I apologize for not posting last week, but I’ve been quite busy lately. I’ve spent the better part of the last two weeks playing drums for a college production of the musical “Hair” and I also celebrated my birthday last week.
Noshette kindly took me out to an early dinner (I had a 7pm curtain call) at the Au Pied de Cochon, a Montreal restaurant owned and run by Martin Picard, a local celebrity chef who is best known for his time spent as sous-chef at Toqué, one of Montreal’s most expensive restaurants. To add another pigtail to his cap, Picard has authored and self-published a book called Au Pied de Cochon: The Album, which is not really a cookbook, but more of a scrapbook/manifesto celebrating the restaurants’ food, staff, family, suppliers, etc. The book includes a 40-page comic, a DVD, and an introduction written by none other than Anthony Bourdain, whose contributions to Michael Ruhlman’s blog always entertain me.
Au Pied de Cochon is truly a Quebecois restaurant. It doesn’t appear to be a fancy place, but the menu includes an entire section devoted to foie gras. While the presence of foie gras doesn’t make me too happy, the rest of the menu makes up for it with pig’s feet, venison tongue in tarragon sauce, tourtière (Quebecois meat pie), pea soup, oreilles de crisse (pork rinds), and other down-home creations.
We started off with pints of beer that is made specially for the restaurant by a local brewery. We matched the beer with one of the daily specials; fiddleheads with poached egg, homemade sausage and wild mushrooms. Fiddleheads are the young tops of ferns that are picked when they are still curled up, resembling violin headstocks, hence their name, which in French is “têtes de violons.” They are a spring specialty of Eastern Canada, and these were definitely local and delicious.
For my main course, I was having trouble deciding between the “Happy Pork Chop,” the venison steak, or the pig’s foot, so I let the waiter decide for me.
Our waiter, who was extremely informative and gracious, brought me the restaurant’s namesake, which was a complete pig’s foot, de-boned and braised in a crépine, which is the stomach lining of the pig (or some other animal). The other two or three times I’ve had a pig’s foot, it was finished off under a broiler or blowtorch, which provided a crunchy contrast to the fall-off-the-bone soft interior. This was the first time I’ve had my pig’s foot with no bones and with no crunch, and even though I enjoyed it, I think I prefer not only the adventure of discovering the different potions of meat hiding under the zillions of pig foot bones, but I also like it crunchy on the outside.
The pig’s foot was served with aligot, a specialty from the Auvergne region of France. It is made by blending mashed potatoes with cheese until it is extremely gooey. And delicious. There was a weird, deep-fried rectangle resting on my aligot, which our waiter kindly explained was the veins and cartilage of the pig’s foot, breaded and deep-fried. Even though I admire Martin Picard’s effort to use the whole animal, this was really gross and I didn’t get past the first bite of it.
Au Pied de Cochon gets its pork from Porcherie Ardennes, a farm praised by Martin Picard for its humane animal treatment and high-quality products, but a visit to their website shows that although they do not use antibiotics or animal products in their feed and the animals are not cramped into cages, they don’t seem to be grazing in the fields. I hope those photos are just winter shots and the summer sees those pigs romping in the grass.