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.

- chuck

  • rcianci

    It’s hardly a marketing ploy. I’ve eaten at Au Pied many times. I enjoy it very much. Many people do. Sounds like you just don’t get the restaurant.

  • ChuckEats

    Rcianci, please enlighten me/us. What am i missing? Many people enjoy McDonald’s so i don’t buy the line that popularity = greatness. What did you enjoy about the restaurant?

  • Adrian

    I don’t think it’s that you don’t get the restaurant – I think you just had a bad meal there. I’ve eaten at PDC on numorous occasions and I have had some fantastic meals there, some average ones, and one notable stinker. Your description of the appatizers sounds about right for an average to off night there. I also don’t think that the foie gras hamburger was a great choice. The plogue, the foie gras stuffed pigs foot, the foie gras tart, the poutine, and a bunch of the other stuff is really great. The burger has always been a seared peice of foie on an okay bun and not much else. Too bad.

  • Tom Gandey

    For the same style of food (high-end comfort), you can go to Joe Beef and have a MUCH better meal. Not to say that JB is great, its not… but it is certainly serviceable and one of the better meals in the city (CeP is still the best).

    PdC is yet another example of a highly-touted Montreal restaurant that has fallen seriously short on my 2 visits. Maybe Chuck would like to write up L’Express as well :)

  • rcianci

    I’ve enjoyed the hamburger you found so “disgusting”, the foie gras apple tart, the smaller pig’s foot, the seafood platters, the poutine au foie gras, the cassoulet as well as many other items on their menu. I love the casualness and the energy of the place. Au Pied in addition to being popular, also enjoys the favor of many critics, including Eric Asimov of the New York Times (who found favor both with the food and wine list) as well as most of the Canadian food critics. Are they in on the marketing plan as well? You are certainly entitled to your opinion and it’s possible you may have simply been there on an off night, but when I read your account and your readiness to utterly dismiss the place, it sounds as if you went there with your opinion already formed.

  • Tom Gandey

    Adrian,

    Its not just one bad meal. In fact, I tried to steer Chuck away from PdC due to a bad meal I had there many years ago. This one was almost as bad.

    To give PdC some credit, the braised venison tongue dish Chuck spoke of wasn’t that bad but just not to his liking and the duck carpaccio was decent casual fare. The medium well/tough/greasy Duck in a Can and rather tasteless Foie Hamburger with its cloying sweet swamp of reduced balsamic drowning the helpless greens on the other hand… well.

    Foie can save many ill-conceived dishes, but not Picard’s. His best dishes are the ones WITHOUT the foie that he is known for.

  • Tom Gandey

    It wasn’t an off night, nor was it just our plates… Its funny you brought up the wine list as its the only thing that has changed at PdC since my first visit some 7 years ago… Now they have recent DRCs on the list for the tourists looking to blow 4k on a bottle of RC from a mediocre year. We did have a nice bottle of Cotat Sancerre waiting to be seated, but that doesn’t make the foie “hamburger” any more palatable. If you like a smallish piece of foie on a fried hamburger bun swimming in a reduction of low-grade “balsamic” vinegar, be my guest. We aren’t talking about the casualness and energy of the place, we are talking about what goes on the plate.

    Canadian food critics? They are all worthless with the possible exception of Jake Richler and he only will eat at a restaurant if they comp him. Lesley Chesterman? Ignorant and toxic b!tch.

    PdC is 0/2 for me and its certainly not getting a 3rd shot.

    For a city with very good ingredients available to them, it amazes me that the majority of restaurants can be so mediocre – even at the “high-end”.

  • http://QuintessentialCuisine.Blogspot.com/ QUINTESSENTIAL C U I S I N E©

    Well, OK folks! … There now. We have some very opinionated-opinions, but the 1st question is why anyone with the fine taste and palettes as you guys would ever order a hamburger, even with foie gras (or not) for any reason, from any restaurant??? Kinda like Chuck putting a 1963 ’356 4-BANGER in his Turbo Porsche and expecting to place at Le Manns.

    However – Here, even an OUT-OF-FOCUS-PIX would be helpful. — LOL –

  • Tom Gandey

    The whole meal was out-of-focus, no pictures required.

    Its a foie “hamburger”… one would expect beef/foie, or if taken literally pork/foie. Even though the “hamburger” was lost in translation, it was very clearly an ill-conceived dish. FYI, Daniel Boulud’s foie “hamburger” at DB Bistro is a more than worthy food item and is well thought out.

    Of course, to each their own, YMMV, etc. What I want to know is, why isn’t there anyone from outside Montreal defending the restaurant?

  • rcianci

    I’m not fond of Lesley C. either, but Jacob Richler wrote a very favorable review of APDC back in 2004. And for the record, I live in the U.S., the piece of foie on the “burger” is a generous 4 ounces, and the “low grade balsamic” is a reduction of 4 year old balsamic and venison stock. Au Pied is a fine restaurant. A simple Google search shows that the majority of popular and critical opinion agrees with me. Some folks here seem to be fond of making inflammatory and inaccurate statements. My experience is that people with “taste” tend to be more balanced and fair. That’s all.

  • Lesley Chesterman

    Wow, ignorant and toxic bitch…what did I ever do to you?
    BTW, just to set the toxic bitch’s record straight, my last review of APdC was two stars.

  • Tom Gandey

    Maybe they left my foie in the pan too long, because I didn’t think it was anywhere near 4oz pre-cooked weight. The balsamic/stock reduction was sickening sweet, maybe they ran out of stock and just added more vinegar… who knows, but it wasn’t good.

