Au Pied de Cochon – - my birthday dinner

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.

images.jpgNoshette 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. b4.jpgWe 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.

b2.jpgOur 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.

7 Responsesto “Au Pied de Cochon – - my birthday dinner”

  1. Venusia says:

    Small nitpick, but the full name of the restaurant is Au pied de cochon.

  2. Freya says:

    What a wonderful review, I love this kind of gutsy (literally!) food!

  3. Nosher of the North says:

    Nitpicks are welcome and appreciated.

  4. azurite says:

    I’ve known one or two people who raised a few pigs (for their own and their friends’ tables) and both told me the pigs they were raising had to be in strongly barricaded enclosures–w/concrete blocks set into the ground. Because the pigs would root their way out of the enclosure if they weren’t in a very solid enclosure. Maybe it was just the breeds of pigs they were raising (although I’ve heard the wild pigs in TX and currently colonizing more and more of the US can destroy, by rooting, plantings in record time). So I don’t think I’d expect to see pigs “romping in the grass” any time soon. They’re not as easy to keep in a pasture as horses, beef or sheep (and even then people often use hot wire, or w/beef, barbed wire). Or even goats.

    The two people (or couples) who kept pigs had them in outdoor pens, and I believe there was a shelter they could use to get out of the weather, if they wished. The pens weren’t huge, but the pigs could certainly move about freely and there was water, etc.

  5. Ted says:

    I have got to tell you…the gestation crates and general equipment sure look like a factory farm environment to me. Please know I am not saying this as a judgement…just an observation. We have a pig farm a few miles from our house in Sonoma County, CA, and the pigs live outside in a grove of trees with little huts much like azurite describes.

    Still – concept of using everything is cool. And no hormones, etc is always better than conventional farming.

    Sounds like a cool meal.

  6. Nosher of the North says:

    While I applaud the farm where Martin Picard gets his pigs, I still believe that better conditions can be provided for the pigs, which would include both living conditions and type of food. I believe that the pigs probably cannot live outside in the Canadian winter, but I am certain they can live outside in the summer, running around and eating some of what nature has to offer, like Walter Jeffries’ pigs at Sugar Mountain Farm. I hope the Ardennes pigs do go outside, but I figure if they did, there would be some outdoor photos on the website.

  7. Sandra says:

    I went to au Pied de Cochon this Wednesday and was pleasantly unsurprised. My friend had soupe gratinee a l’oignons which the wine totally covered the aroma of the onions which is the centerpiece in the soup.

    Totally disappointed. The magret de canard I ordered which was way too salty. And the shitakee mushrooms that went a long were so badly cooked they were hard to eat.

    Definitely a big disappointment. Oh and did I mention the service is very “stuck up waiters” style. The kind that acts like they are some renowned masters of fine dining.

    Not worth it. Forget about all the good reviews.

    Cause this is all about HYPE!