Leaving Montreal after dinner on Sunday night and heading home for Toronto.
Foodie: I feel like I’m in the movie Tron right now! This is amazing!
Beast: I feel like I’m in hell right now–did that smell just come out of your body?
Foodie: I’m afraid so.
Beast: Roll down the window! That’s horrific! What’s wrong with you?
Foodie: Ah well, we’ve eaten a lot of rich food in the last two days man! (Pause) Plus, I get all off track down there when I get pulled out of my normal morning routine. Don’t you?
Beast: Nope. Not one bit. You went at least once though in Montreal, right?
Foodie: I haven’t in four days.
Beast: Are you fucking kidding me? So right now, you’re literally full of shit.
Foodie: Yes I am. Did I ever tell you about the time in grade one where I didn’t get caught farting?
Foodie: Oh this is a good one! So I was in library class in grade one at Mary Bucke School and I had to have a toot and I was certain it was going to be just a little quiet one but because I was sitting on a tiled floor, the fart reverberated and it sounded like a fucking bomb went off! But the worst part was that Mr. Jacobs, the librarian, was a bit up tight and whenever anybody farted in class, which was surprisingly frequent, he’d send them to the washroom as punishment. So when I farted I must have looked guilty as all get out and he pointed at me and yelled, “Go to the washroom!” But I was fucking mortified so I yelled back, “I didn’t do it!” He paused, looked around the room filled with five year-olds and pointed at Ed Dueck, the naughty boy, and told him to go the washroom. And Ed went! He just shrugged, got up, and went straight to the washroom! Isn’t that the funniest thing ever? Oh god I think that’s funny.
Beast: ROLL DOWN THE WINDOW!!!!!
Our weekend in Montreal was just perfect. We stayed with our good friends Matt and Susie in their utterly magical loft apartment.
It’s one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve ever seen. It kind of reminds me of Charles and Ray Eames’ work space, or Ron Weasley’s parents’ place in Harry Potter. You want to explore every nook and cranny. And you want to live there.
Shortly after arriving on Friday night, the four of us made our way to L’Express, a venerable Montreal dining spot on St. Denis.
Over the years many people have told me to eat here. And they always preface it with, “The service may be snooty but the food is perfect: classic French bistro.”
I couldn’t have predicted that I was about to have one of my top ten meals in all my years. We ordered four things with which to start: A steamed artichoke with dijon vinaigrette, a lentil and octopus salad, braised leeks, and bone marrow with sea salt.
Never mind that each plate looked like a little work of art–they all tasted like a million bucks too! We watched the impeccably-dressed man sitting beside us with his wife suck back bone after bone-filled marrow all to himself. Matt and I indulged in the marrow with reserve, but Susie and the Beast took to it with real vigour.
For her main course, Susie ordered a lamb something-or-other with some sort of potato galette that made us all swoon when we tried it.
Matt opted for something lighter: a piece of perfectly poached seabass accompanied by perfectly cooked green beans.
Meanwhile, the Beast and I couldn’t resist sampling L’Express’s Steak Frites.
Steak Frites isn’t rocket science, which makes me wonder why I’ve had so many bad versions of this classic bistro dish. L’Express, not surprisingly, nailed it.
You’d think we’d be really full after all that food, plus two bottles of wine. But we ordered two desserts–some sort of traditional French bread pudding and profiterols–plus a Quebec blue cheese, with the word “Elizabeth” in it, to wash down the sweets.
We all had a round of a remarkable 18 year old calvados too. I tell you, from start to end, it was a perfect meal, including the service, which was warm, congenial and professional. And what’s more is that none of us felt overburdened with food or drink, which may sound shocking. We were certainly full, but not uncomfortably so.
After a sound night’s sleep (read, drunk), the Beast and I woke up to this.
It was perfect start to our day, which involved walking all over the city, seeing the Otto Dix show at the Musée des beaux-arts, and winding down in old Montreal at dusk.
While the Beast listened to some guy play a saxophone outside of Notre Dame, Susie and I visited Papeterie Casse-Noiseet, the most charming stationary shop. We made it in just before they closed.
Good thing too: it was really important that I make it to this shop because I had to buy myself something from my Things You Don’t Really Need Wish List, namely some Verge de France stationary. It’s made in France. And it’s the sort of stationary that both Europe’s royal courts and the world’s fashion elite, like, say, Donatella Versace, use.
I wanted every size and every colour, but in the end I chose a box of ivory note cards and envelopes to match.
After our wonderful day, the Beast, Susie and I were very hungry. Good thing Matt, who had to stay home to work, had a spread of cheese, wine and baguette for us as soon as we came in from the cold.
We were having such a wonderful time sitting around and chatting that we almost forgot about our reservation at Au Pied de Cochon–this place isn’t just one of Montreal’s most exciting food destinations any more: it’s now considered one of North America’s best restaurants.
