Les Fables de La Fontaine

A satellite star in the Christian Constant constellation on Rue Saint Dominique, this pocket-sized seafood bistro offers some of the very best seafood in all of Paris.  Owned by Sebastien Grave and David Bottreau, two former Constant lieutenants who now ably run the restaurant on their own, it remains true to the art of serving impeccably cooked seafood, with the quality just as high, if not higher, than when under ownership of Chef Constant.

This restaurant has a Michelin star for one reason:  the food.  The restaurant is so cramped and tiny, it is literally difficult to walk between tables as they all are within arms’-reach of each other.  The décor itself is Spartan, and the staff are casually dressed – wearing simple black aprons – no black tie or coat-tails here.  Situated right next to the Fontaine de Mars – a water fountain that used to serve as a watering hole for Napoleon’s Calvarie close to his horse stables at Ecole Militaire – the best time to come here is during the spring and fall – when the restaurant doubles in size with terrace seating outside.  Even on a blustery winter night, however, the lack of elbow room makes restaurant all the more cozy.

This remains a restaurant for Parisians, not tourists (like Fontaine de Mars next door, where President Obama came on a dinner date with his wife, First Lady Michelle), and you can still find Christian Constant dining here once in a while outside on the terrace, if he is not at one of his neighboring restaurants.  The lunch and dinner menu share the same items, except for the menu dégustation which is reserved for dinner.  Freshness, above everything else, is key, as seafood from the Brittany and Normandy is shipped from the early morning’s catch each day.

Oyster is king in France, as the French eat oysters like they eat baguettes.  And, as with baguettes, not all oysters are created equal.  Although fresh oysters are merely shucked, not cooked, the selection of oysters, including the type (they are classified by beach and number, the smaller the number the smaller the oyster) is as important as the freshness and quality of the fish and shellfish selected from the day’s catch.  Shucking an oyster is not easy either.  First, getting the knife in the right spot to pry open an oyster shell is extremely tricky.  Not only can you cut yourself, you can cut the oyster meat, or cut shards of shell, which makes eating it unappetizing if not inedible.  Thus when you get a perfectly shucked and cleaned oyster on the half shelf and it’s as small as these (equal to the circumference of your thumb and forefinger together),  it is a rare treat.  Although served with red wine vinegar and minced shallots, these oysters were so perfect plainly shucked no accompaniment was required.

The menu changes by the season, with daily specials, though there are standard items, such as sole munière. This dish is meant for two, and is topped with a beautiful beurre noisette (brown butter lemon sauce).  Although nominally a “simple” fisherman wife’s recipe, it doesn’t seem easy to pull off. The fish is lightly dusted with flour and pan fried to perfection, then filleted for serving.  This is clearly a specialty of the house, but if you want a broader selection go for the menu dégustation, which offers more varied choice of more than five separate courses, plus an amuse-bouche at the beginning and petits fours to complete the meal.   The primary plat was a beautifully presented roasted filet de bar (sea bass), on a pomme purée and topped with a parmesan crust.  The fish was exquisite, and the presentation beautiful.  The gâteau basque (a flaky almond pastry, similar to the “galette de roi”) with jam is a house favorite, but as it is not very moist it is best topped with an Armagnac.

The wine menu offers a one-page selection of excellent Burgundies, a few Bordeaux (I don’t know why anyone would order a red Bordeaux with fish), with some good Sancerres at a reasonable value as well, but the white Burgundies rule the roost here and a chilled Chablis Premier Cru will go with just about anything on the menu.

If you love seafood then Fables de la Fontaine will not disappoint, as it is clearly one of the top seafood houses in Paris.  On one of the more popular dining blocks in the Seventh arrondissement, this comfy cozy bistro is a fan favorite among Parisians just wanting seafood at its best.  As seating is extremely limited, advance reservations are essential (two or more weeks’ notice is recommended).

Open seven days a week.

Telephone: 33 01 44 18 37 55

Address:  131 Rue Saint Dominique, 75007 Paris

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Les Fables de La Fontaine, 6.5 out of 10 based on 4 ratings
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  1. By August In Paris — Where To Eat on August 9, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    [...] the lovely Fountaine de Mars (a water fountain that was used by Napoleon’s calvary).  Click here for more [...]

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