    Getting back to the “majority” and “critical opinion”, as Chuck previously pointed out… the majority of people like McDonald’s or it wouldn’t be so prolific and successful. Many critics also candy-coat reviews so they don’t offend their readers that many frequent a certain establishment (James Chatto in Toronto comes to mind). I find it surprising that Richler liked it, but he was no doubt fawned over and Picard’s best staff was most likely present that night.

    Could it be that I had two bad meals at APdC? Sure, anything is possible… but I say its improbable.

    Picard once said “The fewer your expectations, the better your (dining) experience.”

    I had no expectations, but I still had another bad experience. Nice casual vibe there but if I want casual, I’ll just go to Joe Beef and have a lot better meal.

    Lesley C: “What did I ever do to you?”. Like I said, you are ignorant. I guess you have personally attacked so many people that you simply forget everyone you have offended and moderated on that back-patting board called eG. Had any Manni Olive Oil lately? Thats right, you are too smart to even try one of the world’s best products before denouncing it… I guess that leaves more for me to bathe in as you have previously suggested that I do, after all I’ve got more money than brains… right?

  • mark

    Wow, I’ve enjoyed the repartee. I am going to be in Montreal July 19th and was planning on a reservation at Au Pied. I’ve never been to the city and was drawn to the restaurant from a Gourmet magazine article that Anthony Bourdain wrote a few years ago. A restaurant that I worked at in Chicago was also included in the article (AVEC -www.avecrestaurant.com). Are there any similar places in Montreal? What is Joe Beef all about? Thanks

  • Lesley Chesterman

    Wow, all that anger over olive oil and eGullet.
    Yeah you’re right. I guess I am a toxic bitch after all. You, on the other hand, are obviously a great guy. Enjoy your Manni olive oil. Sounds like you’ve earned it!

  • ChuckEats

    mark – see my latest review on Chasse et Peche – just as decadent as APC (if you order that way), more refined, and an overall better experience.

  • Tom Gandey

    Mark – agreed w/ Chuck on CeP… excellent for its price point and the finest restaurant in Montreal. Check out Joe Beef, definitely more casual but you should have a good meal at the very least… Market ingredients prepared simply in an old school manner.

    Lesley C – Glad you realize that you are toxic and yes, being as fabulous as I am… I will enjoy my Manni :p BTW, its not anger, its discontent with the state of food journalism in Canada.

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  • Juice

    I think that your concept of dining and cuisine differ based on your regionality. Quebec food is rustic, substantial and rich, a far cry from the delicate and highly refined tastes such as Keyah Grande, which you seem to be inclined to.

    APC does a good job at expressing the lust and sin of quebec food.

  • Tom Gandey

    Juice,

    I was born in Montreal and grew up with cretons, tourtiere and cabbage on my hot dog. You can have rustic and rich food without cloying sauces (cheapo balsamic reduction on the foie burger) and questionable duck/foie preparations (canard conserve). Case in point? Joe Beef… which is what APDC would probably be if it lived up to its hype.

  • veronique deshotels

    oink! oink! leslie Chesterman resembles a marzipan sow!
    her writing is the lowest of the low.

    get thee to the trough, sow!

    a friend

    ugh

  • will-smith-but-not-that-guy

    No one should write comments about anyone like the ones that have been written about Leslie Chestermann. Say them over cocktails, maybe, when one thinks one is being “funny,” but never put them on a blogsite. They aren’t even worthy of a teenager’s Facebook profile! We all have strong opinions, but insults bring down the level of a site. One can disregard a critic based on their writing style, but not their personality. But, I’m sure chuck agrees! Anyway, I’m over my soapbox, just disappointed about reading those sorts of comments here.

  • mek

    Indeed, what an utterly embarrassing entry this is.

  • http://www.xanga.com/aromes S Lloyd

    Chuck,
    Like you, I too had less stellar meals there (less stellar to MY tastebuds) in the past (their cromesquis and duck in a can didn’t do the trick for me, back then). I just came from a latest dinner there (this past Tuesday Dec 15th) and both the poutine of duck liver + Pig’s trotter of foie gras I ate have honestly stunned my tastebuds this time. So, it is a matter of what tastes good to each of us. With that said, it is unfair to put down other people opinions since we never know how the experience really went for them: they may had a different cook on their dinners, some ingredients may have went missing during ours, and so on. Keep in mind that those who are raving about APDC are probably doing so because they really liked it. Once, I was not turned on by their duck in a can, but that is irrelevant to the mediatic coverage of APDC, nor other people’s opinions. Lately, my tastebuds were amazed by this latest dinner there and I am not thanking Anthony Bourdain nor anyone else’s opinions for that. It’s just irrelevant. I appreciate your long time generous food writings (and I am a big fan of yours because you contribute in sharing knowledge and that is priceless!) but honestly, mocking at Anthony Bourdain’s or anyone else’s opinions/mediatic coverage about APDC stands as an unecessary note.
    Last note: you seem to be turned off by the over-mediatic coverage of APDC. But the opposite would be a disaster: you know better than most that lots of really great restaurants are closing because of lack of visibility. I get the fact that APDC does not fit in your ideal of a great restaurant, but the question of visibility remains essential to the survival of most restaurants. I agree with challenging a restaurant that is swapping average food against my hard earned money, but nor other’s opinions nor mediatic coverage (they might be incentives, sure, but I am the one willing to give it a try in the end). Make no mistake Chuck: I respect your opinion about your appreciation of the food at APDC (after all, who are we to challenge each other’s tastebuds?).
    S Lloyd

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