Holy crap it’s cold here! In just the few minutes it took my sister and I to walk my mother’s dog, Felix, around the block, my ears had turned a bright, festive pink and felt like someone had sanded them down to the cartilage. A far cry from Vancouver that, while snowy, was positively balmy in comparison. Lawren, who has been dog sitting while we’ve been away, took some pics and vids of the pooches negotiating the snow labyrinth he kindly carved out for them in the backyard. Note the photo of Lulu with one of Bubba’s hindquarters in her mouth. That is her subtle signal that she wants to be chased.
Well, last night I had occasion to get together with my oldest (and most annoying) friend Lawrence, an old high school buddy who is London-bound in January, having accepted a two-year transfer to the land of bubbles and/or squeak. Although he has traveled there on business, he knows surprisingly little about the culture (I told him pick up copies of MI-5 and Wire in the Blood to get caught up). In order to fit in and seem more the local, I suggested he adopt some typically English turns of phrase in his every day speech. For instance, instead of waking into the office in the morning and saying “Good morning” (so stereotypically North American), go with the more traditionally English “Pip! Pip! Top of the morning to ya!” or “Cheerio!”. Also, the English have a habit of telling you what they are going to say before they actually say it. If they want to tell you that their socks are green, they will always preface the information with “I say…” as in “I say, I my socks are green.” It’s an easy to remember prelude to conversation that goes a long way toward acclimatizing one to casual London conversation. “I say, someone has misnumbered the accounts receivable.”, “I say, I think I’ll do the Big Mac value meal, please.”, “I say, it looks like Perdingford has gone and set himself on fire.” and so on.
Anyway, we got together – along with his lovely girlfriend Melanie, my sister Andria, and her friend Lili – for dinner. The place: Au Pied de Cochon, my favorite Montreal restaurant, known for its rustic charm and equally rustic dishes. If you want to sample traditional Quebec cuisine in all of its hardy, countrified glory, then look no further. Menu items included confit lamb shanks, venison liver, bison tartare, and endless foie gras. If you’re planning to go, make reservations well ahead of time. My sister was able to book us a table – but for a 5:00 p.m. sitting. Lawrence suggested that would give us time for a late dinner, say around 9:00 p.m.
They kindly left the ordering to me, so I went with a nice variety – ten dishes in all – and allowed our waiter to serve them as he saw fit. Making good on my New Year’s resolution to drink more, I helped the gang polish off to excellent bottles of Beaujelais over the course of our meal.
We kicked things off with the cromesquis, crispy deep-fried squares with liquefied foie gras centers. I tried to make these once and ended up with – well, a mess. A tasty mess, but a mess nevertheless. Au Pied’s version were perfect – warm, crisp, and delicious. We also went with one of the evening additions: a lovely deboned quail dish. Despite being a tiny bird, it can be incredibly succulent and tasty if done right. And the dish we had last night was done right. Rounding out the opening trio was the piglet roast – shaved roast piglet served with a sauce I found a tad too overwhelming.
Next up were four plates, starting with guinea hen liver mousse that simply wowed. Light (for foie) and served with a wonderfully complimentary gelee. Another addition to the menu was the East meets Easter-Canada crispy foie gras maki served with a maple syrup-based dipping sauce. A tad weird but, again, no less tasty. If I’m going to marry foie and sushi, I prefer the simpler foie gras nigiri served at the likes of Vancouver’s Octopus’s Garden. The foie gras poutine dish was as about as Quebec as you can get, and damn good, a perfect marriage of fried potatoes, foie, cheese curds, and a truly decadent foie gras sauce. Our fourth and final dish in this “second course” was something called a plogue that was comprised of pan-fried foie atop a bed of sliced fingerling potatoes and cheese, the whole anointed with maple syrup. Before this dinner, if you had suggested pairing foie and fingerling potatoes, I would have thought you were crazy (because I’ve had similar dishes and none proved successful), but this version worked very well. The key, it turns out, is to make sure the potatoes are cooked through. Also, adding cheese help a lot.
On to round three and three heavy hitters. First up was my favorite of the night, the pig’s feet. The meat was fall off the bone fork-friendly, served with mashed potatoes and a giant cromesquis. Next up was the PDC hotpot which contained a marvelous assortment of sausages, boudin, pork belly, mushrooms, mash, and sweet roasted onions. Our third and final main – and Lawrence and Melanie’s favorite – was the bison rib, a huge tender hunk of meat the likes of which Fred Flinstone enjoyed in his heyday.
For dessert, the others enjoyed the home made lemon meringue pie and chocolate molten lava cake while I went with a dish uniquely Quebecois, the Pouding du Chomeur – a brain-blastingly sweet cornmeal cake served in a bowl of bubbling hot maple syrup.
Service was very good – up until it came time to order dessert at which point our waiter seemed to forget about us as he focused entirely on the surrounding tables. I wondered aloud if Lawrence had done something to offend him. Eventually, we caught his eye, placed our order, and we were back on track.
A great meal. Au Pied de Cochon is only open during the day. If you get in on a Thursday or Friday, get there early and check out the neighboring Les Chocolats de Chloe, an annual chocolate party regular.