Four Days in Montreal
I just came back from a fabulous four days in Montreal. Having been there a number of times over the years, it has still been a good 10 or more years since my last visit. I’m definitely not going to let that many years pass before my next visit. Despite the many visits, I’m always struck by the fact that I never get bored with it. The architecture and the festivals all over the city are as varied and interesting as the cultures that inhabit it.
The food was fantastic, too. We ate at Verses (part of Hotel Nelligan) on our first night. I had the Grilled and Marinated Nagano Pork Loin served with mango and red pepper chutney, fingerling potatoes scented with cumin and ginger, green bean salad and roasted yellow beets. Mouthwatering. My dining companions enjoyed chorizo-stuffed organic chicken served with smoked paprika sauce, herbed mashed potatoes, asparagus and sautéed mushrooms, and perfectly grilled elk medallions with amelanchier berry sauce, Délices des Apalaches soft polenta accompanied by cauliflower and romanesco florets. For desert, we had a very delectable lavender-infused panna cotta. It was a great start to our holiday.
Despite the abundant food, I had no fear of gaining weight. We spent entire days on extended walking tours, aided by nothing more than a torn map and a penchant for discovery. And discover we did. The Pointe-à-Callière Archaeology Museum was a treasure trove. As for shopping, well, I couldn’t resist picking up a few more pieces to add to my Adventures of Tintin collection.
Dinner number two took place at a restaurant called Le Club Chasse et Pêche. If we hadn’t had an actual street address, I doubt we would’ve found it at all. It’s a small, windowless cubby of a place (from the outside at least). The only marker was a crest-like symbol on a sign hanging above the door. The sign didn’t have the name of the restaurant written on it; in fact, the image (of antlers and fish) was the only indication that what was housed behind the heavy door was a great restaurant. We split appetizers of piglet risotto with foie gras shavings and veal sweetbread with artichokes and veal cheeks. I followed those with roasted boar belly. Very tender and super flavourful. It was absolutely lip-smacking.
We knew that we couldn’t leave Montreal without experiencing Martin Picard’s Au Pied de Cochon restaurant. Picard, having been awarded the title of Maverick Chef some years back by Tidings Magazine, has gone on to host a Food Network cooking/adventure show. Reservations at his restaurant are a must. We decided on an early (6:30) dinner, but the place was already jumping. Families, couples, business associates … everyone seemed to be packed into the small restaurant lined with slat panelled walls. The restaurant was a zoo! The funniest part was that one of the waiters walked around holding a stick with a cloth wrapped around the end. Every few minutes, he would lift it above diners’ heads, using it to wipe away the condensation that developed around the vents above the tables. When our waiter came to our table and rattled off the night’s specials, I had to lean over and say, “Je n’ai rien entendu!” (“I didn’t hear a single word!”). It was crazy loud and very busy.
Unlike so many of the other eateries we frequented, Au Pied de Cochon was fairly expensive. Granted, the portions were huge. We decided to start with the Foie Gras “Tout Nu”. A lovely, super tender piece of foie gras served with a little Balsamic glaze on a thin piece of melba toast. Delicious. That was followed by foie gras risotto. I know we’d already had a similar risotto at Chasse et Pêche the night before, but we thought we’d do a little comparison. Two chefs squeezed past tables to reach us, pushing a cart loaded with a huge carved out wheel of Parmigiano cheese, a small pitcher of broth and freshly sautéed mushrooms and pork in a hot frying pan. While we watched, they scooped risotto into the wheel of cheese, finished it with about a cup of broth, the pork and the mushrooms. They gave it a stir, scraping at the sides of the cheese as they went along. Then, they scooped it into a bowl, placed it on our table, turned and pushed the cart back towards the kitchen, only to pull it out and go through the whole performance again for another customer a few minutes later.
Despite the show, the risotto paled compared to the one prepared at Chasse et Pêche. The rice wasn’t properly cooked; it was still mostly raw and hard in the centre. The flavour also wasn’t nearly as sublime as Chasse et Pêche’s take on it. What came next, though, made up for it. Although the waiter suggested that the roasted pork shoulder is meant to be split between two people, I’d say it could very easily feed six! Perfectly cooked, tender on the inside with very crisp crackling, it came with a tasty ragoût of beans. The highlight occurred while we were enjoying the pork shoulder. Who should come to sit at the table next to us? None other than Martin Picard, himself. Joined by 3 dining companions, he chowed down on a massive seafood platter. After dinner, we rolled out of there wondering if our hearing would ever return to normal.