Paname, December 29, 2009.
My last meal was comforting. This time I needed something more
A couple of weeks ago my girlfriend Dayana and I took advantage of the
snow storm in New York to go to Peter Luger in Brooklyn. We called the
restaurant that night expecting a few cancellations and booked a table
at the last minute. We walked to the restaurant under the snow defying
the freezing wind. We shared a dry aged Porterhouse steak. To be
honest it was not what I was expecting but it was very good anyhow.
I couldn’t let my last meal be so comforting! I wanted to challenge
myself, leave my comfort zone. The other night my parents, my sister,
and I went to La Tour de Montlhery Chez Denise in Paris. Chez Denise
is a relic from an era long gone. It is located near
Chatelet-les-Halles where the wholesale market (les Halles) used to
At that time Paris had a belly (ventre) as Emile Zola puts it in
his book Le ventre de Paris referring to les Halles. Nowadays – I
quote food writer Francois Simon – Paris only has a belly button! So
Chez Denise is allegedly the only restaurant left from that time. It
is meant for people with appetite like the one of Gargantua.
My father, following my advice, ordered the tripes au calvados
(chitterlings). This is what I usually order when I go there. They are
served in a copper saucepan. It’s not peppermint, it’s not chocolate
but it’s delicious! My mom chose the civet de cerf sauce grand veneur
(deer). Actually I chose for her, as she couldn’t make up her mind as
usual. My sister had the steak tartare. A classic of French cuisine.
It was the size of a camember! Last but not least, I chose … the tete
de veau sauce ravigote (veal’s head)! First time ever. To go with the
dinner we ordered a bottle of Brouilly, a red wine from the Beaujolais
area, light and fruity.
When my dish arrived on the table I was very excited. I inspected it
carefully. There was obviously the brain, the cheeks, the tongue, and
… the rest! I couldn’t even identify most of the pieces.
I decided to start with the brain. The sight of it had not deterred me
from eating it. I courageously cut a piece of this white creamy offal
and put it into my mouth. It’s surprisingly good.
The taste is good, the texture is soft. So why is it so hard to
swallow!? My palate finds it quite good, my mind as open-minded
food-wise as it can be is revulsed, I have a knot in my stomach. Each
mouthful is psychologically a challenge. I need to breath profoundly.
But so far so good. The most difficult is behind me. Then I tried the
different pieces. Some were meaty, some were chewy, others were
crunchy. Overall the taste is fine and delicate, the smell reminds me
the one in a butcher shop.
The tete de veau is well known to be the favorite dish of Jacques
Chirac. A lot of people love it. Although I won’t crave for it –
hopefully because that would be another challenge to find it in New
York – I like it. Actually I tried it at the restaurant because Dayana
had already warned me not to bring home a pig’s head to make
headcheese or anything like it.
Even thought the tete de veau was more than fulfilling, I ended the
dinner with a baba au rhum, a spongy cake soaked in rum.
Now it’s time to think about what my first meal of 2010 should be.
Guillaume P Delpech