Before I left for the airport, I decided to check out the Canadian Centre for Architecture. I was mainly visiting to see 1973: Sorry, out of gas, an exhibition about changes in architecture due to the 1973 gas crisis. The gas crisis provoked changes in how houses were designed by creating a need for more energy-efficient insulation, heating, and cooling. It was fascinating to see some of the home designs of that period, from houses underground and using wind power on the top of apartment buildings. It was also interesting to see what ideas had come into the mainstream, such as simply providing a house with good insulation.
No photos were allowed inside the building, and I wish I had more time to see all of the other exhibits.
The last evening I was in Montreal I ate at Joe Beef. Joe Beef was recommended to me by Marc at Au Pied de Cochon when I ate there the previous evening. It was a wonderful experience. I stopped by the restaurant at around 9 or so, and the staff was kind enough to squeeze me into the bar. It’s a small but very pretty space, with a large chalkboard listing all of the dishes and wines by the glass and bottle.
Working the bar and shucking station was one of the owners of the restaurant, Fred Morin, and we chatted throughout the evening. Later in the evening, his fiancée/co-owner Alison Cunningham stopped by. She was working at the restaurant next door. Along with David McMillan, they also own a total of three restaurants side-by-side.
I started out with a bunch of oysters from Prince Edward Island and the northeastern United States and followed it up with a large portion of sweetbreads and sausage served over spätzle. Sweetbreads are offal, and I think this makes may people nervous about eating them. However, I believe this preparation could convert almost any hater of organ meats. The meat was crisp on the outside and warm on the inside with delicious flavor. The sausage and spätzle were good complements to the sweetbreads in both their flavor and texture. It was a warm and hearty dish, and it provided good protection against the cold.
Like Au Pied de Cochon, the folks at Joe Beef were passionate about their jobs. They had a love of food and wine, and it was a lot of fun enjoying dinner there. Fred is a fantastic chef and well-respected by his peers. As I was leaving and the restaurant was closing, he was welcoming other chefs into the restaurant. Some of them had been guest-cooking at other area kitchens, and he fired up the burners late at night to cook for both the out-of-towner and local chefs.
The other customers of the restaurant are also fun and gracious. I spoke with a local wine/liquor distributor named Paul throughout the evening. At one point, I admired his Homer Simpson bottle opener–every time it’s used it says, “Mmm… Beer. Heh heh heh heh. Yes Oh Yes! Woo Hoo!” Despite my protests, Paul insisted on giving it to me!
I left my contact information with the folks I met there, and I hope they reach out to me if they ever visit New York City.
I don’t have the best photos from Joe Beef, since I try not to use a flash inside of restaurants. (It’s bad enough that I take photos at all.) Regardless, below is a picture of my main dish and the general decor behind the bar.
The Festival Montreal en Lumiere, or Montreal High Lights festival, was going on when I visited. Specifically, I visited on the night of the “Montreal All-Nighter,” a night of cultural events. I didn’t know that the festival was going to be happening before I visited, so I didn’t really make plans. However, I did enjoy the fireworks late into the evening. In addition to photos, I also shot a few videos.
The Bonsecours Market is one of the earliest markets in Montreal. It’s a very beautiful building. When I visited during the day, it was a bit empty. There were several high end shops, but I enjoyed walking around the area a bit more. It’s worth walking through the market, but to me the exterior was much more interesting.
The Notre-Dame Basilica is a large church with stunning stained glass windows and painted wooden sculptures on top of the neighborhood of Old Montral. It was built in the mid-1800s. I’ve hear it’s busier to visit in the summer, but since it was the middle of winter I was able to get in immediately.
The church is beautiful: simultaneously tranquil and stunning, relaxing and stimulating.
On my way to China, I watched a few episodes of No Reservations, Anthony Bordain’s latest television exploit. One of his trips was to Quebec, where he visited a duck farm to see how foie gras was made, cooked at the Montreal Culinary Institute, ate a breakfast of maple syrup at a sugar shack, and stuffed himself silly at Au Pied De Cochon. I was amazed at and jealous of his bacchanal at Au Pied De Cochon, and it was one of the reasons why I was interested in going to Montreal. (Interestingly, when I mentioned to my friend Mary Taylor that I was going to Montreal, one of her questions was if I was going to Au Pied De Cochon. It was also well known by the folks at the hotel.)
Au Pied De Cochon is a restaurant with a love of foie gras, duck, and pig. When you walk into the restaurant, you know that you are going to have unique experience. After the coat rack (heavy coats are a necessity in Montreal in the winter), you look down to a refrigerator full of shrink-wrapped foie gras. Check out the menu: the foie gras section has nine dishes dedicated to this elegant ingredient. I only wish I had the stamina, time, and money to taste them all.
I started with the Plogue à Champlain: a layered dish of potatoes, cheese, and bacon below a seared piece of foie gras and topped with chopped apples. The entire dish was covered in maple syrup. It sounds decadant and heavy, yet the dish felt light, and all of the elements were able to hold their own against the sweet syrup. (Apologies in advance if I had gotten ingredients of the dish incorrect–it was a long, but fun, night.)
I followed up with the “Melting Pot”–a variety of meats and potatoes in a large 10-inch diameter, 6-inch high dish covered with pastry dough and baked in the oven. That is a marrow bone poking out in the photo above. A waiter noticed me struggling with the standard fork in trying to get the filling out, and he was kind enough to bring me a demitasse spoon. This was heartiness in a pot, the perfect winter dish. Although the dish was heavy, the meat was rich, tender, and flavorful.
I was lucky enough to be given a seat at the end of the bar by the pass-through between the kitchen and dining room. In addition, the kitchen is open, so I was able to see dishes move back and forth between the kitchen and the brick-enclosed wood-fired oven before being passed off to the servers. Like all restaurants, it’s a fast paced, hot environment with food zipping back and forth.
The chef of Au Pied Du Cochon, Martin Picard, was not working that evening; the person running the kitchen was a gentleman named Marc. I was able to chat with him throughout the evening even though he was busy preparing dishes. Unfortunately, I did not think to get his full name even as he prepared my food.
The staff at Au Pied De Cochon has a passion for good food and wine. This was not a job where members of the staff were phoning in their work–they were excited and happy to be working there, and their enthusiasm was contagious. I tried to thank everyone at the restaurant who made my visit there so pleasant, but I’m sure I missed people. For those of you who I did not thank, please let me thank you again here!
Au Pied De Cochon is truly a meat-lovers paradise. The large cuts of meat fell off the bone; they looked luscious and tender.
This is a wonderful restaurant: I was welcomed with opened arms even though I was dining by myself, and the food was excellent, hearty, and made for a perfect meal on a cold night. Another single diner was seated next to me; we had a fine conversation and I enjoyed splitting my bottle of wine with her.
I would want every restaurant meal to be good as the meal I had at Au Pied De Cochon.