Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Au Pied de Cochon - The altar of animal fat

Au Pied De Cochon's owner and high commissioner of meat and fat, Martin Picard, is a real trail blazer. Sticking two greasy fingers up at vegetarians and PETA-types, the weight conscious and the new generation of chefs obsessed with presentation, he ensures the food coming out of his kitchen is highly calorific, unfussy and downright delicious. With absolutely no regard for public health and safety.

Au Pied De Cochon was the reason I was here in Montreal. I was here to worship with fellow fat believers Sid, Boogie and Meat Man. I had been fizzing with excitement about a visit. I wore my brand new ceremonial piggy t-shirt that I ordered from the St. John website, combed my plumage and prepared myself for the fat tsunami. We left our hotel early so we could get a couple of beers in beforehand to improve the appetite, and then grabbed one of Montreal's taxis up Rue St. Denis to Plateau/Mont Royale. Upon reaching Duluth, I expected more glitz, guild and glamour, but of course that isn't Picard's style. We found PDC behind some rather large plain glass windows emblazoned with the PDC logo: A grinning chef wielding a frying pan, riding atop an equally happy pig. We all looked at each other and sniggered heartily, and then, with sparkling eyes, we looked at the logo again. We were already in love with PDC, and we hadn't tried to food yet. Clearly, this was one restaurant worth all the hype.

Our kind hostess sat us down bang on time, at 7.30. I thought this was a bit early for din dins, but it was obvious this place had been full for a couple of hours and there were hoards of diners in various stages of astonishment and ecstasy. For a moment, I thought we had stumbled on some sort of illegal foie gras warehouse party. After a second glance, I was quite sure we had.

Tonight, we were to take the menu advice of our server, a very efficient and willing young lady who was only too happy to maintain a constant stream of high fat products, beer and wine to our table. "Just give us what's good, what Monsieur Picard would want us to eat." Now, our server was the one with the sparkly eyes, though I suspect that twinkle revealed more mischief than adoration. "You guys are going to have a great time." While some of the chaps opted for a couple of bottles of wine for the table, I'd heard the St. Ambroise Pale Ale was a local classic, and I ordered one without hesitation. It arrived in a chilly beaded bottle and once poured, it revealed a color exactly the same as the blonde wood walls that give PDC it's warm feeling. It reminded me, vaguely, of a sauna, but PDC smelt a lot better. Hoppy, fruity with a little citrus, what a wonderfully drinkable beer. I imagined a warm summer afternoon in my Brooklyn backyard with a case of the stuff.

Famished, and slightly nervous, we were all glancing at our server, wondering when the first offerings would be arriving. We didn't have to wait long. Three plates hit the table simultaneously, and a large cone of fried pork skins, or oreilles de crisse (Christ's ears!) We did some serious damage to those pork skins and having eaten the whole cone in seconds, we began scraping the oil-spattered chip cone with greasy fingers looking for stragglers. I suggested ordering another cone, but I was told to shut my pie hole and concentrate on what we had in front of us. A plate covered with thin wafers of magenta smoky duck carpaccio with shaved Parmesan and vinaigrette came apart under the slightest pressure and had an intense gamy flavor. A ramekin of pink guinea hen liver mousse crackled and popped when we spooned mouth-sized portions from it's surface, which we lovingly smothered on grilled toasts and adorned it's rich livery goodness with a papaya and ginger relish, I believe. This was a truly divine combination. Our fromage de tete was delicious, a luxuriant slab of piggy gelatine studded with a mosaic of red porky bits and globs of creamy white fat. It didn't even touch the sides, it was the best I'd had. While he was spooning it in, I heard Boogie muttering quietly under his breath. I just about caught the words 'holy', 'mother' and 'God'.

After just the first wave, I could have asked for the bill, paid up, tipped mightily and gone home happy, but tonight we had other plans of an entirely gluttonous nature. Well, at least I did.

An impossibly rich foie gras and boudin noir tart heralded the beginning of round two. Here were two of my favourite ingredients in the world, combined, in pastry. My head started swimming, my stomach was somersaulting in excitement, and I drooled like a newborn baby. My first mouthful prompted all sorts of questions: How many of these can I buy 'to go'? How much is a crate of them? Will you deliver them to Brooklyn, New York? My though processes were cut short when another rich dish hit the table. This one was killer. I mean, what is it in Picard's head that creates these dishes? A couple of crates of St Ambroise Pale, perhaps? A heady concoction of buckwheat pancakes, bacon and cheese (a New Brunswick classic) would have been brilliant. That's exactly what we got in our Plogue de Champlain, except Picard being the man he is, he'd smothered this PDC version in about half a pound of melting foie gras and drizzled the whole damn thing with half a can of maple syrup. My oh my, talk about a party in the mouth. Truly, truly fantastic. A cassoulet for four was then set down by our mischievous server and a double cut 'happy' pork chop. Exemplary cassoulet, I must say, containing one extra-large duck confit surrounded by beautifully seasoned beans collapsing in their own skins and punctuated with discs of smoky sausage. The pork chop came under layers of burnished mushrooms and onions. A great pork chop, not a patch on he other dishes, but we thought that was the final nail in the coffin.

"You're not done yet," our executioner said, "I have something a bit special for you!" I could my brothers in fat shudder at the prospect of more food, and for a brief moment, a shrill panic set in.
A giant bowl of 'pudding chomeur' (or poor bloke's pudding) was presented to us, and a copy of PDC's incredible cookbook which I had been advised to order. Chomeur is a bowl of maple syrup and butter soup, with a floating sponge cake island in it. Just what we need. More butter, more calories. Well what the hell.

I couldn't move. And my vision was blurred. I was stunned. I can honestly say it was one of the greatest meals of my life. I mean it's not the kind of place you could come to eat at every week, that would be catastrophic, but once in a while, a good dose of Picard's pimped-up Quebecois food would certainly help ward off evil salads and the winter chill.

1 comment:

leftbraned said...

Awesome write-up. Makes me wish I'd gone to PDC with you instead of with Sara! ;)

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