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The Montreal Flesh Trade

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<img src="http://forums.egullet.org/uploads/1156444572/gallery_29805_1195_14519.jpg" hspace="8" align="left">by Ivy Knight

I’m thirty-one years old, and aside from a three-year stint in Austin, Texas, I’ve lived in Canada my whole life. Somehow, though, I’ve never been to Montreal and recently I decided to change that. My husband Kerry and I planned to go to Montreal for three days with our friend Courtney, who has a car. We were going to stay with our friends Adam Bishop and Lindsay Tapscott and eat as much foie gras (because Quebec is famous for its foie) and meat (because we love meat) at as many restaurants as we could.

Once we booked the dates and made restaurant reservations, things started to snowball. My chef, David Chrystian, is involved in promoting Berkshire Pork (for more information see Sausage Party) to chefs, so he asked that I take some pork to the chefs of the restaurants I would be visiting, along with a press package and t-shirts. Sure, why not? Then my Commissioner in the Pillow Fight League (I fight as Vic Payback) asked that I take a bunch of posters promoting the next Pillow Fight event -- August 17th at the Courthouse in Toronto -- to put up in Montreal to create interest because we’ll be fighting there next month. Sure, why not?

We planned to leave on Sunday by 10:00 am for the five-to-seven hour drive, so as to arrive in time to get cleaned up before we hit our first reservation at Au Pied du Cochon at 8:00 pm. The next day we’d do some sightseeing, have an early meal at Mess Hall, then another meal at midnight at L’Express. On our final day, we’d have lunch at the famous Schwartz’s Deli, then head back to Toronto.

Unfortunately, I got a call from Courtney on Saturday night, saying that her grandmother was in the hospital and she didn’t feel as if she could leave her: Courtney wanted to reschedule. I explained that I had one hundred pounds of pork that I needed to get to these chefs and that much was now expected of me for this trip. I asked her in desperation if Kerry and I could take her car. She said yes, but she’d call me in the morning to let me know for sure.

The next morning I got a call from Courtney saying yes for sure, and she’ll drop off the car by noon. The only thing is, “It’s not my car. My car is in the shop, so this is a car rented in my cousin’s name. Please be careful.” Okay. What?

Courtney works as a bartender at the same restaurant as I do. Here’s why she is nuts:

    1. Courtney and I know each other, but we’re not soul mates, and we’ve never hung out together outside of work. My best friends wouldn’t lend us their car, because people just don’t do that anymore, especially not for a 500-kilometer trip.
    2. You’re probably thinking, why doesn’t she tell you idiots to rent a car? Well, we would but we don’t have a credit card, I never learned how to drive and . . .
    3. Kerry doesn’t have a license. Well, he does, but he had to send it back to Texas in order to get something cleared on his passport telling those Homeland Security psycho pricks that he’s not a risk for working illegally in the United States. Legally, he’s licensed but doesn’t have a valid driver’s license in Canada that’s so handy for presenting to cops when pulled over.

So, our wonderfully nutty acquaintance drives up in a car at noon. Kerry hops in and drives her home, then comes back for me. We head to Joy Bistro, where we fill two coolers with the vacuum-packed pork packages, grab a bunch of Berkshire pork t-shirts, the info packages and David’s digital camera because we’re such losers we don’t even have a digital camera and it is 2006! Then we head to the Cadillac Lounge, where the Commissioner has dropped off a Pillow Fight League package of posters, pins and DVDs to shower the people of Montreal with. We finally hit the road. Because Courtney needs her car back earlier than we’d planned, we’ll need to visit four restaurants in thirty-six hours, while delivering pork and putting up Pillow Fight posters. This should be fun.

Kerry is an amazing driver -- a fact that Courtney may care to know -- and we get to Montreal in five-and-a-half hours with no police hassles, which is good, considering we don’t even know the name of Courtney’s cousin who’s rented this car. So, we’re in the bustling city and we call Adam for directions to his house. Unbeknownst to us, we are about five minutes from where he lives, but due to his directions we get to his house an hour later.

We finally arrive, get changed, chug a few Bud Lites and head out to Au Pied de Cochon and the brilliant Martin Picard’s cooking.

Once squeezed into the most packed dining room in the world, we order the venison tartare and foie gras poutine to start; then duck in a can and the restaurant’s signature dish, pied de cochon, as mains. There is a stuffed pig’s foot on the menu as well but it’s stuffed with foie gras, and since the poutine and the duck in a can already contain that ingredient, we decide to go for the unstuffed version. Our server, Jean Francois Boily, recommends a Costieres de Nimes by Coucardier 2000-Michel Gassier to go with our appetizers. It’s a perfect pairing: “This wine is so grapey, I love it,” says Kerry.

