Sunday, May 19, 2013

Adventures in Montreal: Au Pied de Cochon

As a good friend said recently, "The cool thing about Montreal is how it changes as we age." To say "it has something for everyone!" is a corny way to put it, but its true. When we were 19, we took trips up there for cheap pitchers of beer and sought hard liquor shots with whipped cream on them. Ten years later, we're taking long weekends up there in search of three major food groups: duck, foie gras and bagels. 

I'll admit, a large part of my reason for wanting to visit Montreal was to finally set foot in the foodie capital of North America, Au Pied de Cochon. Last February we had an amazing meal at Joe Beef that I still dream about, and knowing that APC could be even better has kept me salivating for a good portion of the past year. I'm so happy to report that it was everything I expected. They put so much care and effort into each dish, but with the size of the portions you know they aren't being hoity-toity about anything. It's just good, rich food treated with a lot of care. Everything seems to be house made, from the butter on your bread to the cream whipped on top of your milkshake. It makes all the difference. We visited APC not just once but twice, once for dinner and again for... second dinner, after Europea (review to come). Actually, you could call it third dinner as we had Brit & Chips for a quick pre-dinner. The waiter was so impressed with us that he poured us digestifs and drank one down with us. A pretty good sign, as his first reaction to our declarations of foodie achievement was a French-accented "I do not understand."

For continuity's sake, I'll group everything we had from both dinners into a single post.

To start: amazing sourdough bread with butter. Easy to make the rookie mistake of filling up on this glorious carb.

The first night I had their house beer, which was clean and crisp, a fantastic accompaniment to all the fatty, flavorful foods. But the second night I was really curious to try their orange slushy that spun around in a container on the bar like something in 7-11. They splash it was Compari. It's a bit strong, but for second dinner, I say its ok.

They had a sea urchin special that I will dream about for years to come. I'm learning to ignore sea urchin on the menus at raw bars because its always overpriced, its always boring. Uni on nicely vinegared sushi rice is one of my favorites, but it's never impressed me any other way. I'm glad we were pulled into the waiter's description because here, they did something I'd never seen. They placed the urchin on a heavenly, creamy mixture thick like batter and sweet like vanilla. It was so fantastic I wiped up every last drop with bread like a true Italian.

This place had my heart the minute I saw they had a Foie Gras section on the menu. Both nights we had the cromesquis de foie gras, bite-sized croquettes so hot you have to wait 30 seconds (according to the waiter, but who has that kind of self control?) before popping it in your mouth. Beneath the crusty exterior, the foie is so smooth its almost entirely liquid. It squirts out as you bite down. Then the outside melts. A revelation.

There's also the Tout Nu, hot (seared?) foie with a dark gravy served on toasted bread. And the cold terrine, that you smear on the same toasted bread like meaty butter, and topped with some kind of sweet jam. 

You know what else they considered an "appetizer"? This porky sandwich on French toast, glistening in butter and fat. A quick search on Chowhound tells me that its "maple-custard dredged brioch" with "jambon, turkey, Gruyere, Comte cheeses and guinea hen liver mousse, maple butter, apple jelly and caramelized onions." Silly me, all I had remembered was that it was a monte cristo of sorts with maple syrup on top. It was a face-punching combination of sweet and salt. Appetizer of kings.

Now onto the real food. Seafood, to lighten the mood. One night we had a whole, giant snow crab. We'd crack open the shell and mix the snowy white meat with a lemony mayo. It was worth the work, and there was lots of it.

What better way to follow up a giant snow crab than with a giant lobster roll? Usually I place lobster rolls in one of two camps: with butter or with mayo. This lobster roll was an entirely different beast. There was butter, yeah, but also foie and cheddar and slick greens and onions. It was impossibly heavy. The entire thing seems to be rolled in fat and it helps the insanely rich food just slide down your throat. 

We really wanted to try one of APC's tartes, so we went with the boudin. I was literally speechless when I saw this is what we got -- for $17! I'll admit the blood sausage weirded me out a little, since I don't think I've ever tried it. And this was crazy fluffy sausage that made me feel like i was eating just-congealed blood. Lots of it. The seasoning was really earthy, almost Indian-like, strengthening its effect. The tarte itself was buttery and flakey, and the cheese on top (brie maybe?) helped the boudin go down.

We didn't have the appetite for the world famous duck in a can dish, but hey, its Montreal and we still need our duck, so here it is. The duck breast special with onions and mushrooms in a hearty broth. Can you believe this is one of the lighter things we ate here? And, obviously, it was perfectly cooked and really delicious.

Now for dessert, because even though we were going to bust both times and I was worried that my heart was going to explode, this is Montreal and this is why we drove 6 hours to get here. Our waiter suggested the Lait frappe a la tire eponge a l'erarable PDC. Which I think means "milkshake." It's funny how they don't advertise every little thing they do to their food, but they SHOULD, because holy mother of milkshake was this thing amazing. We asked how it was so perfect. It's vanilla and maple flavored ice creams, probably  house made, with maple syrup and topped with  house made whipped cream and toffee. I don't even like toffee but I found myself sucking down constantly with only a few air breaks because this milkshake seriously was just that good. 

Following the theme of APC converting me to foods I'm not crazy about, this was a particularly good lemon meringue pie with just the right amount of acidity. Finishing this tiny pie with my dining partners was a particularly proud moment. 

Some people climb mountains, but we aspire to road trips of marathon-style gluttony. Actually, make that a triatholon, as I hopped out of our car during crazy traffic to run the rest of the way and make our reservation on time. Almost rented a bike on the way. Would have swam, too, if need be. Hail chef Martin Picard!

Au Pied de Cochon
536 Avenue Duluth Est

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