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Jan 16, 2011 12:21 PM

Constant restaurants - which one?

For our first night in Paris in September, we are planning on having dinner at either Les Cocottes or Café Constant or Le Violon d'Ingres in the 7th. I think only Le Violon d'Ingres accepts reservations and I usually regard that as a plus. But we are planning an early dinner that night and plan to arrive at opening time for dinner - so I don't think a reservation or not is as critical in this decision.

Which of these three restaurants would you recommend if you have to pick only one of the three for dinner? Could anyone give me a "compare and contrast" about their differences and which is thought to be the best, which is more formal / casual and so forth?

Your assistance is much appreciated! Merci!

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  1. Violon is definitely the most formal although nothing like it was when it first opened. Cocottes is mostly seating at a bar with a few small tables with high chars, seems designed to turn tables quickly. Cafe is in between but is still quite informal.

    Food and service at Violon are a distinct cut above the other places.

    14 Replies
    1. re: f2dat06

      I agree with above. If price is not an issue, I would go to Violon. Otherwise, I prefer the cooking at Cafe Constant.

      1. re: Nancy S.

        If you arrive from overseas, just don't forget you'll be suffering from jet lag and a longer meal could be sort of a pain.
        If you decide for Le Violon, I'd do that on a different day and go to the Café Constant.
        Les Cocottes with the high chairs (I do not like them) might not be that comfortable either on your first evening.

        1. re: Dodo

          Our first night in Paris will actually be our 5th night in Europe having spent the prior five days in Germany and Reims. So jet lag shouldn't be an issue and will be our big meal of the day since we are taking the train to Paris from Reims that morning and settling into our hotel in Paris.

          I think I'm hearing that if price is less of an issue, Le Violon is the better choice. I imagine we will mostly order la carte instead of a fixed menu as the wife is not very adventuresome in her dining and can be easy to get a course or two she won't eat with a fixed menu. From that perspective, would Café Constant or Le Violon be the better choice?

          1. re: Traveling Boudreaux

            I would say that Violon is the better choice.

            1. re: Traveling Boudreaux

              Violon for sure. There is really not a set menu at Violon, three course seems like if 49e but there is no pressure to order 3 courses, only 2 if you like, either entree + plat or plat + dessert. I guess you could just take a plat as well. This is a smoothly run very professional restaurant but is not really gastronomic destination anymore. When Constant first opened it he seemed to be trying to replicate what he had at the Crillion. They reformatted to more casual I think in 2005 and since then the set menus, etc are gone. But it is still quite good, so do not let this stop you from going. If you know NY I would compare Violon today to DB Bistro Modern versus Violon of the past to Daniel.

              1. re: f2dat06

                Thank you all very much. I think we will make it Violon. Will I feel out of place or insult my host at Violon if I were to wear only a nice shirt and slacks but no jacket?

                Which I guess sort of leads to an even broader question - how in Paris does a gentlemen decide that a jacket (or jacket and tie) is appropriate va. only a nice shirt and slacks and dress shoes? I'd rarely ever wear jeans or shorts or sneakers anywhere (unless I'm exercising) and won't even bring any of those with me to Paris. But I also would not typically wear a jacket (much less jacket and tie) for dinner either except when it is appropriate to the host or I am in the mood to be more dressy for a special occasion.

                Any guidelines you can give an American tourist about what to wear in Paris to appropriately honor his host and fellow diners?

                1. re: Traveling Boudreaux

                  You will be OK without a jacket but many men will most likely have one. My personal rule is 1 stars = jacket, 2 and 3 stars = jacket and tie, but that is just me.

                  1. re: Traveling Boudreaux

                    When you're in Paris and sitting in a restaurant, count the ties. Most of the time they will be worn at business lunches by men who have to follow a dress code at their office, not a a restaurant.
                    Then count the jeans, sneakers, open collars, sweaters, etc. You may be surprised.

                    I am rarely believed when I say there is no such thing as a dress code in Paris (except for some tiny remaining pockets of formality) and very little of it left in France allover. But that won't keep me from saying it.

                    1. re: Ptipois

                      I agree: I don't think there's a strong movement for formally enforced dress codes in France. Yes, there is an implicit dress code in the sense that you will be able to make superficial, broad but probably reasonably accurate inferences as to people's backgrounds, class, etc based on what they are wearing. But I don't think that it is as clear-cut as 'what you have to wear where' in France. Clearly going to a nice restaurant in your gym clothes would not be on. But the whole ties and jackets thing is more a matter of personal choice. I just wear what I will feel comfortable in, in terms of feeling good about how I look (as a woman, though, I'll admit it's more vague).

                      1. re: Ptipois

                        Totally agree about the ties. I only had a suit and tie on when I entertained business visitors or lunched with colleagues from the office. I also agree 99% of restaurants don't have a dress code although a few do. Tour d'Argent caught me out and I had to borrow one of their jackets and ties (they had a good selection!).

