Shades of Lyon in a Paris Bistro

PARIS - Francoise Petit promised herself four things: She would never marry a chef; she would never own a restaurant; she would never live in Paris, and she would never have a daughter who was a Virgo.

Well, now the 34-year-old Francoise Constantin has all four, and she is as giddy as a schoolgirl.

At the age of 17, she began working as a waitress at the quintessential Lyonnais bistro Cafe des Federations. During her 13 years there she and her patron, Raymond Fulchiron, became minor celebrities in the food world, as gastronomes came from far and near to hear their banter and chow down on saucissons chauds, andouillettes, blanquette de veau and platters of weeping Saint-Marcellin cheese, all washed down with tumblers of sturdy Morgon.

In 1994 Francoise left Lyon for Paris and promptly broke her three other promises. Since April she and her husband, the chef Daniel Constantin, have been happily installed at the Auberge Pyrenees-Cevennes, the classic Parisian bistro that was also known as Chez Philippe and run by Philippe Sebource until his death least year. With hams and sausages hanging from the rafters, colorful old tile floors and rustic stone walls, the bistro remains thankfully unchanged.

And while the Constantins have maintained many of the old standbys - platters of sausages and cured meats and cassoulet - they have also added such Lyonnais classics as robust green salads loaded with top-quality cured bacon; a rich and densely flavored pork sausage, and those Saint-Marcellin cow's milk cheeses from Mere Richard in Lyon.

Chef Constantin, who has been at the stove since the age of 14, is a classic French cook - a dying breed of those who have French cooking in their very veins, and it shows in everything that comes from his spotless kitchen.

The food has soul, character and an honesty one rarely sees today in simple bistro fare.

The chef's battery of sturdy copper pots that he brought from the Eiffel Tower after working there for a decade attest to his determination and respect for French cuisine.

''You can't make a Bearnaise in stainless steel,'' he likes to say.

Daily specials here might include thick slices of exquisitely flavorful saddle of lamb seared on an ancient gas grill; a rich and creamy potato gratin, and an impeccably prepared plateful of sauteed girolles mushrooms.

The 43-year-old chef's motto is: ''It is simple to do, but difficult to succeed at.''

Wines all come from small producers and have been selected by Francoise. Try the silky Chiroubles cru Beaujolais Domaine du Clocher from Jean-Noel Melinand, or the fresh and fruity Coteaux du Lyonnais, available by the
glass or the traditional Lyonnais pot.


Auberge Pyrenees-Cevennes, 106, rue de la Folie-Mericourt, Paris 11

Tel: 01-43-57-33-78.

Closed Saturday lunch and Sunday. Credit card: Visa. 148-franc ($25) menu. A la carte, 160 to 210 francs.