The excesses of Au Pied de Cochon are worth its own pilgrimage
Howard Levitt: ‘I’ve a feeling I’m not in Kansas anymore’
By Howard Levitt
What is the one restaurant I will not miss (besides Schwartz’s) whenever I am in Montreal?
With 12 dishes of foie gras, blood sausage, lots of maple syrup and fat, Au Pied de Cochon is at the heartland of modern Quebecois cuisine. It has foie gras sushi, foie gras poutine, foie gras and blood sausage, foie gras and fruit, foie gras and maple syrup, apple foie gras, foie gras hamburger — all that, before even getting to the classic main course fois gras dishes.
You walk in to a few little wooden tables with a long tasting bar and wooden floor with an outdoor summer patio in the middle of the street. Its chef, big, bearish Martin Picard, has written two cookbooks which have been hits even in New York City. One has a recipe for Confederation Beaver and, adorning its cover, a presentation of another recipe, Squirrel Sushi, with the paws, tail and head saved for presentation outside of the rice roll. Au Pied de Cochon is not for vegetarians, and animal rights activists would do well to not protest in front of its quarters. The usual habitues are hardy Quebecois who do not take kindly to such political correctness.
The first dish of the night was cromesquis de foie gras, maple butter around a triple fried small chunk of fois gras. Two for $6: pop it in your mouth in one bite. As it quickly dissolves, a heavenly elixir explodes, saturating every aspect of your taste buds. All I could think was, “I’ve a feeling I’m not in Kansas anymore.”
The next course was tarte de boudin et foie gras au sel, a caramelized apple on top of foie gras over mashed potatoes, pine nuts, white ham, blue cheese, pan-seared boudin noir (blood sausage) with red cabbage and roasted apples on the bottom. The dish exemplifies the confluence of rich, complementary flavours that the restaurant does so well.
We then had its classic namesake dish, the Pied de Cochon Farci et fois gras, a full leg of a pig stuffed with foie gras. It consists of mashed potatoes, roasted garlic and cheese curds stuffed with the meat of pigs feet, mushroom, garlic, thyme, then re-stuffed into the pig foot and sewn together before the roast is breaded with 100 grams of seared foie gras and chives. It has a sauce of confit tomatoes with Dijon and onions, mushroom and pork fat with vinaigrette roasted for 30 minutes.
If one can still stand, you should try the dessert of pouding chômeur à l’érable, translated literally as pudding of the unemployed. In 2010, it was noted in The New York Times Magazine that this dessert was a “delight that Canadians have been keeping to themselves” — more accurately, the Québécois.
My friend and I shared it along with a pecan pie for which local Toronto foodie, Josh Josephson, makes a special pilgrimage.
After 15 years, it’s still hard to snag a reservation at this restaurant. And if you are really fortunate, you can win its once a year call in lottery for the comparatively few seats at its companion restaurant, Cabane à Sucre Au Pied De Cochon, a sugar shack outside of Montreal where Picard doles out a 15-course equally lard and meat-laden meal, feeding you until you say uncle or reach oblivion.