Seven continents, seven seas, seven billion people and seven thousand good eats …

Les Cocottes, eating near Eiffel Tower

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Neighbor with a morning cup of coffee and cigarette

Neighbor with a morning cup of coffee and cigarette

One nice thing about traveling from San Francisco to Paris is the hour you wake up on the very first day  – it was three in the morning for us. Paris is beautifully lit and quiet at that time. We waited eagerly for our first taste of croissant and coffee at the neighborhood cafe. Early signs of dawn breaking are the activities around these breakfast cafes. Morning load of pastries and bread arrives, the chairs are placed out, the waiters share a few moments over their morning cigarettes. I notice a neighbor popping her head out of, what I assume to be, her bathroom window for a smoke.

Dressed in our freshly bought European style attire, we headed out. After a week, my beautiful shoes and the cobblestone paths of Paris parted ways but not on the first day. We decided to combine the two most quintessential symbols of Paris, Siene and Eiffel tower in one shot, walk along Siene to Eiffel tower. From Place Michel Debre to Blvd Saint-Germain to Rue De Bac to river Seine. Even with our hundred stops for photographs, we were near the tower in a couple of hours. Does a slow saunter work up an appetite? No. But sight of delicious pastries from the storefront definitely does.

Cafe near Les Cocottes

While waiting for Les Cocottes to open

Canelés, baked flour cakes soaked in syrup

Canelés, baked flour cakes soaked in syrup

While waiting for Les Cocottes to open, we walked into a cafe opposite for a cup of coffee. Fantastic coffee and canelés. Dense and syrupy, canelés reminded us of a childhood taste from India, malpua. Malpua has a different form factor but I expect that the ingredients are very similar – my partner and I both had memories of our mothers standing over hot stoves, pouring ladles of batter into a wok, frying the pancakes until the edges turned crackly and then soaking the pancakes in sugar syrup for a brief moment of time. If one can eat jalebi in Paris, why not malpua?  And why not wait for dessert at Les Cocottes? In Paris, it is best to split savory part of the meal and desserts at different places. Not because desserts at restaurants aren’t good but because desserts at the pastry shops are better. On this day, we had dessert before the meal, so what?

Les Cocottes Interior

Les Cocottes Interior

Shrimp in cream and butter

Shrimp in cream and butter

Caesar salad

Caesar salad

Chicken and risotto

Chicken and risotto

Stuffed pig feet

Stuffed pig feet

Christian Constant of Les Cocottes is honored for the gastro-bistro tradition in Paris. We were worried that we won’t get reservation but at noon, we had our pick of seats. An hour later, there was a long wait outside in spite of the drizzling rain. Meal started with seafood and vegetables in cream and butter. Perfect. Next was a caesar salad, elegant in its simplicity and execution.

Before the trip to Paris, we read many french cookbooks discussing the perfectness of Parisian salads. But coming from San Francisco Bay Area, the salads didn’t seem particularly exciting. Here in Bay Area, the queen of salads is Alice Waters. At her restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, it feels as if she has a team of interns, wiping each leaf dry and then spraying each one uniformly with a coating of vinaigrette.  At farmer’s markets in the Bay Area, the variety of salad leaves is overwhelming and the freshness indisputable. So, if one takes the trouble of making a vinaigrette and then shaking like a mad man, the salad leaves in a covered bowl with the vinaigrette, one can be assured of an excellent salad.

One of the main courses was chicken with risotto and that swept us off our feet. Cooked in clarified butter, aka ghee, this had a heartwarming savoriness. The risotto was creamy, and chicken was cooked to perfection. Unlike chicken in California and perhaps most parts of US, chicken in rest of the world appear skinnier on the plate. Nothing to do with the fat or the age of the chicken, just the amount of tissue is vastly different. Perhaps something to do with the genetic makeup. While I can source better tasting free range chicken in the farmer’s markets around Bay Area, our propensity for using olive oil in cooking doesn’t allow us to reach the depth of flavor that can be had from ghee based cooking.

Ghee and chicken complement each other well. It is like bacon that adds a rich dimension of flavor. It also helped that the dish reminded us of a ghee roasted chicken we had on our last trip to Bangalore. There, it was a warm night, an open terrace, cane chairs, cool glasses of rum laced with sugar cane juice, and air aromatic with star anise, and curry leaves. Here, it was a cool day, made cooler by the drizzling rain outside, sitting on high chairs in a modern bistro sipping a delicious glass of red wine. And if I craned my neck out, I swear I could see Eiffel tower.

Between the coming and going of our friendly waitress, I noticed a fashionably clad woman in red who seemed to be attracting all pairs of eyes on her. Parisian? Perhaps. What do I know except stereotypes? She was skinny and her shoes were uncomfortable. But red is supposedly not the color of a fashionably dressed Parisian woman. The rest of the tables were occupied by American tourists. No, I am not surprised. Any place David Lebovitz writes about ends up being full of American tourists.

The highlight of the meal was a main course – potatoes stuffed with minced pig feet. Pig is an animal that is full of surprises. From a fried slice of aromatic bacon on your plate, you wouldn’t expect the feet to be so mild in flavor. The lightness of the mince was perhaps chef’s doing. Any competent cook can do wonders with the best parts of the animal but only the great chefs do wonders with off cuts. I honestly wish Americans won’t be queasy over the meats they eat. Once an animal is butchered, is it not honorable to eat it in its entirety? Head to tail cooking is fairly limited where I live except for a few fearless restaurants like Incanto. So we were delighted. Our thousand thanks to Les Cocottes for elevating pig’s feet to haute cuisine.

Written by Som

November 27, 2010 at 1:57 am

2 Responses

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  1. […] in Paris. It was colder than last time and a lot less sunny. Not much appeared to have changed for Les Cocottes in two years. We were still one of the first people to arrive at the restaurant and were seated at […]

  2. […] mille-feuille, minced pig’s feet stuffed in small potatoes at Christian Constants’ Les Cocottes, Joël Robuchon’s langoustini ravioli with truffle sauce to name a few. Le Reminet by Seine, […]

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