536 Duluth E.
Bus: STM 11, 14, 29, 30, 427
Visit: July 5, 2013
In Montreal, there is a list of select restaurants that have the entire world buzzing. That list is as short as can be and you have to be really good to be on it. After being featured on television, printing its own cookbook, and expanding its reach to touch our province’s culture, this restaurant is probably the best one in the entire city. Of course, the restaurant I’m talking about is aptly named Au Pied de Cochon.
It is that time of the year again, time to close another year at Mr. Lew’s Great Burger Search. I’ve thought of many ways to make Burger 200 a memorable one. For a short while, I thought of making it a large party, but that wasn’t to be. So, I turned my attention on finding an epic restaurant in Montreal worthy of being the 200th burger in a search that’s taken 4 years thus far. In the past, cities like Ottawa, Quebec City, and Toronto have had that privilege of finishing off a season. In 2013, it would only be fair to give the home turf a chance to shine. Plus, this season has already seen excursions to New York and Boston.
For the choice of restaurant, there was only one place that held enough esteem and had a burger on the menu. That restaurant has been universally praised and held up on the pedestal. It was only fitting that I chose this place to represent the cherry on top of the cake that’s been the fourth year of the search. Au Pied de Cochon is one of the best restaurants in the city and I was counting down the days to see that for myself.
Now, getting into this restaurant without a reservation is not an easy task. For that reason, I called 3.5 weeks in advance to make my reservation. I was hoping to have a large group join me, just like a burger night, but the times given to me were at the two extremes of the spectrum. Those times managed to slice my group in half. Despite that, burgering will wait for no one and even if I was all by myself, I would have found a way to get my 200th burger.
I got to the restaurant about 30 minutes early. That time gave me the chance to walk up and down Duluth to do some research. At the time I arrived, there was actually no one waiting outside. I returned to the front with about 10 minutes to spare and that’s when the people started coming out of nowhere to line up. I also took my place in line.
In that line, the hostess had a clipboard with all the information greatly organized, making sure that everyone who was supposed to be there showed up on time. There were even people who showed up without a reservation and they turned around because there would be no space for them tonight. Even though my entire party wasn’t at the restaurant yet, they graciously allowed me to enter and take my table. I also heard that they don’t really serve you any kind of food until everyone arrives, so it was critical that everyone showed up. Plus, we only had 2.5 hours to get everything in.
Luckily, everyone who was supposed to be there arrived in the shortest of delays and we were on our way. Before we get to the ordering process, I have to admit that Au Pied de Cochon is a well-oiled machine of service. Water was filled up at regular intervals and empty plates were whisked away seconds after completion. It was incredible to watch this the entire time we were there.
The restaurant floor itself is quite narrow. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the immediate space in the front, but as you walk in, you see how deep you go into the restaurant. There are bigger tables at the back and the place had air conditioning, which was a big victory in the middle of the current heat wave.
Our table was located right next to the bar portion of the open kitchen. From our vantage point, we were able to see the drinks coming in and out. We even were closer to the washroom, which amassed quite the line during the evening. At times, it looked like the only washroom in the entire restaurant, but I was assured there was a second one. Judging by the lineup at this particular washroom, you wouldn’t think there were two.
At this point of the evening, our server showed up to go over the menu. The specials were greatly detailed and they appealed to some of the members of our group. As we made our choices, we were told that we chose well. Our questions were answered quite well and with great detail. Throughout the night, we were asked how things were and we felt like we were in good hands.
It was at the end of the whole process where something really didn’t sit well with me. Despite the great service provided by this server in question, I could tell that there was this air of superiority or arrogance. I was just waiting for that to rear its ugly head. It might not have in the pretense of verbal interaction, but I saw something in our non-verbal communication that rubbed me the wrong way.
It was when we were exchanging money because some of us paid by cash. When one of our members asked for change, the coins were unceremoniously dumped on our table and the bills were crumpled up upon delivery. Since it was my turn to pay and I always pay in cash, I knew the same thing was going to happen to me. As it was the case, my crumpled up 20 dollar bill was placed on the table. I’m starting to think about it, but we weren’t rude or anything and our tips were more than generous. I find it quite rude for someone to show that amount of disrespect when it wasn’t warranted.
Before I move on, I’m not going to let that slight issue characterize my experience at Au Pied de Cochon. While some people might find certain members of the staff to be arrogant and condescending, you have to look past that and realize that you’re there for the food. In a situation like this, the quality of the food spoke louder than any disgruntled employee.
Foie Gras Cromesquis
To begin the meal at Au Pied de Cochon, some appetizers were ordered by the other members of the table. I was lucky enough to have the chance to sample some of the other things people ordered and for that, I am thankful.
This is fried foie gras, where it is also liquefied in the middle. It turns out to look like small cubes. The most interesting part of all this is the feeling you get when you pick one of these cubes up. As you’re holding it, the cube is throbbing, like it is getting ready to explode. So, you have to eat this rather quickly. Once consumed, the taste is reminiscent of a strong blue cheese. Regardless of any resemblance to anything else, it was a purely awesome way to start things off.