Situated quite prettily up there on the Plateau, this place is jam-packed every night with people who’re are eager to sample Chef Martin Picard’s pork-heavy, fat-laced Quebecois-inspired fare.
Luckly, we were really hitting our stride with Susie and Matt in terms of eating out: for wine, we’d start out with a bottle of white and then move on to a red (in both instances, something from the Loire region in France), then we’d choose four appetizer to share, and then everybody would choose whatever they wanted for their mains. Although decisions were difficult to make at this place. we managed to settle on pork rinds, roasted suckling pig sliced thinly, a salad of endive, apple and blue cheese, plus an order of poutine to start.
The Beast had a little panic attack because we didn’t get the poutine with the wedge of foie gras on top–a staple at Au Pied de Cochon. But the rest of us were weary about the richness of the meal ahead. Perhaps to spite us, the Beast chose the most absurd dish I’ve ever heard of for his main: Pied de Cochon’s namesake dish–a stuffed pig’s foot topped with a giant wedge of foie gras.
Susie opted for the seafood special of the evening, which was a gigantic slab of swordfish served with gnocchi, herbs, butter and white wine.
Quite frankly, I was overwhelmed by the menu and in a panic, I settled on the grilled pork chop served with braised cabbage, mushrooms and onions. I’d wanted to get the PDC Melting Pot, which I think was a stew of some sort, but they were all out.
Somebody had to order the duck in a can–a dish that put Au Pied de Cochon on the map and has made people like Anthony Bourdain devoted followers of Chef Picard. So Matt rose to the occasion. And thank goodness too because it was a quite a spectacle to see his meal presented table-side.
Now this might come as a bit of a shock, but I didn’t finish my plate. It was the biggest pork chop I’ve ever seen. It was good, but after a few bites, I felt over-saturated with those tastes. I don’t think any of us finished our plates–not even the Beast. Don’t get me wrong: everything was good–delicious in fact–but I don’t know if I’d go back. L’Express on the other hand, I’d be there in a heartbeat should someone invite me. And you know what the difference was? Every dish we ordered at L’Express I’d be interested in devouring, whereas there wasn’t one plate at Au Pied de Cochon that I’d be eager to clean, let alone physically capable of finishing.
Save for one exception: the lemon meringue tart I ordered for dessert. It was heavenly.
We talked about the differences between the two dinner experiences on our walk home. One of the only similarities is that we spread out both meals over about three hours. That second night, we slept like babies (read: drunk and full).
The next day the Beast and I braved the city on our own. We went to St. Viateur bagel on the Plateau because my friend Kate from work said they are the best. We even got treated to a little show.
Outside, we dug into our bag and picked out too piping hot delights and enjoyed them plain and simple right there on the street, just like Kate advised us to do.
A few record shops, bookstores and kitchen supply places later, we headed back to Susie and Matt’s and said our good-byes. Before leaving the city, we had one more spot to hit: a poutine place called La Banquise that both the Beast’s brother and Kate from work recommended we go to in order to try real, Montreal poutine.
The place was packed with students (it’s open 24 hours and has about a couple of dozen types of poutine from which to choose). The Beast, disliking most people under 45, was not impressed. We scarfed down to orders of classic poutine, and hit the road.
Back in the stink-infested car, driving along the 401 home to Toronto.
Foodie: You know what I think? I think Poutini’s in Toronto has better poutine than all the poutine we tried in Montreal.
Beast: I agree. But I bet if you had let me order the poutine with foie gras from Au Pied de Cochon, that it would have been the best.
Foodie: No way. It would have been too much!
Beast: Remember when you farted in front of Matt on the walk to the restaurant last night?
Foodie: SHUT UP! I almost forgot how mad I am at you for bringing it up in front of everyone!
Beat: Well, it’s better to own up to something like that than just ignore it.
Foodie: I didn’t bring it up because I thought maybe Matt didn’t hear it! It was awfully loud though. I thought it would just sort of slip out undetected-like.
Beast: Of course he heard it! When I brought it up, he admitted that he heard it loud and clear but just chose to not say anything to be polite.
Foodie: WHICH IS WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE! I whispered to you in confidence what I’d done and then you mortified me by bringing it up–at the table no less!
Beast: You’re just mad because you got caught this time, not like with Mr. Jefferson in grade one.
Foodie: Mr. Jacobs. Please don’t do that again.
Beast: Please stop farting.
Foodie: (Pause, with a couple of farts probably) I bet I gained about five pounds this weekend, which is probably good. I was getting a bit sinewy, don’t you think?
Foodie: With all my exercising, like my soccer, my running and my biking, I have to watch my weight loss and control how much muscle I gain. I don’t want to look like Madonna for crying out loud!
Foodie: I mean, I don’t want to waste away or anything.
Beast: I don’t think you have to worry about that.
Beast: For crying out loud! You’re going to burn a fucking hole in the seat of this rental car if you keep this up!
L’Express: Foodie **** Beast ****
Au Pied de Cochon: Foodie: **1/2 Beast ***