It was a stroke of genius to bring the visiting Hongkongers to Chez Denise. Not only is the husband a card-carrying member of the meat lovers tribe, but the wife is also a big fan of offals, tendons and other less noble meat parts. It just so happened that Chez Denise (or more formally called La Tour de Montlhéry) excels in both gargantuan portions and innards, sometimes on the same plate.
One of the last few holdovers of the old Les Halles, way back when the quartier was the belly of Paris, Chez Denise retains the no-frills decor, the cheek by jowl seating, and the boisterous atmosphere of yesteryears, when the market people convened after a day’s work for some chow washed down with lots of house Brouilly.
Intact too is the meat heavy menu. The night we visited, there were 3 fish mains and a dozen meats, and I only saw a single order of fish leave the kitchen throughout the night.
After witnessing how huge our neighbors’ portions were, we opted to share an order of the oxtail terrine. We devoured the hefty slab easily, marveling at how akin the texture of this terrine was to Chinese potted beef. Taste-wise, the terrine was pretty bland on its own, though the sharp rocket and the sweet, tangy sauce helped.
One of the visitors, the texture-phile wife, ordered pork trotters, crusted and fried, complete with toenails. Each bite is a study of mouthfeels, alternating between crunchy to gelatinous to quiveringly soft. Personally, I prefer pork trotters done the Chinese way, with lots of vinegar and ginger, but my friend loved the trotters, and was contentedly gnawing away at the bones after the meat and cartilage had been devoured.
Her husband ate a perfectly a-point onglet de boeuf, served with a heaping platter of wicked fries, the best I’ve eaten since Belgium. More impressive however, was the Flintstones-sized cote du boeuf for 2 our neighbors ordered, charred on the outside and bursting with bloody juices when cut. Each half must have weighed close to 1 kilogram (estimated by my ultra-scientific eyeballing method). I could not resist not snapping a picture of the mammoth steak.
Speaking of large portions, P’s beef stew cannot be ignored. The picture below simply does not do the dish justice, neither in showcasing its girth nor highlighting its flavors. Underneath the bone that held the marrow (aka. meat butter) sat enough meat to feed a family of 4. And the carrot peeking underneath all the meat? That was not a baby carrot but a regular sized one. In fact, there were enough carrots, radishes and other root vegetables to flavor a whole pot of soup, not just one serving. The tough cuts of meat, while not fork-tender was still quite soft and fully flavored from the stewing vegetables and herbs.
As for me, I decided to challenge myself with a classic French innard dish, rognon de veau, or veal kidneys. The unmistakeable smell of pee, however slight, was present when my dish arrived at the table. Luckily, the dish was much tastier than it smelt, as the kidneys had been expertly washed and cooked in a luxurious cream-rich wine sauce. The kidneys were just cooked through, pink with minute traces of blood in the center. The texture was excellent too, bouncy but not too tough. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I (and my companions) enjoyed this dish, and have no doubt that I will be re-ordering kidneys very soon.
Though we didn’t need any more food after the gut-busting mains, our gluttony got the best of us and we found ourselves each with dessert. Our friends’ rich dark chocolate mousse and green apple sorbet were polished off with pleasure, while P & I shared a huge portion of rum baba that the server had thoughtfully portioned for us. Served alongside the raisin studded cake was a full bottle of rum from which we lashed more alcohol on the already soaked cake. What a heady way to end a fantastic night!
Chez Denise (La Tour de Montlhéry)
5 Rue des Prouvaires, 75001, Paris