I haven't been to any NYC restaurants lately the have inspired me enough to blog about them, but a conversation a few days ago reminded me of an incredible meal I had during a trip to Montreal a couple of years ago. A singer I work with was singing with the Montreal Symphony, so it was the perfect excuse to go (even if it was February and f#$%ing FREEZING!). Even better than my singer's beautiful performance was getting to see a dear friend I hadn't seen in years: Kathy, my old chamber music partner who now plays in the Montreal Symphony. She loves a great food experience as much as I do, so it was a given: we had to go to Au Pied de Cochon.
This isn't the sort of place I normally blog about... for one thing, it's much more expensive than just about any restaurant you'll see here. It is also justly famous--trust me when I tell you to save your pennies and go. There is a positively infectious joy in what they do and what they serve, and what they serve is REAL food, unlike any you'll eat anywhere else.
Perhaps their most famous dish is "Duck in a Can". We didn't order it, and I'm still kicking myself (even though I wouldn't have traded in anything that we did order, and it was PLENTY of food). There are many descriptions and photos of it elsewhere on the internet, but briefly, it's duck breast, foie gras, cabbage, thyme, and jus de viande, cooked in a sealed can and brought to the table that way. The waiter whips out a can opener, opens up the can and dumps it out on the plate! This presentation pretty much sums up the essence of the restaurant: the best ingredients prepared with serious skill, enjoyed with a maximum of relaxation and fun. Foie gras shows up in practically everything... maple syrup, almost as often.
We started with the plogue à Champlain appetizer, which is a buckwheat crepe with bacon, sliced potato, cheddar cheese and foie gras, with a sauce of jus de viande and maple syrup (!)--it was sensational, and set the tone for the rest of the meal. Main course was pied de cochon (how could we not order the namesake dish?). It wasn't just the pig's foot, but the whole shank, run under the broiler and served on a huge oval platter with a saute of probably a half dozen vegetables, mashed potatoes with roasted garlic and cheese curds (a kind of mashed poutine!) and a cream gravy. The whole delicious mess was topped with a couple of slices of seared foie gras. A Morgon Vieilles Vignes red was, for me, the perfect accompaniment. (There are some really serious wines on their list, but, of course, as poor, starving musicians--well, maybe not quite starving after that meal--we couldn't possibly afford them.)
The meal was capped by the best dessert I've had in ages, the pouding chômeur, a baked pudding of cake in the center surrounded by a bubbling maple syrup and butter sauce.
The whole meal was totally over the top--sort of a riot of flavors, none of which seem like they should work together, but somehow do. And I can't wait for another excuse to go to Montreal so I can eat there again.
Au Pied de Cochon
536 Duluth Est., Montréal, QC
There is a wonderful blog account of a visit, with pictures, here.