Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Un weekend Québécoise- Day 2

We awoke Saturday morning to heavier snow. After a late breakfast of omlettes with crsispy toasted baguette and bowls of cafe au lait, we headed out for a day of walking in the snow, darting in an out of shops, cafes, and bars.  We started our day at the Marche Jean Talon, a large covered market surrounded by small shops- a boulangerie, fromagerie etc.  A food lovers paradise. Spent a lot of time in a particularly cool spice shop, Olive et Epices, and at the Seafood market where Christopher shared oysters from Prince Edward Island and Cape Cod.

We had a late afternoon snack of Poutine at the famous 24 hour La Banquise. Poutine is a traditional dish of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. It's probably best after a night of drinking.

We stopped at a cool folk club Quai des Brumes to listen to Anique Granger perform with some other great singer-songwriter types. A nice way to wind up a lazy day. Back to the hotel for a nap before our big dinner at the famous Pied Au Cochon.

Many folks had told me that Pied au Cochon was the "must visit" restaurant in Montreal, and I was well aware of Chef Martin Picard's reputation.  We got a late reservation at 10 pm and walked through a snowy evening in preparation for the circus that awaited.  I had been to Pied au Cochon in Paris years ago, and was interested in tasting the Québécoise spin.  

The restaurant pulses with energy and has a great vibe. The open kitchen and mirrored walls make for great people watching and everyone is buzzing with smiles and laughter. One can't eat at Pied au Cochon without sampling one of Picard's Foie Gras creations. The  "Plogue a Champlain" ranks up with the top 10 dishes I have eaten.  With a buckwheat pancake base, Picard stacks slices of thick cut bacon, potatoes, and cheese and is topped with grilled foie gras, all topped with a maple syrup sauce.  It's a brilliant dish combining sweet and salty, rich and lean, soft and crispy.  A near perfect dish.

Wanting to seize the moment, I also chose the PDC Melting Pot as my main dish, a combination of all things pig. Boudin, Blood Sausage, Roast Pork Belly and Pork Chop, served in a crock over mashed potatoes, onion and cheese.  It was a bit much after the Foie Gras starter, but a good sampling of porky goodness.

Dessert was not to be missed. Susannah and I shared "Pudding de Chomeur" a traditional French Canadian dish that translates to "Poor Man's Pudding."  If I could only be this poor every day. It's a simple white cake baked in a dish of maple caramel sauce. Maybe maple syrup was cheaper back in the day when this dish got its name. It's a decadent dish and feeds the soul.

After such a long and gluttonous meal we were  happy for the 1/2 hour walk back to our hotel through the snowy night.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Un weekend Québécoise- Day 1

Last weekend my wife Susannah and I escaped for a long weekend in Montreal to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary and spend a few days sans kids. When I read that the forecast was calling for temperatures to stay below 10 degrees all weekend, I questioned our decision to go North rather than South.  I guess the allure of  a French experience in a city known for its food scene tipped the scales for me.  Just days before we left, I hit the jackpot when a friend emailed me a 15 page guide to Montreal's food scene written by a foodie in the know. 

We arrived in time for a late lunch on Friday, the first of many meals we would enjoy in Paris of the north. We had  suite in a small hotel Le Relais Lyonnais  on the bustling Rue St Denis in the Latin Quarter, well situated just minutes from the old port, the Plateau, and many other cool neighborhoods.  

Just a block away was a local microbrewery, Les 3 Brasseurs, actually a Canadian outpost of a French chain. We were looking for a quick lunch as it was late, and when I saw Flammekueche on the menu, I was hooked.  They make a selection of beer in house, and I enjoyed a 6.2 amber that quickly took the edge off a morning of traveling. The last time I had eaten Flammekueche, besides the Trader Joe variety, was in Alsace where I believe they call them Tarte Flambée. I had the Québécoise, topped with onions, lardons and raclette cheese. Thin crispy crust topped with salty chunks of bacon and  melted cheese. Real comfort food.

After a walk around the cobblestoned streets of the Old City, where it started to snow, we walked back to the Latin Quarter through the small Chinatown neighborhood, looking for roast ducks in the windows. It was so cold that the streets seemed quiet for a Friday night.  We had cocktails back at the hotel before heading out for dinner.  I had a line on a great place in the Mont Royal neighborhood, Au Cinquieme Peche,  and we were lucky to find a table at 9 pm on a Friday night.   One of the things that stood out was the elegant service. It was friendly ( in both French and English) yet inconspicuous at the same time.

The menu was chalkboard only, and I struggled a little with some of the French. My eyes immediately locked onto a special appetizer, Brain & Chips.  I am an adventurous eater, and it had been some time since I had seen brain on a menu. My wife promised that I wouldn't be getting a goodnight kiss, but I took my chances. It was fantastic. Slices of brain were battered and lightly fried. The texture was crispy on the outside, with a creamy custardy filling. The flavor was rich, in the same way that marrow is but I still have a hard time comparing it to anything. The homemade spicy chips were a nice accompaniement.  For a main course I stayed local with tournados of wapiti, the Cree name for elk. It was a lot more tender than most game I have eaten, and the pairing with a rich and fatty roast pork belly was brilliant. As was the 1/2 hollandaise 1/2 veal demiglace on the side.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Interesting Food Stats

In last Saturday's New York Times, Sam Roberts took a look at some interesting tidbits from the 130th edition of the Statistical Abstract of the United States:

We are eating less meat:  108.3 pounds per person in 2008, down 5.4 pounds since 2000.  But that's still almost 1/3 lb of meat per day.

We're eating fewer veggies too: 392.7 pounds per person, down more than 30 pounds.

We're drinking more wine: 2.5 gallons per person, up from 2 gallons in 2000.  That's less than I thought, only about  12 bottles of wine in a year.

1/4 of our calories come from Junk food....