                        But I disagree about there being no overall dress code in Paris. It isn't an official or formal code, instead it results from the generally high standards of dress in Paris. There are always exceptions, always people who get fashion wrong, and always those with dubious taste, but on the whole, Parisians dress very well.

                        Certainly there is no need for a formal jacket, but I always felt more comfortable if I wore one at good restaurants. It could be a wrinkled linen one at a more casual place or a more formal cashmere one at a highly starred place. It helped me fit in, and feel comfortable in my surroundings.

                        I also feel you get the best out of a restaurant experience if you show respect. To me this means dressing-up a bit, good manners, being punctual etc etc. Nothing earth shattering but I feel it helps form the relationship with the FOH team which helps me get the best out of any restaurant. Strictly necessary, possibly not; nice to do, definitely; all in mind, maybe!

                        1. re: PhilD

                          Of course you're right. After all it is difficult for a French person to be objective about the local sense of fashion, since it is instinctive and there's not much reasoning in it. As a Parisian I instantly know if someone is dressed right or not. But my perception of it is different from what someone from the US, UK or Australia, etc., would feel. Also I never have a chance to go to the last few stiff places remaining, like La Tour d'Argent. All the two-stars or three-stars I've been to were rather relaxed places.

                          When I say there is no dress code in France, that really means the dress code is quite different from what, say, North Americans perceive as a dress code. It also does not mean one shouldn't dress up a bit when going to a restaurant. But in France, being overdressed is probably more frowned upon than being slightly underdressed.

                          1. re: Ptipois

                            Ptipois, thank you for your insight.

                            Are saying that, except for those haute restaurants that specfically require a jacket and tie for men, you would consider a suit and tie at dinner for any man visiting Paris as "overdressed"? And are there any restaurants like those most often recommended here on CH where Parisians would consider adding a jacket to dressy slacks and shirt to be overdressed?

                            Thank you again for indulging my curiosity.

                            1. re: Traveling Boudreaux

                              A suit and tie, not overdressed, but not necessary either.
                              As for the jacket question, it mostly depends on the season, but there's jacket as part of a suit and jacket of the type you wear everyday and therefore at the restaurant too.
                              Really what I am trying to convey is that Americans (judging by how often the question is asked) generally put too much emphasis about how to dress in Paris restaurants and while doing this, miss the point. When they ask about the dress code, they have their mind set on suit, jacket and tie when the real issue is not that, it is simply not to dress in tourist gear, avoid shorts, fanny packs and baseball caps, it's as simple as that. Also, for ladies, it is better to wear good jeans and a nice top than a skirt suit that looks like it was cut from the curtains. That's what I meant by "overdressed". That's just as much dress code there is.

                              On the other hand you will see far more suits and ties at restaurants which are not "haute" at all but simply located in a business area like the Triangle d'Or (Champs-Elysées, George-V, etc.) No dress code, it only reflects the local activity.

                              I would like to know which haute restaurants specifically require a jacket and tie for men, for I cannot identify them. If I recollect my memories of L'Arpège, Le Meurice, L'Arnsbourg (the last three stars I've been at) and Le Cinq, I have seen a lot of men wearing jeans or casual pants, a shirt with open collar or a small scarf, and a jacket, but not a different jacket than the one they wear everyday. More suit and ties at Le Cinq however.

                              1. re: Ptipois

                                Very well said. I often see people on the street and wonder aloud why they had packed that shirt or those particular shorts. It has to do with dressing as one would for any European city rather than for American suburbs. Casual is fine so long as it doesn't come off like an unmade bed.

                                My husband has all but given up packing good slacks, having switched to what we jokingly call "dress 501s": newish, starched and creased. He packs only collared shirts. In winter, he adds a woolen sportcoat, in summer a scrunched linen one. Leather shoes. Even in jeans, he always looks in place.

          2. I go to Paris often and I stay in the 7th near the Constant restaurants and often tell both Catherine and Christian that they feed me when in Paris!! I most always go to Les Cocottes upon arrival day, unless the airlines messes me up! I know that if I do not have some reservations for another spot that I can always go to Cafe or Cocottes when they open, and get a table. Les Cocottes only has the bar stools and you may find for a long eveing dinner that they become uncomfortable.

            Violon is reservations only and their premiere restaurant. You may have read how they outdid themselves with a spcial menu for my group for Thanksgiveing! Quite, quite special. This is now an annual affair for a very select group.

            I find that I am so spoiled by having them so near..hard to find better food anywhere else and you may well find that the chef in the 'other' places have learned from Christian at one time or another. I do go to special places..lilke Spring....3 reservations last trip and one being set up now for my April/May trip coming up.

            But, the Constant restaurants are a go for anyone, anytime, IMO