Parc-Extension restaurant Denise has majorly shaken up its offerings, bringing in the owner of now-closed, much-loved Villeray restaurant Trilogie, Anita Yue Ming Feng, to run its kitchen.
This is Feng’s first permanent return to Montreal’s restaurant world since she closed Trilogie in 2017 to travel and take on other projects, although she has since done one-off pop-ups with restaurants such as Lawrence.
When Denise opened in late 2017 in the southeast corner of the neighbourhood, it featured artfully presented Vietnamese and pan-Asian dishes. Feng will pivot the restaurant towards Sichuan offerings — although co-owner and film director Khoa Le says the rejigged restaurant will still aspire to fulfill the same goals: highlighting Asian tastes and creating a festive atmosphere of inclusion and experimentation.
“We’ve never tried to define ourselves,” Le says. “Denise proposes something fun, genuine and authentic.”
Feng, a master of the cuisines of southwest China, puts local twists on traditional favourites. For example, her Longevity Salad, featuring hand-cut spiralled cucumbers mixed with shiitakes, rhubarb and chili crisp and laced with a spicy red oil, mixes a variety of sweet, spicy, and tangy notes into a harmonious whole.
Menu items will change every few weeks based on market availability and inspiration, says Feng. Some of Denise’s signature dishes, such as the piquant Yuxiang eggplant, will remain, with tweaks. Named for a sauce often used on deep-fried fish, Feng’s version features eggplant strips in a ginger, garlic, and fermented pepper sauce garnished with Chinese chrysanthemum leaves. Tofu hua, another standout, features cherrystone clams and pickled mustard roots in a bowl of warm silken tofu flecked with doubanjiang chili paste, another detailed combination of textures and flavours. These are matched with microbrewery Harricana’s mixed fermentation sour beers or sommelier and beverage expert Morgane Muszynski’s sake options.
Those looking forward to tasting Feng’s fare again won’t need to wait — her menu is in place at Denise right now.