We came to Au Pied de Cochon because the defunct M. Wells is still one of my favorite restaurants. Their owner was a big chef at PDC, and we wanted to see his roots. We reserved our place, and our meal there was great, even impeccable. It was everything a food-based writer and his staff photographer would love. But for me, it’s a truth that there is great food everywhere, and the things that I appreciate aren’t necessarily the contents of one’s plate.
Part of why I loved Montreal so much was that they didn’t have as much of a lower class of individuals in the kitchens. It seemed like many of the cooks were actually owners, or at least heavily involved members of the restaurant as a community. I’m not the type of person to appreciate celebrity chefs, or feel lucky when they actually make an appearance to grace your plate with their gaze, so maybe I’m not their intended clientele – but that’s what it feels like in too many Manhattan restaurants – and PDC. I actually have no idea if the famous owner actually graced our plates or not – I have no idea who it is. When we arrived here, we were rushed to our table, looked into each others eyes for a few moments to acknowledge the fact that we made it, ate some taste good foie gras food, then felt rushed out. There is certainly something more, and I have a feeling they once had it, but tourism and television followers have a tendency to erode an individual and reveal a corporation.
To me, Au Pied was too polished, too organized – our meal didn’t have organic character. All the checkmarks are there, but at this point, it feels formulaic. The staff is nearly scripted, and at the process of seating, I feel like I’m bustled in, told to relax and anticipate the experience; then at the exit, I’m said a nice goodbye, but wholly without a staff reflection of my experience. I’m serious! My meal is not going to make a difference in this celebrity-chef approval machine. A decade of excellence may do that to an organization, but it was that rough naivety of M Wells which I loved the most. Me, I don’t eat for the greatest tastes ever – go read some boring asshole”s blog for that (missing link)- I’m here for a real experience. I want to see mistakes and sweat and people trying and having some balls with their cooking. I’m swooned things other than veritably delectable food. It would take a very unique occasion to bring me back. Here’s some foie gras:
What was amazing, and cool, and fantastic delicious and all those things was Le Comme Chez Soi (5386 St Laurent). It was new and rough. The room was loud and casual. The open kitchen had 2 men working alone and clearly in charge. We didn’t just see them cooking above the waist, we saw the whole kitchen full-frontal because there were no barriers to their workroom, other than being in the nook position (see below). The food was not arching towards the scientific levels of PDC, but the character was astronaut. The outside didn’t have signs yet, and half the menus were chalkboards on the walls. Because of this, I didn’t realize half the dishes til I left, but from our buffalo lasagna and crepes, and from looking at the hamburgers and other plates around us, I have heavy desire for being there again and again. The disappoint came, though, because I knew I wouldn’t be back for a long time. It was here, on our last day, that I realized how refreshing and deserving Montreal is. I have a big place in my heart for this city.
Sometimes it seemed like the whole town was full of M. Wellses. Owners in the kitchen, flaring their funkitude. Loud crowds of people eating awesome food. I love that stuff.
Check out this menu from MA’a’aM Buldoc (and even how they spell their name)
4355 de Lorimier St
Just incredibly funky. And the food was good too. This was our first meal in Montreal and it set the tone for the week.
The people were so nice at Alati Caserta (277 Dante) in Little Italy; they saw us peering through the window after they closed, and let us in so we could try something. We took our time, and they couldn’t have been more serene. Here’s an absolutely fantastic cannoli:
I don’t have much experience with Portuguese bakeries, but I fell in love with Pâtisserie Dorée (1560 Dudemaine). The egg custard was something I’d travel 100 miles for.
Here’s more Portuguese: The signature dish at Romados (115 Rue Rachel E) is their rotisserie chicken. However, I believe the the perfection is in their fries. No matter, it all comes meshed together in one styrofoam platter, overflowing at your point of sale. And when you order, make sure you request the sauce. It’s a total local joint, getting way busy at mealtime hours. I wouldn’t say it’s a tourist destination, but it definitely is a way to have really good food with the locals.
The two big farmers markets in Montreal are the Jean Talon and the Atwater. Both are in interesting neighborhoods, with Jean in the middle of a true Italian area, and Atwater in an up-and-coming vicinity. Jean Talon is much more real and preferred, but near Atwater was this greasy spoon, Green Spot (3041 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest). There we were introduced to a steamed hot dog and the pogo.
steamed hot dog, full
- Pogo = corndog
We had around 3 or 4 poutines during the trip. I actually wasn’t wholly into poutine, I mean, I’ve had fries with cheese and gravy before… True, the cheese is squishy different, but still. I think it’s more of a comfort food to Quebeckers than a tourist destination. And that’s fine, I mean, tourists aren’t going to come to my mom’s house for turkey even though it’s the best ever.
The truly old school diner, Paul Patate (760 Rue Charlevoix) makes their own brand of spruce beer. It smells off-putting, like pine-sol, but tastes pleasantly faint with a little sting, and the liquid itself is remarkably clear. Definitely refreshing, and something you can’t get in New York.
Next time I’m in Montreal (and I definitely want there to be a next time), I want to hang out more in the Italian section, in more modern destinations than Cafe Italia (instead try Myriade for coffee on the other side of town, or Olimpico!). I always have some experimental places to go which may or may not be a mistake – and for next time I’d some of those to be Italian food. Sounds funny, right? I didn’t have any pizzas because I didn’t want to waste a meal. The Italian restaurant pizzas looked reasonably good, though probably not as good as New York, and the take-out pizzerias did not look as good at all - though it was interesting how most of the diners sold pizza. I guess I’d like to try one some day. The Neopolitian movement is happening slightly there, maybe I’d try Magpie.
Next time I want to try Nouveau Palais. This was recommended as friends of M Wells, but we ran out of time and couldn’t get there. I think I’d love it. I kinda know I would.
Next time I want to go to a sugar shack in the spring.
Banquise - for poutine. It seems to be in agreement that the towns outside the city are best for the dish, but within the city limits, Banquise might be the best for squishy cheese curds and deep brown sauce over crusty fries. As my earlier comments may hint at, our poutine this trip was good, but not otherworldly. I still want more.
Next time, I want to go to that Italian bakery we went into on St Viateur, which we thought was the bagel shop. We must have seemed like tourists, and unfortunately were too full to eat when we went in there. I’d like to remedy our seeming naivete. The tarts looked excellent, and the “ponte pizza” looked as big as the Bronx-style. I can’t figure out what the name of it was, but it was on the east side of the street, and not necessarily on St. Viateur, but within close distance of there. This really makes me struggle trying to figure this out…. Let’s keep moving