My posts thus far have been about food. The foods I love and cook. Foods which have a special meaning to me. Foods I make for my loved ones. Today, I want to share 3 cool things about the city of Montreal.
1. Montreal is a summer town. By this I mean that come summertime, Montreal is a happening place. After 6 months of gruelling winter weather, Montrealers flock outside in droves, enjoying the warmth of the sun and all that the city has to offer. The world renowned Montreal International Jazz Festival. The Grand Prix. The Just for Laughs Festival and the Beer Festival are but a few events which take over the city.
2. Montreal is a Foodie Town. It has the second highest number of restaurants per capita in North America, after New York City!
3. 85% of the world’s maple syrup comes from Quebec, the province in which Montreal is located.
Because I am a foodie who loves checking out the happening spots in my city, I will occasionally mention some of Montreal’s great eateries.
Which brings me to the prominent Montreal restaurant Au Pied de Cochon and Quebec’s famous, crowd-pleasing Cabane à Sucre, otherwise known as The Sugar Shack. Au Pied de Cochon is a restaurant run by an eclectic chef, one of Canada’s best, Martin Picard, whose signature cuisine is all about indulging in rich and fatty foods centred around pork (cochon) and foie gras, the fattened livers of duck and goose. Anthony Bourdain visited the famed restaurant for his television series “No Reservations”. For those who are NOT vegetarian nor faint of heart, you can watch this clip from his visit.
Enter the cabane à sucre. Quebec sugar shacks feature a traditional menu consisting of ham, eggs, bacon, beans and lots of maple syrup. So we have the traditional sugar shack and the not-so traditional chef Martin Picard. Do you see where this is headed?
Anthony Bourdain also visited Martin Picard’s infamous sugar shack for his new television series “Parts Unknown” which aired this past Sunday evening on CNN.
Martin Picard combines his Au Pied de Cochon signature foods with maple syrup, making his “Cabane à Sucre au Pied de Cochon” the hottest ticket in town! Reservations are taken exclusively via e-mail beginning December 1st at midnight, for a chance of obtaining a table during the 12 week run which begins in February (Friday through Sunday evenings only). I see it as a lottery ticket, one that I was fortunate enough to win! Some people have been waiting 2 to 3 years to get a hot seat here! We were a group of 11 when we attended a few weeks ago, eager and exhilarated to be dining at this celebrated shack. Having lucked out last autumn for his apple menu, featuring all things pork, foie gras and apples, I knew what was in store. Should you be intrigued with that menu, you can check it out here.
We began with their signature maple syrup cocktails. A frozen maple daiquiri and a sublime Bourbon, maple syrup and sparkling water, with maple syrup jello cubes on the bottom! Can you tell which one I had? Although I am no fan of Bourbon, except when making a Bourbon & Cola Glazed Ham, this drink called out to me and Oh! am I glad it did! I will definitely try to recreate this one and share the results with you.
As were sipping our drinks, we were greeted with dessert! Yes, dessert for starters! And not just any desserts. A three-tiered stack of wood logs topped with… what childhood dreams are made of: maple syrup glazed donut holes, maple cotton candy, mini ice cream cones filled with maple toffee, chocolate-dipped maple whippets (a marshmallow sitting atop a maple biscuit and covered in chocolate), homemade flaky, buttery, maple and almond croissants, maple popcorn, maple canelés (a crunchy, maple crust pastry filled with a soft and tender custard), a honeycomb of maple sugar toffee. And sitting at the very bottom of the tier, Jack Daniels with maple syrup shots!
I must not forget the maple syrup crème caramel and my absolute favourite, a thick and custard-like gelatin of yogurt with maple syrup jello cubes throughout. Oh My Word!!! I was in heaven!
What came next was an overdose of rich and delectable dishes. Fried confit of duck legs covered in a sweet and sticky maple BBQ sauce. Crispy on the outside, tender and moist on the inside. DELICIOUS! My favourite after the yogurt! And after all that maple syrup yumminess.
Oreilles de crisse, which translates literally to “Christ’s ears”, is a traditional Quebec dish served in sugar shacks. What are they? Deep-fried, smoked pork rinds. I am usually not a big fan but when I tasted these…Oh! They were perfect! They were ever-so light, like a tempura, and crispy and salty! So light in fact, that one could have eaten the whole lot without a moment’s notice! I know because I almost did. They were sitting on top of an endive salad mixed with onions, little bits of rabbit hearts and a rich, creamy sauce. My favourite after the starter desserts and the duck legs!
Actually, I take that back. This next dish might have been my favourite. A crepe fried in duck fat, of course, and topped with maple syrup-cooked beans, fried eggs, cottage cheese, shallots, chunks of melt-in-your mouth pan-fried foie gras and beautiful strips of smoky salmon. Oh! So rich and sumptuous! Yes, definitely my fave!
Or perhaps this next one…A very light omelette which sat on top of a crispy layer of potatoes and melted cheese. Sprinkled over the omelette were maple syrup bacon crisps and pan-seared calf’s brain, crispy on the outside and very tender on the inside, with a drizzle of maple syrup poured over the whole thing. Oh my! At this point, you might be questioning the whole hearts and brains and gizzards and things. But if you don’t know what it is and don’t care to know, you’d love it. I kept mouthing to everyone at our table NOT to mention to dear hubby what he was eating. He didn’t know and thought everything was quite good!
We also ordered the Au Pied de Cochon tourtiere, an optional course which needed to be ordered at the very beginning of our meal. How could we resist? It’s only once a year! What can I say about the impossibly tender and flaky pie crust, filled with venison and pork and foie gras and yumminess! That it was perhaps my next favourite down the list?!
And this is when we were served a dish of simply fried green beans. Well, not quite so simple. They were maple-glazed and sprinkled with crunchy almonds. To give us a break from all the decadence!
My neighbour David, being on his first visit to this culinary extravaganza, turned to me and said, “That’s it, right? Because I’m done!” To which I replied, “Oh, I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure there’s more to come.” And there was!
Imagine this: a whole roasted chicken stuffed with sausage, foie gras and lobster, and served with lobster bisque to drizzle over the carved chicken sitting on your plate! Because it was just sitting there, you know. For the longest time I simply gazed at it, willing myself to take a bite. And when I did, I decided that this was my absolute favourite dish! Truly! You would think it an odd combination, but it really was out of this world!
It wouldn’t be a complete sugar shack meal without ham. This ham is smoked right outside the front door, so as we walk about on the grounds (or just hang out hoping to make room for the remainder of what’s to come) we have this wonderful smell of wood-smoked ham permeating the air. The ham comes glazed with maple syrup and beautiful slices of pineapple resting on top. I cannot tell you what it tasted like, I really could not take another bite! Really! I packed it up and took it home but everyone said it was delicious!
Whether it be because I was in disbelief or perhaps because my brain was in a comatose state, I neglected to take photos of the next two dishes except after we had ploughed through…
And now for the final round of desserts. Maple taffy on a stick, sitting in maple ice cream. I just love maple taffy and had to make room for that. It only comes around once a year! And that creamy and luscious maple ice cream, my favourite! Of course, I just had to try the maple meringue angel-food cake, topped with a maple frosting, which reminded me of melted marshmallows, filled in the centre with crispy almonds, pistachios and maple syrup. My ultimate favourite! You are probably thinking that I would make a lousy food critic with me loving everything…
What could be a perfect ending to this epic food experience? A picture of Martin Picard with ME! Thanks to the patience and insistence of my friend Halvdan, I was lucky to get a picture with the celebrated chef!