APdC kitchen

Kitchen view from the bar at APdC

During our first trip to Au Pied de Cochon, we had expressed regret that we didn’t have more room to try more of the tasty-sounding dishes on the menu.  So we did what any food enthusiasts would have done: we made a second reservation.

The restaurant was rammed and still hopping when we arrived at 11pm, and the hostess asked apologetically if we’d mind waiting at the bar while they turned our table.  We jumped at the chance and asked if we could just sit at the bar instead.  It turned out we had a perfect view of the kitchen, so we were off to a good start.

Actually, my favourite place in a restaurant has always been a seat overlooking the kitchen.  There’s something fascinating about the way cooks move — the graceful pragmatism, the simultaneous attention to multiple orders, the terse warnings of “behind” and “chaud!”.  We settled into our seats — I with a house beer — and took it all in.  The APdC kitchen is a pretty small space, shared by about 5 cooks the night were there, so it was cramped to say the least.  The sauté station seemed to be turning out foie gras non-stop, and bowls of French onion soup, looking ferociously hot, were ferried to the pass by an anxious-looking cook and dodged by more anxious-looking cooks.  Kitchen communication was a chaotic mix of French and English.

We’d done our homework this time, charting out our meal ahead of time using the menu on the APdC website. Feeling like our first meal had suffered from over-foie-ordering, this time we were going for variety.

tarte aux tomates

tarte aux tomates

But first it was time for the sole repeat of the night, oreilles de crisse. We just couldn’t get enough of the crispy-crunchy-salty deep-fried pork rinds the first time, so it was time for a rerun. Then we had the tarte aux tomates, a simple construction of sliced herbed tomatoes on flaky pastry. Simple, yet so good — fresh tomato taste, and a crispy crust, rich with butter that the light Dijon sauce perfectly cut while enhancing the tomatoes — best dish of the night.

We chose more standard mains, trying to stick to dishes that seemed “important” to order. That meant the duck in a can, of course, and the pied de cochon. I preferred the foot while Jen liked the duck. The can was opened with a suitable amount of showmanship, leaving us with a slab of duck (complete with thick layer of fat attached), a large piece of foie gras, served on mashed potatoes on a piece of toast. We liked this dish best among all the foie gras dishes we’d had at APdC — the flavours were clearest and the ingredients were in better harmony. The pig foot was served with more mashed potatoes (thick and stringy from the curds added), and a fried puck of something not unlike head cheese. Admittedly the dish’s flavours were kind of muddled, but what gave it the edge for me was the protein. I just thought the pied de cochon itself tasted better than the magret from the canard en conserve.

Overall we had a better dinner than our first visit, though we both felt a tad disappointed with APdC, compared to what we’d been expecting.

Looking back, I have the sense now that Au Pied de Cochon has been overtaken by hype. I can still clearly recall my first visit, some years ago now, as being one of the 2 best meals I ate that whole year. Now, the food is still good, but the restaurant is trapped in the rut of giving customers what they expect — wretched excess in the form of Jenga towers of mashed potatoes, pork, and foie gras. The dishes lack spark, and it was this spark — not the generous hand with the foie — that made the restaurant superlative originally. But diners and tastes and yes, even Chefs, evolve, and there’s no shame in Au Pied de Cochon continuing to epitomize the style that made it famous.

And so, I still recommend it as Montréal’s must-visit establishment. Why? Simply put, Au Pied de Cochon is unique. Not unique as in “interesting” or “quirky” or “eccentric”. Rather, it’s a restaurant that’s simply one-of-a-kind. If you’re going to be in the city, you should definitely make a reservation to experience it for yourself. Don’t let the hype ruin it for you; your third eye might not open, but it’s worth it for the experience. That you’ll also have a great meal is really just a plus.

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