Foie Gras for Lifers

by James Boo on July 16, 2012 · 2 comments

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This is a lifer. In the 1978 documentary film Scared Straight!, this angry, one-eyed man – sentenced to “life and now on” for murder – shouted down a group of teenagers as part of a program aiming to prevent at-risk juveniles from becoming eternal inmates, by way of mortal fear.

This is a foie gras tart with blood sausage. An assembly of French-style boudin noir, cured foie gras, roasted potato, and caramelized onion bathed in a gravy of slow-cooked embolism, this deceptively petite portion of decadence is proof that its home, Au Pied de Cochon, is the unwitting equivalent of Scared Straight for foodies. Unlike an angry lifer, the menu here may not strike fear into the heart of diners who relish indulgence, but it delivers a clear message for those willing to hear it:

There’s such a thing as too far, and this shit ain’t no way to live.

Au Pied de Cochon has been lionized ad nauseum as Montreal’s most cult-worthy den of dining. Tales of foie gras on everything – like catnip to the food festival-flocking, pork belly-worshiping New York eater forever seeking a meal past the point of no return – preceded our arrival at this holy house of force-fattened livers. The rotation of dishes that followed convinced me that when it comes to self-inflicted Excess de Cochon, once in a lifetime is far more than enough.

At the head of that table was the P.D.C. Melting Pot, differing from the aforementioned tart in two key respects. First was the substitution of pork belly and pork sausage for foie gras. Second was the absence of a tart. Trudging into this bowl of meats and potatoes could have incited the comforts of a wintry meal, but the engorged austerity of the dish and its immaculate setting left a slick of overkill on the palate.

The same motif of calorie-dense, personality-free cooking applied to Au Pied de Cochon’s foie gras poutine, which took the pairing of foie gras to poutine as a foregone conclusion. Typically, such over-the-top combinations are hatched with tongue planted firmly in cheek, or water bong lodged firmly into Doritos. This $23 declaration of posture didn’t derive from the same kind of spark, nor was it worthwhile – especially in a town so ripe with wonderful alternatives.

Starters were more enjoyable, if only for their relative sense of restraint; in fact, perfectly fried and lightly seasoned Codfish Fritters (not shown) were the highlight of the evening. Pickled pork tongue was also excellent, tempering richness with brine and staying gluttony at the tongue’s tip. However harsh my reactions to the Au Pied de Cochon smörgåsbord may be, the starter menu made the case that enjoyment here may purely be a function of self-control. It just so happens that par for the three-course at Au Pied de Cochon is nothing of the sort.

Perhaps the best illustration of the restaurant is its infamous “Duck in a Can.” In the composition of Martin Picard’s signature, half a skin-on duck breast and 100 grams of foie gras are flavored with thyme, garlic and a balsamic reduction, cooked with buttered cabbage, and stored in a tin can. When ordered, the can is heated, a plate is lined with a cracker and celery root mash, and the contents are promptly dumped atop. Confit rules the day, and the result is worth a repeat taste. Yet, the unceremonious ceremony of it all manages to sneak off with the raw joy of watching gourmet cookery slide out of a can.

Like everything at Au Pied de Cochon, the firing of Ducks in a Can from table to table is more formula than expression. I’ll cop to the hypocrisy of drawing that line, but the fact that Au Pied de Cochon is a one-of-a-kind heartthrob doesn’t excuse it from the flaw that plagues all fine dining and turns the connection between cook, meal and guest into an extreme exercise of consumption.

Au Pied de Cochon
536 Avenue Duluth E.
Montreal, QC H2L 1A9


Joon S. July 19, 2012 at 11:15 pm

As you can attest to, James, I am no stranger to greasy, over-the-top foods. However much I enjoy things like Lucky Boy breakfast burritos and Lexington pork, I generally appreciate some semblance of restraint or, perhaps more specifically, the presence of balance in a meal.

This analogy applies also to wine, where I have started to appreciate restraint, balance, and complexity as the best indicators of a fine wine. I do enjoy the massive 15-16% ABV bottles once in a while, but I enjoy Riesling, Burgundy, et al. that much more (and more frequently).

James Boo July 20, 2012 at 12:01 am

Balance is always ideal, but more important is context. The individual foods at APDC are fine, and some of them are actually pretty incredible in terms of cooking and recipe. But the way they deliver their meals feels cheap and joyless to me. I suppose I would have enjoyed something like this 5 years ago, but there’s just too much real food culture out there to waste artery space on what’s basically a foie gras injection.

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