a cast iron casserole, which was placed on top of a wooden board.  Another reason I expected it to be a hot, comforting bisque.  I thought it was odd that no reviews mentioned the temperature either.

Anyway.  The bisque itself was smooth and creamy.  It had a subtle seafood flavor, not fishy, not overpowering, just quite lovely.  In the center was a VERY generous dollop of chantilly cream.  It was drizzled on top with a finishing oil and sprinkled with a red spice.  There were also a few tiny croutons sprinkled on top.  The croutons were crazy oily and fried, super crispy, which added a texture I liked, but I thought they were too oily.  Ojan however really liked them.

Overall, it was a nice bisque, but it was incedibly rich (before you even got to mixing in the cream).  I liked the cream too, but it was hard to each much of it.  Ojan described it well, when he took a few spoonfuls and said, "this is more amuse-bouche level of rich than full bowl".  He was right; a few spoonfuls was really delicious, but even if I was really hungry, I can't imagine eating a full bowl.  And, the portion really was quite large.

While neither of us could really handle this by the spoonful, we quickly discovered that it was fairly amazing when you dunked the crusty baguette in it.  I wanted to save room for my next dish, but I couldn't resist dunking more and more bread into the bisque.  I wasn't planning to fill up on bread!

So yes, a mild, nice enough bisque, and a huge portion for the 8€ price, but I wouldn't get it again.  I also still just don't understand why it was cold.
Ravioles de langoustines, mousseline d’artichauts. 16€.
For my main, I opted for a starter, again, another dish that I read rave reviews of:  langostine ravioli with artichoke mousseline.  And again, a bit of a strange choice for me ... I don't really like artichokes, and when do I ever love shrimp?  But, it sounded like a light option (particularly as it was actually a starter), and well, people loved it.  And again, the server had no problem with me ordering this as a main, and brought it alongside Ojan's main dish.

The ravioli, and the artichoke mousse, were both hidden under a thick, frothy foam.  Like the previous dish, it was finished with oil and a red spice.

The artichoke mousse was in the bottom of the dish.  It was creamy, but, well, I don't really like artichoke.  Whoops.  Luckily, it was easy to avoid this.

On top of the mousse were the raviolis, which were more like Asian-style dumplings than what I think of as ravioli.  The skins were thinner than Italian pasta dough and translucent.  Inside were large pieces of prawn, and you could see them through the wrappers.  The preparation of the ravioli was spot on, the wrapper soft, the prawn tender.  A very delicate dumpling basically.

The foam on top was amazing.  I don't know what it was exactly, but it was really flavorful.  The dumplings, with this foam-sauce, made for the perfect light dish I was looking for.  I also couldn't resist using more bread to get every last drop of that foam.  This is why the French don't serve butter or oil with their bread, right?  They have such amazing sauces with the dishes that you need some way to soak up!

Overall, I really liked this dish, and would totally order it again, and just ask for the artichoke to be left out.  The 16€ price was reasonable too, particularly given that I considered it a main dish.
Sauté d’agneau aux épices douces, carottes et navets. 22€.
Ojan wanted to order something from the "Les Cocottes" section of the menu, given that these are their specialty.  He had the choice of a risotto, cod, lamb, or vegetable cocotte from the regular menu, or the daily special of salmon.

Normally, I'd urge him to get the cod, but I really didn't want more food, and I had cod the previous couple days so I was a bit sick of it.  He was eyeing the lamb, and I don't like lamb, so I gladly encouraged him to go for it.

His was served in a cast iron casserole, and it was piping hot.  Inside were chunks of lamb, with potatoes, carrots, and turnips.  Very rustic style.

I didn't try it, but Ojan said he was impressed with how well cooked the lamb was.  It was tender, soft, well cooked down, and even the parts that were fatty were nicely braised.  The vegetables were a bit inconsistently cooked, but he actually liked that for texture.  The sauce was a bit too spicy for him, but not too bad.

Like all the dishes, it too was finished with oil.  In all cases, it wasn't an unappealing oil slick or anything, just a little drizzle which helped really enhance the flavors of the dishes.

Ojan liked this, and was quite satisfied by it.  The portion was large for 22€.
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