Traditionally, poutine is a serving of fries tossed with cheese curd and topped with gravy, a Quebec specialty. Tonight’s poutine is a large serving of fries with cheese curd, topped with a slab of seared foie gras and doused in a sauce made with foie fat emulsified with cream, an egg yolk and some jus for color. Lovely. My arteries are pleading with me to stop eating. I ignore them and try the venison tartare, a gorgeous cold, clean palate cleanser.

Luckily for us, Jean Francois is doing double duty as the author of the restaurant’s cookbook which will be out in the next few months. He’s able to tell us exactly how everything is made.

The main courses arrive. A plate with three pieces of toast topped with celeriac puree and chopped herbs is set down. The server places the can on the table, opens it and upends it over the toast on the plate. What comes out in a birthy gush is a duck breast cooked to a perfect medium and another large piece of foie, all in their natural juices. The four of us attack this plate, then move on to the pied, which is braised and served boneless atop potatoes mashed with butter and cheese curd and served with a mysterious fried cake. I ask Jean Francois what it is made of. “That is the little bits of meat that fall off when we are deboning. They are mashed up along with the gristle and cartilage and fat. It’s formed into a cake, egg washed, dipped in bread crumbs and fried in pork fat.” Can I swear now? Holy shit, I love French Canadians. I’m one myself and was raised on a lot of their crazy food, like sugar pie (pecan pie without the pecans) and tourtiere (meat pie). They are crazy about fat and sugar, which is fine with me.

We have a Cotes du Roussillonu Villages Kerbuccio 2003–Chateau Saint-Roch. I don’t know anything about wine; Adam and Jean-Francois decide. It’s great. I like leaving the wine in someone else’s hands and not having to talk about it or think about it. Wine is great for drinking but I find it very boring for conversation. After dinner, we head back to Adam’s to sleep off the meal. On paper it doesn’t seem like much: two apps and two mains for four people, but it’s a huge amount of rich, full-flavored fatty food that requires some time in loose clothing after ingesting.

The next day, Kerry and I head out to Schwartz’s for a Montreal-style smoked meat sandwich. Montreal is famous for its smoked meat, which is more Kosher than Texan in taste. Schwartz’s has been dishing it out since 1928, and there is always a line-up. I duck inside and grab a sandwich for Kerry and me to share. All the foie gras last night got to him and he’s craving vegetables. I give him a pickle. The sandwich is so perfect that I feel tears welling up. The meat is not cut too thin and not stacked a mile high, the bread is a nice light rye, the mustard is a little spicy. I’m so fucking mad we don’t have a Schwartz’s in Toronto. It’s enough to make me move to Montreal.

Kerry and I walk along St. Laurent Boulevard putting up Pillow Fight posters and handing out pins to people who approach asking about the fights. Then we go sit in a park that has swiss chard growing in the flower beds. We snooze on a bench.

At 6:00 pm we head to Mess Hall where Adam is the sous-chef. He’s promised to give us just the tiniest tastes of a few of their dishes, knowing that we’re all eating again at midnight.

We let our server Marco choose the wine, a tannin-heavy merlot, and we begin with a tiny plate of shredded duck confit atop a salad of braised fennel and orange segments. There’s some cilantro and chiles in the dressing that cut through the sweetness of the salad and elevate the flavors. We’re presented with a single crispy fried sardine accompanied by a pickled cucumber and caper salad that pops with tanginess and pairs perfectly with the oiliness of the sardine. I ‘ve always hated sardines. Until now. The final course is the restaurant’s most popular dish. We’re each given a small portion of ravioli stuffed with foie gras and duck confit in a porcini butter sauce. Rich and gorgeous, it’s the end of the line for Kerry.

I take him back home. We chill out, but there’s no way he can eat any more meat or foie. I put him to bed and head out -- with a huge hunk of vacuum packed pork -- to my midnight reservation at L’Express. The manager puts the pork in the walk-in for me, after showing me to my table. Adam and Lindsay arrive one perfect cosmopolitan later. This charming bistro has been around forever and it gets busy late. The place is almost empty at midnight on a Monday; by 12:30 it’s packed. I’m so glad I don’t work here -- I hate late rushes.

“Let’s hurry up and order, I’m starving,” says Lindsay.

Adam chooses the wine, which is okay but served cold. As it warms throughout the meal, it gets better. We order steak tartare, which I’m wary of because it’s not hand-cut. It’s put through a grinder, and I think the texture may gross me out. It turns out to be absolutely spot-on. The portion is huge, and Adam and I finish it all with the frites and aioli that come with it. There’s an order of ravioli, stuffed with veal, pork and beef in a sherry mushroom sauce that Lindsay declares her favorite, but then she goes the way of Kerry and orders a green salad. Adam and I share some celeriac remoulade, but we’re really just killing time until the bone marrow arrives. Served simply with toast and sea salt, it is the most beautiful, simple thing this carnivore has ever shoved in her maw.

