Au Pied De Cochon — Montreal, Canada

Perhaps describing this restaurant as the High Church of Duck Fat is a bit disrespectful, especially because that moniker doesn’t recognize the many pork dishes on the menu. But it is undoubtedly high on the list of places your cardiologist would prefer that you not frequent. Don’t listen to him. This is the kind of restaurant that is aggressively fun, completely unashamed of its profligate use of fat to make food taste good, and a wonderful place to go to suffer what the French call a Crise de Foie. Of course, it has been more than three months since my lovely wife and I ate at Au Pied De Cochon and I have just about recovered. I’m joking, but it is certainly not an everyday sort of place.

We began with a few appetizers, one of which I had never heard of. Foie Gras Cromesquis? Huh? As far as I can tell, it is the residual fat and liver left in the pan after they sauté foie gras, which is then thickened, formed into small balls, lightly battered and then fried. We were warned by the waitress not to bite into them, but rather pop the whole thing into our mouths, because the interior is liquid. This was the shot across the bow, fired by the line cooks at my liver. It was good, and I am glad that we ordered them, but the experience was a bit disconcerting. It was intensely rich, and best kept to a very small dose. We also got codfish fritters, and they were exactly as advertised: fried codfish. But I like fried food, and I love codfish, and this certainly didn’t disappoint us. My wife ordered an interesting sounding special, and that turned out to be the highlight of the evening. It was an absolutely spectacular salmon tartare that would have been at home at Per Se or El Bulli. Ethereally light, intensely flavored, perfectly textured. And an unexpected bonus: It was beautifully presented. If you are in Montreal and don’t want to destroy your liver but still want great food, sit at the bar, order the salmon tartare and a glass or two of one of the many nice white wines on the menu. You will not be shortchanging your taste buds, and your coronary arteries will thank you.

The main courses were not as successful, but then, how could they be. That salmon was really, really good. My wife ordered a venison steak with frites (fried in duck fat, of course), and that’s what she got. The venison was good, but not the best cut. A bit tough and perhaps overdone. Because I had not yet filled my life’s quota of cholesterol, I ordered one of their signature dishes: canned duck. Yup, it was duck, and it was in a can. And it was pretty damned good. In reality, the duck breast was probably partially cooked and then canned in the morning, along with a large chunk of foie gras, some chucroute, and a few other things that I have forgotten. It was finished in boiling water, then popped open and served. Yes, it was odd, and yes, it was a novelty that draws more than its share of tourists, but as I mentioned, it was pretty good. And far too large, considering what I had ordered before. But I comported myself well and didn’t embarrass the team.

The wine list is good, and they have a few beers on tap, one of which was a serviceable cream ale that I enjoyed more than I expected, because I had a few horrible flashbacks to my youth, drinking Genesee Cream Ale out of cans. Try to eat at the bar, especially on the left side, where you can watch the line cooks work their tails off, drink lots of beer, and look like they are having a grand old time.

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