Montreal—Read anything about this city’s vibrant dining scene and you’ll be pointed to Au Pied de Cochon. You’ll also be warned: dining here entails a serious lapse in a heart-healthy diet. Pigs, of course, are featured heavily on the menu. Foie gras is the restaurant’s other specialty.
I don’t eat pigs, or any four-legged animals. I’m not big on two-legged winged creatures, either. But foie gras makes me swoon. In Montreal, it comes from ducks, not geese, and I find it slightly inferior. Slightly.
At Au Pied de Cochon, chef Martin Picard puts foie gras in everything: pigs’ feet, pizza, and a weird QuÃ©bÃ©cois dish called poutine. Poutine is a pile of fries and cheese curds covered with sauce, and often meat. What are cheese curds? I can’t think of an American equivalent. Cottage cheese curds are smaller and softer, and creamed. Indian paneer is similar: firm, dryish, squeaky lumps of milk soured by an acid. They’re good.
Au Pied de Cochon’s version of poutine starts with potatoes fried in duck fat and topped with a large lobe of seared foie gras. And get this: the sauce is made of foie gras puree, egg yolks, and cream. The eyes and mouth say yeah! while the heart runs for cover.
It was fabulous. Bob and I shared a plate, and we could have walked away satisfied after just the foie gras poutine and glasses of chenin blanc.
But no. We had to experiment. Bob had a fresh bluefin tuna dish, rare and complicated. I had duck in a can. My chef brother-out-law had told me about it. The waiter brought out a piece of toasted bread covered with celery root puree. He also brought a hot sealed can, which he opened with a can opener at the table.
Slowly and ceremoniously, the steaming contents were dumped atop the bread. A duck breast, a large lobe of foie gras, buttered cabbage, a head of garlic, fresh thyme, and mysterious juices were cooked to a fragrant, unidentifiable heap that looked sort of… well, pre-digested.
It was not a pretty sight, though it smelled divine. The structure stood tall on its bread foundation for a minute, until the bread soaked up enough fat and juices to lose its ability to support such a heavy burden. Neighboring diners’ eyes bugged out. Mouths gaped. Oohs and ahs for the spectacle of the duck.
Needless to say, it was delicious. The duck was chewy and gamey, the foie gras meltingly luscious, the garlic an occasional bright surprise, and the cabbage a vegetal counterbalance. The celery root and juicy-crusty bread could have been a meal on it’s own. As you can see, the dish was enough for six people.
No surprise that the combination, foie gras poutine followed by duck in a can, was not a wise choice; I knew that when I ordered. I just had to try both dishes. There were many others I managed to pass up.