It’s always a good idea to know when each pastry shop is actually open. You might think they’d all be closed on a slow day like Monday, but Sunday or Tuesday make just as much sense to the French. And being open for only 3 hours on any given day is equally reasonable. So when I showed up at Aoki’s on his random off day, I decided to “get wild” and take an alternate route home to see if I might stumble upon something interesting. It only took a few blocks before Christian Constant’s shop window caught my eye from across a quiet intersection. I’d heard he was one of the fine chocolatiers of the city, but he was evidently more prolific than your average truffle jockey. So I crossed the street, walked right up to the front window, bent down and stared into his case. I’m sure the shop lady thought it was a little weird to watch me shuffle and scoot side-to-side for a few minutes, weighing the design merits of each piece and attempting to settle on that day’s pastry booty. Scooting complete, I walked in and was privy to one of the more humorous moments in my pastry adventures, as the saleswoman coached her new 15-year-old slack-jawed apprentice shop-boy on the correct angle at which to insert the Christian Constant nametag into each pastry. It’s apparently an art, and looking at how he handled the above, it appears he’s not quite mastered it yet with the Kalinka.
The obvious appeal of this piece is the pearlescent white currants atop it. The photo can’t do them justice; they were iridescently creamy-white-pinkish-golden. They were also so perfect that at first I wondered if they were actually plastic. I’d been fooled once before at Lenôtre, where all their entremets (chocolate or otherwise) have clear plastic side protection – all but the Concerto, which has chocolate brown. This begs the obvious question . . . why? Imagine my surprise on that first bite, after 40 minutes of doing photos with it. But I digress. The berries are real, quite tart, but most definitely not plastic. Beneath those little guys is a cream cheese mousse, whose flavor was rather flaccid. And sandwiching the raspberry are layers of chocolate-topped biscuit and sable, neither of which were particularly interesting – even with the chocolate to help it along. Not offensive, but not notable in either the flavor or the texture departments. The raspberry, however, was. It reminded me of those little Licorice Allsorts candies you can get in the States – the ones with black licorice squares held betwixt two layers of light raspberry. Not the finest candies, but they always make me think of Paris, and by extension, so did the Kalinka. The irony* of feeling transported to Paris by a pastry, when I’m already in Paris!
I believe I only have a few of Christian Constant’s pieces photographed, even though I’ve eaten more, and I don’t know that I’ll be making a return to the shop. With the exception of those patisseries I’ve shutterbugged, the designs are all pretty humble and the ingredients pretty mundane. And let’s not forget the nametag issue. I mean, until those can be perfectly centered and slid into each pastry at a precise 7 degree angle, there’s really no point in buying anything. Or maybe I will go back, and when the pastries are presented to me I’ll snarl at their maladroit tagging before forcefully batting them halfway across the shop with the back of my hand.
So, yes, obviously bypass by the Kalinka. It’s a pretty little thing to admire in the window, but there’s no sense actually ingesting it – unless Aoki’s closed and you’re feeling hopelessly vitamin P deficient. There are also a half-dozen boulangeries nearby that have a bounty of fruit tarts guaranteed to doubly satisfy your hunger at half the price.
*Situational irony, not literal irony. So not the classic conflict of reality with appearance, but rather the disparity between what is expected to happen and what actually does.