Oct 21st, 2008 by Jonny
Gentle readers, please sympathize with me, for I, like a man who’s been dining exclusively on centipedes, have the bitter taste of defeat in my mouth. That this humiliation and defeat arrived, to twist a metaphor, at the hands of nothing more sinister than a pig’s foot, has only served to exacerbate these feelings of embarrassment and self-loathing.
Those of you already somewhat familiar with our body of work here at We Are Never Full may know that we are always ready to face down even the hardiest gastronomic challenges, frequently with all-to scant regard for liver, waistline and coronary arteries. It’s a kind of culinary cockiness and machismo that, strangely enough, we find so odious in TV food tools like Guy Fieri. I sincerely hope that this foolish trend, which continued during our recent trip to Montreal, has no lasting repercussions on our health.
Having heard about the restaurant Au Pied de Cochon (literally, at the foot of the pig) and its joyful, some may say reckless, use of duck and pork fat (& offal) in the preparation of traditional French and Quebecois dishes, plus several unique heart-stopping creations, we figured that it sounded like the kind of place we should visit.
“…a green salad tossed in warm, duck-fat vinaigrette and topped with a fritter of trotter mush…”
The red sign near the entrance cautioning patrons to be careful on the greasy floor should have been taken as warning, as should the glazed and listless gazes of departing patrons. Heedless, we proceeded to order the sliced tongue and the crispy PDC salad as starters. The former, which was beef tongue, sat nicely in our comfort zone. Meltingly tender and served with a butter-finished veal stock sauce and garnished with sliced cornichons for a texturally-satisfying crunch. We were intrigued by the latter when the waiter explained that it was basically a green salad tossed in warm, duck-fat vinaigrette and topped with a fritter of trotter mush. Yes, that’s right – the nerves, cartilage and natural gelatin from the pig’s foot, mashed together and seasoned, then breaded and deep-fried. Not a salad for dieters, but amazing tasting, wonderful mouth-feel, with the prince of vinaigrettes.
That we had ordered mains after this was our first major mistake, and the second was that one of them happened to be the pied de cochon with foie gras. (The fact that the other was a large tranche of foie gras with a side of poutine (more on this in a later post) barely registered.) Few are the times in my life that I have had a plate of food put in front of me and I have suddenly felt weak, timid and overawed – even at the most trying times I usually soldier bravely on before leaving the table bloated and sweaty – but, on this occasion I was defeated the moment I was served.
“…like the governor of a provincial state thrust into the spotlight of CBS News … I was suddenly way out of my depth and performed pathetically, embarrassing myself in the process.”
Never before have I even seen a plate of food that large for one person, let alone been prompted to eat it. It was gigantic. The pigs foot was large – maybe a foot long – and deep-fried, though that of itself caused little consternation as it was mostly bone, and was topped with a 4oz slice of seared foie gras, again, excessive, but perhaps not fear-inducing exactly. What really intimidated me was that the trotter sat on an inch-deep bed of creamy mashed potatoes and between two foot-long trenches – for that’s what they were – of button mushrooms and spinach in a cream and butter sauce. I would estimate there were two 6oz boxes of button mushrooms plus a cup of cream on the plate, and the whole thing must have weighed about 5lbs and could have served six adults. What was I to do in the face of such magnitude?
You’re right, I could have plowed in and tried to eat it all, and then admitted defeat gracefully later on. I could also have harangued the waiter for not giving me any idea of what a fool I was making of myself, but frankly, my spirit was broken. You see, I’ve always managed to perform creditably at the table before, even if I have ultimately been overwhelmed, but, like the governor of a provincial state thrust into the spotlight of CBS News for the first time, I was suddenly way out of my depth and performed pathetically, embarrassing myself in the process.
As these photos attest, I was barely able to make a dent in it, and in truth, it was my wife who ate the lion’s share. I had been psyched out and failed to regain my composure. Some would say, with good reason, that it was a shameful waste of food, but I prefer to think of it as a lesson in humility.
Indeed, chatting with the maitre d’ later on over calvados (one of the few things that can cut through thick layers of duck fat) I learned that this was Martin Picard, the owner’s, dastardly plan for this dish, — that no-one who orders it leaves unscarred. Everyone is dominated by it and no-one gets anywhere near cleaning their plate. So confident are they at Au Pied de Cochon of their ability to manifest gluttony so vaingloriously that they number every deep-fried pig’s foot they serve. Mine was 5141. So from now on, like a retired GI with a talisman made of shrapnel, I shall wear that number with pride and humility, in place of a hospital bracelet during the bypass surgery I expect to now need.
Au Pied de Cochon
536 avenue Duluth Est
Montréal, QC H2L 1A9, Canada
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