Since Courtney and I had no particular plan for our lucky present of an extra day we slept in. We woke up around 11 and didn’t get moving until around 12. Courtney did a lot of research about good restaurants in the area. She discovered a place called Cafe Constant, which I had also heard about in my Internet surfing. It got rave reviews and was in our neighborhood. We showered and went.
The place was packed. We asked for a table of two and the host/bartender looked skeptical, but luckily there happened be one open table upstairs. We went up there and were hit by the smells and sights of the other diners’ meals. I began to get excited. This certainly seemed like it would be a memorable meal. I went to the bathroom and came back to the most impressive menu that I have ever seen in my entire life. I wanted to eat literally every single item on it. The specials were escargot, lobster ravioli or sea urchin for appetizers and either crispy head, tongue and cheek of veal, crispy langoustines or pigeon cooked in foie gras. These were just the specials. The regular menu had an equally desirable list of foods ranging from pumpkin soup, to truffled eggs, to veal, to foie gras and mushroom stuffed quail. I opted for the pumpkin soup and pigeon (I had wanted to try pigeon for many years) and Courtney went for the escargot and the quail. Of course we also got a bottle of wine.
We got our appetizers which were displayed quite elegantly. My soup was in this cool, misshapen bowl and Courtney’s escargot were served rustically in the pan. Admittedly her escargot were a bit disappointing (they were served in cherry tomatoes which really took away from the glory of the snail flavor), but my soup was out of control. It was creamy and pumpkiny. It was sweet, yet savory. It was dotted with chestnuts and croutons. Every bite was an adventure and a journey for the taste buds; one that always ended in unbelievable contentness. For those of you who like to eat, get the soup of the house whenever at a French restaurant. It’s most always the right decision. Courtney and I savored every bite including using their beautiful baguette to wipe up the leftovers.
For the first time in our relationship Courtney and I ordered similar main dishes. Her quail was served on a bed of lentils, as was my pigeon. The small birds had a similar flavor but the pigeon was gamier. The breast was succulent and delicious but the wings and legs were difficult to eat and required me to tear at with my teeth. The lentils were extraordinary and helped cut the gamey texture and flavor of the pigeon. Court’s quail was definitely better (I loved her stuffing) but still the meal was great. I tried pigeon and would try it again, but it was not my favorite. For desert Courtney got some sort of ultra chocolatey dish with croquettes of chocolate served in a pool of cream anglaise (a type of vanilla cream). I, reluctantly because I was stuffed, ordered the apple tart. OMG. My fullness evaporated as the still crisp, yet sweetened from cooking, on top of amazing flaky crust and dipped in caramel hit my taste buds. This was the best French apple tart that I’ve ever had, and I’ve eaten many an apple tart in my life. We left around 3 beyond stuffed and walked home instead of taking the subway.
On the way to Cafe Constant I noticed another restaurant on the list of possibilities on my iPhone’s Google map. It is called Au Petit Sud Ouest and it lay almost directly on our path home. Once there I looked at the menu outside and realized that this place was a temple to duck. The entire menu involved duck in one form or another. Courtney was inside looking to buy some sort of food present for her people at home. I smiled. Courtney loves duck and this would be the perfect final meal on which to depart the city. Even though neither of us could even imagine being hungry I went inside and asked when they closed. The nice old couple who ran the place told me ten and I asked if reservations were necessary. They told me, rather modestly, that reservations were a good idea. We made them for 9:30, and went home for a much needed nap and homework time.
Before going out to eat we met up with one of Courtney’s friends from school, Sepanta, who is studying for the year in Paris! We traded stories over a drink and had a wonderful time. Courtney and I then walked to our final Parisian restaurant, but neither of us were thinking in that way. It was only the next meal in our great vacation. The night was cool and it finally felt like fall had arrived. The breeze made us shiver a bit, but we didn’t mind. I love the fall. It might be my favorite season because it brings about so many fond memories of childhood in Connecticut. I love the changing leaves and I love the temperature. It reminds me of playing basketball outside after school. It reminds me of apple picking. It reminds me of warm family dinners that kept the chill at bay.
And that’s exactly where we were headed; a warm comfort meal to keep the autumn chill at bay. What a wonderful life! The restaurant was adorable. Everything was wooden. It was small and the door to the kitchen was made out of corks! Every table had a toaster because the idea was to eat whatever form of duck you might have with toasted bread. We ordered a bottle of wine (of course) and then proceeded to drool at the menu. There were so many forms of duck to choose from, whether foie gras, breast, confit, cassoulet or other concoctions. I knew from the outset that I wanted the cassoulet and I was fairly certain Courtney would want the confit. I was right. She ordered it with mushrooms and potatoes. For the appetizer we went for the foie gras (fresh) with the black truffle sauce. When that plate came out both of us stared at in awe.
It was three pieces of foie gras perfectly seared and surrounding by what seemed to be a quite intense sauce of black truffles. I sliced off a piece for Courtney and a piece for me. We put it on our toasted bread and took a bite. Fresh foie gras is a completely different entity than the paté. The texture is like eating fat. It is light and disappears in your mouth almost upon impact. The flavor is more mild than paté but still delivers the desired uniqueness of foie gras. The sauce was not as intense as I had imagined and I had some trouble actually identifying the truffle flavor but it was there, mild and hidden in the background, as to not overpower the duck liver. Per usual it was one of the best dishes that I have ever eaten.
Our second course was exactly as spectacular in its ducky goodness. My cassoulet was outrageously good. There were tons of pieces of duck confit, at least three duck sausages and a plethora of white beans, all swimming in an extremely flavorful, slightly thick, cooking liquid. It was warm and delicious. It was the perfect dish for fall. My belly warmed up as the stew bowl slowly emptied. Even though my home cooking has rarely had the same level of, and layers of, flavor of the cassoulet, the first bite instantly brought me to a cool autumn evening in Connecticut watching the leaves change. Maybe it was the cool night, maybe it was the comfort and security I generally feel when around Courtney, but that meal transported me back to America. Comfort food…it does that.
Courtney’s confit was excellent but did not top the duck confit at Balthazar in Manhattan which sat atop a sauce of mushrooms. Hers, instead, sat next to mushrooms and potatoes without any sauce. It could have used a tiny bit of sauce to accentuate the meal and liven it up, but regardless it tasted marvelous. Then we ordered desert. Well, Courtney ordered desert. I was too full, but the one bite of creme brûlée which I managed to eat was delicious. We hung out for a bit until we were about the last ones in the restaurant before going back to the apartment to sleep.