The second item I got to try was a piece of tomato tartlet. The consistence and appearance will remind anyone of a smaller version of pizza. The taste is very much like that, but the crust is a whole lot softer. With a gentle touch, because it is somewhat soft, you’ll be able to enjoy this slice of tomato goodness.
One of the specials of the night was a sausage plate. I got to try a piece and it was quite good.
Foie Gras Terrine
Another special for the evening was this foie gras terrine. It looks very much and eaten like a pate. You take some of it and you spread it across some bread.
Foie Gras Tout Nu
This was one of the last dishes I got to try outside my own. With a generous portion of sauce, this is foie gras stark naked. The piece I got to try was on a different plane of existence. Up until now, I have never had foie gras, so I have literally nothing to compare it to. But, the piece I got to try melted in my mouth and that was great.
Half our table got to enjoy this platter of seafood, which our server boldly claimed it was one of their specialties. The platter consists of items like clams, oysters, and snails.
The platter also comes with this shooter time sauce meant to accompany the oysters.
Before I move on to the item I ordered to eat, you’ll notice these capsules. Now, I’ve been to about 300 restaurants in the last 4 years and I have never seen anything like this. These capsules were placed on our table and I had no idea what they were for. No matter how many times I think I’ve seen everything, I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen.
A few moments later, another member of the serving staff comes over with a pot of hot water. They proceed to pour it into the bowl with the capsules. Like magic, they turned into these wet napkins. I didn’t realize it just then, but I would come to really need these wipes because what was about to show up to the table required them.
PDC Mashed Potatoes
To accompany my main course, I decided to order the special name-branded mashed potatoes. When the dish arrived to the table, there was this collective sense of amazement. The pool of butter in the middle of the potatoes created a buzz that I have never seen for mashed potatoes.
This burger contains lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar, and foie gras.
The burger from Au Pied de Cochon starts off with a whole lot of hype. If you’re called one of Reader’s Digest's top 5 gourmet burgers in Canada, it is a big deal. If you're curious, you can also check out this video where chef Martin Picard shows Reader’s Digest how to make the burger.
For me, it was clear that this burger was worthy enough to be the 200th burger in the search. For the 39 dollars that it costs and the ingredients that it has in it, there was no other burger in the entire city worthy enough to be a milestone burger.
First of all, the second it made its epic appearance at the table, it garnered the attention of every single person sitting there. After literally dozens of pictures taken of the burger, I was quite hesitant to touch this holy concoction. It’s not every day that we get to be near such a big time burger.
At this point, I have to forget which burger I’m eating and focus on the task at hand. The first thing I noticed is the great amount of sauce that’s literally all over the place. I think it was clear why the napkin capsules were delivered to the table. To be clear, there’s no dainty way of eating this burger if you’re going to go the traditional route. Then again, eating a burger is not an elegant thing to do and that’s the way I like it. For me, to eat a burger any other way isn’t worth doing. The sauce did get in the way, but I’m happy that I got none of it on myself.
The burger is comprised of many bold ingredients. The taste of the meat itself was quite good. The temperature of the meat was absolutely perfect and complimented everything else in the burger well. With the placement of the lettuce and tomatoes, you could easily tell that it was a strong burger.
The bun was an interesting choice to make. These have got to be the flattest burger buns I’ve ever had in any burger. They were also a little hard and weren’t easy to hold onto. However, it was a very slight issue to be had in the big picture. Another thing to notice is the sweet taste of the bun by itself.
The key feature of the burger is obviously the foie gras. With literally no foie gras experience behind me and being fully aware of the controversy it entails, it was the point that caused a little apprehension for me. Despite that, I have to admit that the inclusion of foie gras meshed well with everything else. It tasted really good and was the perfect fit to make take this burger to another level. Even though I wouldn’t go out of my way to have foie gras in my burger, I wouldn’t turn it down either if done properly.
The inclusion of the foie gras created a bit of a structural issue. The piece of foie gras is oddly shaped and you have to juggle that around. Having to readjust the pieces was a little difficult, but when you think of the overall product, it wasn’t a deal breaker.
In all, for the money, it’s one hell of a burger. You might get a little messy and you might be overwhelmed with the whole thing, but it’s a small price to pay for a burger that’s truly worth it. The luxurious ingredients are well chosen and they play that role so well. There is a reason why it is one of the best gourmet burgers in the country or even the world.
While some of us were a little stuffed, the other half of the table decided to attempt a cheesecake. It looked really good too.
In the end, I have to note that I smashed my Burger Search record, as Au Pied de Chochon is now the most expensive location at 65 dollars and that was just my share of the experience.
We spent nearly 2.5 hours at Au Pied de Cochon and we found out what everybody already knows, it is a top restaurant. The service, despite the slight hiccup at the very end, is one of the best in the entire city. The food, above everything else, is what makes this restaurant one of the best I’ve ever set foot in. That’s another item I can cross off my bucket list.