April 28, 2010

Au pied de la cochonne, on se gave de sirop d'érable!

Ah, so I didn't quite manage to post last week. Pesky things they are, those final exams... (You know what else is pesky? Snow on the 27th of April!!!) But now that I've gotten all that out of my way, it's onto food and reviews!

I was recently invited to go to the famed Au Pied de Cochon Sugarshack and I'm happy to say that it lived up to all of my ridiculously fattening expectations! (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Au Pied de Cochon and its chef Martin Picard's affinity for all things rich and yummy, watch this episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. I didn't get fed nearly as aggressively as Mr. Bourdain, but I sure was stuffed with delicious-yet-scrumptious fat after the sugarshack outing!)

Cabane à sucre Au Pied de Cochon 
Address: 11382 Rang de la Fresnière, St-Benoît de Mirabel 
Phone: (450) 258-1732 
Style: sugarshack (traditional Quebec food), foie gras
Hours: Th-Fri 5pm to 9pm; Sat-Sun 11am to 2pm & 5pm to 9pm 

Before you go: reservations are a pain in the ass, especially for large groups, so call ahead months, if not an entire year(!) early and prepare for very little answer from their part. Their opening hours are set in blocks of four hours, during which they do two two-hour service. So if you arrive early...expect to walk around and wait outside. The shack itself is roomy, but twenty-something people huddled next to the bar waiting for their tables definitively makes the room seem a bit...crowded. And also, do try to arrive there before dark. Unless you have a driver who knows the way there like the back of your hand, chances are that Google Maps and your GPS will miss out on at least one of the many twists and turns one must take to get there. Other than that, wear your best lumberjack plaid shirt and prepare to be stuffed! 

The menu: Everything is preset ahead of time according to the local offerings, the season and, one imagines, the whims of Martin Picard. The only add-on is the delicious and incredibly meaty tourtière with homemade ketchup which, at 10$ for half a pie, is totally worth it. (You can also pick up a few frozen ones on your way out---something I should have done but totally forgot about, ugh!) Also, desserts are, if I remember correctly, à volonté. So try to keep that in mind and contain yourself throughout the meal, no matter how hard it is to resist second helpings of that delicious smoked sturgeon omelet or homemade cretons... 

Ok, that's enough blabbing, time to see some food!

You start off with some hearty homemade pea soup and some generous bowls of salad with oreilles de crisse. Then comes the BBQ chicken legs (something that would have looked more at home at a dim sum table than at the sugarshack, just sayin') and delicious homemade cretons and salmon gravlax. The cretons were beautifully flavoured and homey, but it was really the salmon gravlax that stole my heart. I love raw salmon, in any shape, size or seasoning. The whole thing was also accompanied by some steaming-hot sweet buckwheat pancakes, which were a delight to douse with maple syrup and eat with or without any of the other dishes. 

The salads were pretty much 50% oreilles de crisse. Fattening yes, but sooo crispy and satisfying! I also found out that there was cheese, nuts and ham in the salad about halfway through the meal, ha! 

The cretons were heavy, porky and a tad on the salty side, just like I like them. (I kept hankering for some bread or even soda biscuits, but I admit that having read reviews of the place beforehand, I knew that the buckwheat pancakes would be a pretty fantastic substitute!) And the salmon gravlax, oh, you don't want to hear me going on about that...

Just as you've started digging into the aforementioned entrées and appetizers, they bring you this most wonderful smoked sturgeon omelet with pulled pork in the middle. To be honest, I could have done with just the omelet with a hint of sturgeon. The egg was so fluffy and soft, and the fish added such a wonderful smoky aroma to it... Cover the whole thing in maple syrup and you pretty much have my favorite dish of the evening (desserts and gravlax notwithstanding). 

Beautiful, absolutely beautiful. I love eggs and omelet, have I mentioned that? *dreamy sigh*

Next up: the tourtière. Very, very good. The interior was stuffed with a bazillion kind of meats and the exterior was all crisp and just oily enough. The homemade ketchup was a nice touch too. (You can't tell, but I'm currently bashing my head against my keyboard for not buying a couple of the frozen ones to enjoy at home. Why, stuffed-stupid brain, why did you forget?!)  

