Au Pied du Cochon (Montreal) – No Reservations
“It’s like driving down Hollywood Boulevard naked, wearing a cowboy hat and holding a white castle hamburger in one hand, having sex with two hookers while listening to ZZ Top. Total trash. [And I love it.]” – Anthony Bourdain describing his meal at Au Pied du Cochon
“No one ‘gets’ or loves what Picard and his talented crew do at Au Pied de Cochon more — or enjoy more fully what he does — than his fellow professionals.” – Anthony Bourdain in the introduction to “Au Pied du Cochon – The Album“
Marc Séguin, Pied de cochon, 2003, Photo: Éliane Excoffier. (from the Au Pied du Cochon web site.)
Anthony Bourdain can be a charming writer but many of his recommendations are suspect. He incessantly talks about good food but he’s more into documenting iconography than good eats. He’s an international map for food and restaurants of the place, regardless of the quality. But he writes it with enough enthusiasm and exaggeration that disappointment is rarely a concern. It’s entertainment and it sells books and television shows. Granted, I wasn’t naked nor wearing a cowboy hat but if my meal at Au Pied du Cochon (APC) was like having sex with two hookers, abstinence might be the best choice.
Martin Picard, APC chef, is the enfant terrible of the Montreal dining scene. It’s a good role to play if you’ve got a certain amount of media savvy. Judging by the press’s fawning over his restaurant, you could say he’s a multi-media cult of personality. The restaurant is known for its guilt-free excess – a celebration of lower class food brandished in defiance against both middle class homogeny and higher class properness. Some menu items include foie gras poutine (a Montreal dish of fried potatoes, gravy, and cheese curd), deep-fried foie gras, countless organ meats, and pig’s feet stuffed with foie gras. Nothing wrong with that if it’s done right – you can re-contextualize the class of any food as long as it’s executed properly and tastes good. What we found at APC was a popular restaurant that believed its own myth a little too much.
Most dishes were of a similar average quality. We started with the foie gras cromesquis. They had decent foie flavor but the breading was overkill – far too thick and heavy. The tarragon venison tongue was too mushy for my tastes; I prefer more bite. It was drowned in a sloppy tarragon mayonaise. The marinated smoked sausages were tasty but they could have had more smokiness. A house-made boudin was tasty but severely lacked seasoning – more salt would have gone a long way. The APC mashed potatoes were probably a riff on aligot but they were not balanced in any way. Nothing remarkable but nothing offensive – just average food that might fill one up.
The foie gras hamburger was a disappointing exercise in language and expectations. Our expectation was a hamburger that included a liberal helping of foie gras. Our plate came with seared foie gras between two discs of what appeared to meat. Did we get the right thing? We dug in a little more and took a bite. The patties tasted and felt like extremely over-fried pork cutlets. Language – maybe they meant hamburger literally? Still confused, we took another bite but we were incredulous over the treatment of that poor pig – it was murder. We couldn’t go on – the fresh memories of Colborne Lane immediately surfaced…
“Disgusting. Check Please.”
The waiter was flabbergasted – how could anyone not like this? We were perplexed – how could anyone like such overcooked pork? The waiter was confused – pork?!?! It was bread! It was bread that was smashed very thin and presumably fried. Bread?!?!? We both thought that might be more disgusting than our original pork assumption. The waiter probably thought we didn’t know a thing about food as he sat there and argued with us but that was an ill-conceived, meal-killing dish.
Au Pied du Cochon is not recommended. If you travel to Montreal for the purpose of eating, avoid it. If you want to celebrate hedonism, consider Amsterdam instead. Others have written about it and liked it – Hungry says it would be their last meal on earth; Nosher of the North seems to have liked it well enough; and FoieBlog thought it was solid. I’ll never know what they saw in it. The execution is inconsistent at best but mostly sloppy. Many dishes are minimal but beware of the chef’s artistry in dishes like foie / duck in a can (why?) and the foie gras hamburger. This restaurant is nothing more than a marketing plan executed to perfection; unfortunately, marketing plans don’t taste too great.