Montreal: Au Pied de Cochon
Posted by Degan on April 19th, 2011
When you love food, and restaurants, you collect lists of places you will some day dine at. Some of them are fancy and some of them are just so good they can’t be missed. Au Pied de Cochon falls into that latter category for me. At first glance, this casual restaurant in Montreal with pans flashing in the open kitchen and patrons dining long into the night could be any decent neighbourhood joint, but I had been looking forward to it for so long,every piece of it seemed charmed. The service was excellent, the atmosphere was warm and welcoming and the view into the aforementioned kitchen was like tickets to culinary dinner theatre.
I had been looking forward to it for so long, the first thing I did when I got news of a Quebec business trip – before even booking a hotel – was to verify their hours. Luckily they’re not all that hard to get into (the snow might have had something to do with that), and we were able to secure a reservation in spite of a canceled flight.
And then there we were, pulling up to a restaurant so famous that it doesn’t even need a sign, Martin Picard’s unapologetic showcase of the traditional, rich foods of Quebec. Foie Gras is centre stage here – it comes on everything from crackers to pizza – and everything else comes with some kind of heavy sauce. Vegetarians and dieters cross the street when they pass by.
After some deliberation we ordered two foie gras cromesquis to start, and some marinated smoked mini-sausages. The foie gras cubes were perfectly balanced in flavour and texture – crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside – and were to set the scene for the dishes that followed. But first we had some more cromesquis. And beer. And I tried not to think about my diet.
The sausage was like the best kind of pepperoni stick, peppery and juicy and smeared into the mustard. It was quite a flavour punch after the foie gras but the tang and smoke were a nice touch.
The menu is divided into meat. Foie gras has its own section, then “pig”, “poultry”, “bison and deer”, etc. Matt went into full foie gras overload and ordered the foie gras duo – a huge hamburger with bacon, beef, mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, foie gras and balsamic glaze accompanied by foie gras poutine. As decadent as it was, all the components played off of each other in perfect harmony. The fresh tomato, soft egg bread and heavy balsamic glaze all contributed to cut through the richness and the end result was amazing. Then there was the poutine. You have to have poutine in Montreal, right? So do it right. The foie gras poutine did not only have a lump of foie gras sitting on top of it, but also foie infused gravy. Then fresh cheese curd and crispy, salty fries. I believe the Quebecois call it “heart attack in a dish.”
I ordered a famous entree, something that I thought might be gimmicky but I couldn’t help myself – Duck in a Can (Canard en conserve). It is an elaborate production where you receive a plate with PDC’s decadent mashed potatoes and a slice of bread, then the can arrives, packed with duck, sauce, and foie gras and they open it at the table, spilling the contents out onto your plate. You can see the process here.
The cans and labels are custom made and the ingredients state: 1/2 magret duck, 100g foie gras, balsamic glaze, cabbage, roasted garlic and thyme. Combined with the mashed potatoes this is also a pretty rich dish but again the flavours play off each other perfectly and I was both amused and delighted by the presentation and completely sated by the meal.
I’m not a dessert person at all but after all that meat it seemed only fitting to finish with sugar and so we tucked into a shared pouding chômeur, another Quebecois classic made with flour, sugar and maple syrup.
All in all, it was one of the best meals either of us has ever eaten. It would have been easy for our (admittedly high) expectations to be dashed but everything from the service to the room to the food was perfect. The food was perfect! I am not a health nut but I don’t normally enjoy fried or greasy food, or dessert (I have no issues with foie gras, despite its terrible track issues). At Au Pied de Cochon, I was expecting to be overpowered by fat and and meat and richness (at least we warmed up at The Black Hoof!), but while the food was certainly rich, it was prepared so thoughtfully with complementary, balanced flavours that we hardly noticed the fat. An amazing feat, all things considered.
It was a cold night and we’d been travelling all day by train to get to Montreal from Toronto, so we took the opportunity to walk (stumble and slide) all the way back to the hotel. Even so, I’m pretty sure we were back home before I was hungry again.
Au Pied de Cochon is at 536 Duluth Street East, in Montreal.