Pardon the shoddy picture quality. The lighting really wasn't the best and I didn't want to discolour everything by using flash...but at least you can make out some sort of resemblance to food, right?

After that came a bunch of deeply carnivore plates, aka the main dishes. Maple roasted chicken with beans, beef tongue with celeri remoulade and this oddity: 

My picture sucks and does not do it justice, but THIS, my friends, is cabbage stuffed with pork, foie gras and lobster. Yeah, lobster and foie gras. I'll give you a moment to absorb all this. 

Quite honestly, I enjoyed the main dishes but I much preferred the entrées and desserts (more on them in a sec). Out of the three, I easily enjoyed the stuffed cabbage the most. The lobster bits were nice, but I think that I completely passed over the foie gras bits. I don't know if it's because I'm not a big meat eater (well, relatively) or because I was pretty much stuffed by that point, but these three dishes were just okay for me. Absolutely delicious and fantastic-sounding on paper, especially the stuffed cabbage, but not something I would go back again and again (hah, as if that was possible!) to eat. Although said cabbage did give me quite the craving for lobster in maple syrup, hmmm.....

And now, onto the desserts! 

I have to start off by saying that I've got a tremendous sweet tooth and that I can never get enough of tire-sur-neige (maple syrup taffy on snow). Going by the pics and reviews I had seen of the place beforehand, I knew that the banana split with maple ice cream, marshmallows, pecan nuts (I think?) and homemade maple cotton candy was the big hit. But to my great surprise, it was actually the dessert that I enjoyed the less. Instead, the star of the dessert tray was, for me, this fellow: 

Maple cream millefeuille. A perfect, crunchy yet savoury paste filled with just-sweet-enough maple cream and topped with vanilla icing. Oh yeah, that's pretty much heaven in my book. (But then again, bear in mind that I am uncommonly favourably biased towards millefeuille, especially those filled with custard and straight out of the oven...and this is why working morning shifts in a bakery was such sweet, sweet torture. You have to cut, place and arrange those still warm tasty little cakes yet you can't nibble or even have a taste...but I digress.) 

I also greatly enjoyed the arteries-clogging deep-fried-in-duck-fat crispy pancakes and of course, the ubiquitous maple taffy: 

These are still warm and bubbly when they bring it to you. Oh, greasy heavy sweet goodness! My palate kept wanting to eat of those, but I stomach (and liver and heart) started protesting at this point. 

Seeing how there was no snow outside, the syrup was served on ice. No matter, it was still delicious and syrup/taffy-like. 

Our table might have gone ahead and ordered, erm, three plates of this stuff? Yeah, I was stuffed and still kept on eating these sweet little treats. (Needless to say, I did not need to eat the next day. I still did, but really, I had more than enough sugar and fat swimming in my body to make it through the weekend!)

When I said that this dish wasn't the star of the show for me, what I meant was that it was still very, very, very good, but just not as mind-blowingly yummy as the millefeuille, or as deliciously heart-attack-provoking as the pancakes, or even light and enjoyable as the maple taffy. But would I eat this maple syrup banana split again? ...Hell yes.  

And thus, this wraps up my outing au fin fond de Mirabel for this most calorific-but-totally-worth it meal. I walked out of there (over)fed and sleepy, promptly fell asleep on the way back and woke up with the strangest crick in my neck (from the sleeping) and pangs of longing for all things foie gras and maple syrup in my heart (that, I can safely attribute to the meal). All in all, a fantastic gastronomic experience and c'mon, after all the hype surrounding this place, aren't you just a bit curious? 

Also, what made the meal (though really, it was more like 3 meals...) so fun was the people I was eating with. So grab a couple of your friends (each table easily sits 6 to 8), place a reservation ASAP and prepare to go binge on a one-of-a-kind sugarshack experience! 

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