We head back to Adam’s, where a lot of Maudite and Fin du Monde gets drunk along with some Bud Lites and Molson Ex. The next day Kerry and I head back to Toronto to return the car -- intact -- to Courtney, and to eat a lot of vegetables over the next few days. I really like Montreal. It’s a tight little city that feels as if it’s busting at the seams with people and shops and restaurants. The sanity of the province of Quebec astounds me: they allow corner stores to sell not only beer but whiskey, wine, crème de menthe -- you name it. Every depanneur is a liquor store that also stocks gummy bears, mustard and toilet paper. The restaurants were so easy to deal with: no bullshit -- just "get in here and let us feed you."

If you must have something’s flesh, head to Montreal where they don’t fuck around with their meat.

Ivy Knight (aka Ivy) writes for gremolata.com and works as a professional chef in Toronto at Joy Bistro. She recently returned to Pillow Fight League competition after recovering from a broken rib.

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Great piece … reminds me why I love Québec - I'm not sure I've ever been in another part of Canada that's as much fun just to be in


Cutting the lemon/the knife/leaves a little cathedral:/alcoves unguessed by the eye/that open acidulous glass/to the light; topazes/riding the droplets,/altars,/aromatic facades. - Ode to a Lemon, Pablo Neruda

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Oh. Au Pied de Cochon is just wonderful.

We went last year on a trip to Montreal. Everything is great, but yes, the portions are vast. Humungous.

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Great story telling Ivy - almost like a food-based caper movie script.


Cheers,

Anne

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That was a great piece. Ivy can write like crazy. But if I don't get to Au Pied du Cochon like immediately, I'm going to burst with frustration.

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After seeing that chef try to kill Bourdain I am almost afraid to go there

tracey


The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

My Webpage

garden state motorcyle association

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Great read. Sounds like people are a lot less afraid of tartare in Montreal than they are here in the states. Yet one more reason that I need to make my way up to our more enlightened and reasonable neighbor to the north. As if I needed any more reason to want to go to Canada.

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Love that article!!! I'm headed back home to Montreal this weekend from St. Louis and I've already got my lineup set for the delicious goodies... mmm...Bronte... Brunoise... l'Express...Schwartz.... I'm so happy you mentioned Maudite too... Wish they could make beer like that down here... thank goodness for Quebec!!!

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Sounds like a great trip, rental car and all!

I recently learned of Schwartz's on a business trip to Montreal - it truly is a slice of heaven (no pun intended).

I wrote about my visit to Schwartz's on my blog: http://whenindoubtreboot.blogspot.com/2006...artzs-deli.html

I haven't had the pleasure of trying poutine..........yet.........

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Next time you're in the city you should make your way to Da Emma's. This place serves the best pork roast (with a healthy layer of fat on top) that I've ever had in a restaurant. Fantastic Italian cuisine. Other meat meccas in our great city that should be frequented include Moishe's (on the top end of the pricing scale) and Magnan's (on the lower end).

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Great article, Ivy.

It was a pleasure to meet you in PEI and a fun tour of the Colville Bay Oyster Company with you.

Looking forward to your article on that trip.

All the best

Keep on shucking

Oyster Guy


"Why then, the world is mine oyster, which I with sword, shall open."

William Shakespeare-The Merry Wives of Windsor

"An oyster is a French Kiss that goes all the way." Rodney Clark

"Oyster shuckers are the rock stars of the shellfish industry." Jason Woodside

"Obviously, if you don't love life, you can't enjoy an oyster."

Eleanor Clark

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Now I've got to figure out how to get someone to pay for me to go to Quebec.

That was a great write-up, Ivy.

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After seeing that chef try to kill Bourdain I am almost afraid to go there

tracey

"that chef" = Martin Picard, Chef at Au Pied du Cochon. just had to give credit where credit is due... :smile:

and yes, MyChefBrad, we're not so afraid of tartare up here--the venison tartare at aPdC is a personal favourite, in the entree size, that i have every time i go now... :wub:


"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the ocean."

--Isak Dinesen

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]

I haven't had the pleasure of trying poutine..........yet.........

Can I recommend that the first time you try it be on a snowy night when you're drunkenly stumbling home from a bar. It never gets better than that.

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Great article, Ivy.

It was a pleasure to meet you in PEI and a fun tour of the Colville Bay Oyster Company with you.

Looking forward to your article on that trip.

All the best

Keep on shucking

Oyster Guy

Thanks doll,

an article on the Quebec part of that trip should be up on gremolata.com near the end of September. Oysters soon to follow.

Cheers,

Ivy

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This article names many of my favorite MTL restaurants (and local foods). I recently posted a more complete list of my favorite Montreal restaurants on my website/blog dedicated to affordable gourmet food, www.mcfoodie.com. Please check it out and post or email me any comments, feedback, additional restaurants/resources or other suggestions. The website is very new and this is just a hobby so please be kind. :)

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