notes from the road: au pied de cochon

The way I travel is pretty simple, really. I find my flight. I search out the best restaurants, cafes, and gourmet shops. Then, maybe a few days before I’m set to depart, I’ll remember I don’t have a place to rest my head and I’ll stress about finding the best accomodations possible. I wring my hands and declare I’ll never do it again. I always do.

One of my favorite culinary resources when traveling is Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Granted, he tends to pick places that are outside the layman’s budget, but as my trip to Montreal was being funded by Uncle Sam, this was much less of a concern.

Since my first trip to Montreal last summer, I have been to Martin Picard’s Au Pied de Cochon three times. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit. The small space in Montreal’s Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood is consistently slammed, and I always find myself with the best seat in the house – at the bar, facing the open kitchen. It’s like dinner and a show, but better.

Literally translated to the “Pig’s Foot”, the menu at PDC (as it’s referred to) is very meat-centric. They have an entire section dedicated to foie gras! You may think that every possible way to plate a fattened duck’s liver has been thought of, but the folks at PDC have gone and one-upped you. Just listen to these 3 words – foie gras burger. Everyone is ordering it.

My travelmate/dinner partner Anna had never eaten foie gras, so I thought it best to suggest something a bit more familiar, the foie gras poutine.

foie gras poutine

It seems like a basic concept – take fries, add cheese curds, and liberally drizzle sauce on it. PDC takes this one step further by adding chunks of foie gras to it. If there’s a lesson to learn right away about Au Pied de Cochon, this is it – they will always go one step further. As two girls from Jersey, a state that consumes cheese fries with such intensity you might think it invented the dish, you would think we would have loved it. Anna found the foie gras a bit too much for her to handle, and we both agreed the poutine sauce was on the salty side. Naturally, I ate most of the cheese curds, cheese fiend that I am.

As a starter, I had the beef tartare. I don’t usually eat a lot of raw meat, but I make the exception during my trips north.

beef tartare

And how happy am I that I did? The beef tartare came standing in a wooden block and wrapped in seaweed, much like a handroll. The meat sat on a small serving of rice and was garnished with fried julienned potatoes, lettuce leaf and a quail egg. Presentation is so clearly a major part of everything PDC does, and these tasty treats were no exception. I could wax philosophical and talk about the perfect marriage of land and sea, French and Asian – but who cares? When my mouth wasn’t full – okay, who am I kidding, even it with it full, I turned to Anna and said repeatedly, I’m so sorry you can’t share in this experience with me because it is so, SO good. Two handrolls of beef tartare. I may have said this 8 times, give or take.

As a main, Anna had the codfish fritters. For a fried fish, they were incredibly light, if a bit chewy.

I usually opt for the duck carpaccio when I’m at PDC (I was’t kidding about the raw meat thing), but today I thought I’d go a different route and ordered the Happy Pork Chop. The reasoning behind the name eludes me entirely, but I would assume that anyone who eats this baby would be very happy indeed.

Happy, and a bit comatose, perhaps. This one-pounder comes covered in carmelized onions and mushrooms, and man, does it smell like heaven. I found it to be a bit dry, but the sauce it came in made up for that.

We continued on with a rather nondescript ice cream sundae and a capuccino, still watching the magic of the kitchen. Our dedication paid off when this emerged from the oven.

But you’ve been paying attention, and you know it doesn’t end there.

This bad boy was draped in aligot,mashed potatoes blended with melted cheese. We had spent most of the meal watching a chef dedicate herself primarily to this task . The fat kid in me wanted to stick my fingers in the giant pot and start spooning it out. Government Employee Detained for Charging into Kitchen and Burying Face in Aligot has a pretty nice sound to it. The Pig’s Head for Two (prepared only twice a night) is no joke, served with pork rinds, and sides of razor clams and roast vegetables. It’s good to know PDC has your balanced diet in mind.

Au Pied de Cochon is absolutely not for the faint of heart, vegetarians, or pescatarians. It’s a meal you prepare for, most likely by skipping lunch and calling your doctor to check you cholesterol counts. To date, my favorite dishes have been the beef tartare and duck carpaccio. I have yet to try “Duck in a Can” or Canard en Conserve, which is one of PDC’s signature dishes. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a duck breast, some foie gras (this is Au Pied de Cochon, remember?), garlic and other goodies, stuffed and subsequently cooked in a can. The can is opened tableside and ceremonily poured onto your plate.

I wasn’t kidding when I said dinner and a show.

Au Pied de Cochon is located at 536 rue Duluth est, near rue St-Hubert (Montreal, Canada) and open 5pm – midnight, Tuesday – Sunday. I strongly recommend making a reservation – on my first visit, I had been wise enough to do so, but I was seated next to a man who had waited for 45 mintues for his single seat at the bar – by calling the restaurant at 514-281-1114.

And now, I leave you with a little bit of Anthony Bourdain.

photos courtesy of Anna Lai

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