Spring is right around the corner and you know what that means: wet socks, funny smells as the snow melts, that weirdo on the bus that thinks it's OK to wear shorts in March and, oh yea - chef Martin Picard's Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon has officially opened for the season! If you were lucky enough to get a seat, it's time to dig your stretchiest pair of pants out of your closet and mentally prepare yourself for the eating extravaganza of the year. Since the entire season's reservations sold out on December 1st in less than 12 hours via e-mail, at this point everyone is either deciding who makes the short list to join in on the limited capacity of their reservation or frantically trying to get in on one.
Our calendars had been marked months in advance. We woke up on the morning of December 1st with the same level of anticipation young kids have looking forward to Christmas or a morning flight to Disney Land. Before even brushing our teeth we sent our e-mail in and then waited anxiously for nearly two months before getting the call-back that we had at times, worried might never come. Looking at your phone and seeing "Cabane PDC" on your caller ID is the equivalent of feeling like Charlie Bucket with a golden ticket in hand to Quebec's equivalent of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory - only this is Martin Picard's maple factory.
We were a group of ten so we filled a table, but if you're less you can expect to be seated with strangers. In typical sugar shack fashion the dining hall is all wood with exposed beams and long tables with bench seating. The room is fun, loud, and boisterous. The food is beyond plentiful and maple syrup is present on every table in never-ending quantities to douse everything you wish with - even your little brother. But that's where the similarities between this sugar shack and others end. This may very well be the only sugar shack owned and operated by a true chef, and not just any chef. Martin Picard and his talented crew behind one of Montreal's most famous restaurants, Au Pied de Cochon, are responsible for the plethora of awe-inspiring, maple-infused creations carted to your table by staff in Adidas tracksuits (a nice touch). This was the third time the two of us have had the pleasure of eating at the Cabane and it seems like every year they somehow outdo themselves, one-upping what you leave each time thinking is impossible to match, let alone surpass. If you;re interested in having a look at our post of last year's visit click Here.
The meal is served in 4 services, and the food is in tremendous quantity so don't get too excited too quick. Pace yourself or you'll never make it through and by the time the mains come around you'll wish you had heeded our warning. Besides, nobody likes a quitter. What could be worse than being served a sexy slab of Gaspor pork belly or gorgeous maple eclairs but you're too full to even look at them because you indulged in appetizers at the rate of a sprinter rather than a marathon runner?
First service is appetizers. Plump and meaty fillets of pickled herring with maple syrup served over thinly sliced potatoes with pickled onions, an herb salad, and maple mayonnaise was excellent. A dish that the two of us had been most looking forward to: a terrine made of veal brain, sweetbreads, tongue, foie gras and blood sausage served with ployes, a small salad and a dollop of fresh cheese. If you don't have an open mind and a bold palate there are plenty of other things available for you to eat but don't make snide remarks while the person next to you chooses to be receptive to something new. We strongly encourage you to, at very least, give this dish a try. It's truly not nearly as intimidating as it sounds, and you might just learn you like something new. Many of the people we invited to share our table were initially unsure of this dish but ended up liking it, and hey, if all else fails pour maple syrup all over it! It goes without saying (but we're going to say it anyways) that it has an incredibly rich texture, it was everything we had hoped it would be and yes, it does go very, very well with a little syrup. The third appetizer was a unanimous favorite at our table and debatable contender for best dish of the night. Fried sturgeon in the style of a pressed sushi was cut in cubes, topped with oreilles de crisse (fried pork fatback - a sugar shack necessity) and gold leaf, because hey, why not!
Prix Fixe Menu - 57$
Pickled Herring with Maple Syrup
Veal brain, Sweetbreads, Tongue, Foie Gras & Blood Sausage Terrine
Fried Sturgeon (Pressed-Sushi Style), Oreilles De Crisse
Next service is what we call the fake-out. If you're inexperienced in the excessive ways of chef Martin Picard or unfamiliar with the menu before your visit you might think these are the mains, but they're not. So hold the course and keep pacing yourself. The tourtière is technically an optional course but any self respecting resident of Quebec knows that a sugar shack 'aint a sugar shack without it. The traditional Quebecois meat pie comes at an additional charge of 20$ for a whole or 10$ for a half and it is without question worth every penny. Light-years away from the frozen grocery store variety full of ground meat, PDC's tourtière boasts an impossibly tender and flaky crust full of big chunks of beautiful meat. It comes served with a homemade ketchup because we all know that as much as a sugar shack 'aint sugar shack without tourtière - tourtière 'aint tourtière without ketchup.
Optional course - Tourtière (Additional 10$ Half - 20$ Whole)
Along with the tourtière which you've obviously opted for - right? comes two more dishes. A lofty and contextually "light" soufflée style omelette full of sweet lobster and topped with a heaping pile of peppery house made smoked meat. It's served in the enameled cast iron pan it was cooked in, garnished with the head of the lobster sticking out of it because that's just how the crew at PDC roll. Next up, a foie gras vol-au-vent. Normally a dainty individual portion of hollow puff pastry that's served filled with chicken, mushrooms or seafood; this super-sized vol-au-vent in true PDC fashion with reckless abandon for caloric intake was filled with an entire lobe of foie gras, melted Victor et Berthold cheese, béchamel sauce, a mountain of oreilles de crisse and for good measure - an apple and watercress salad just to lighten things up. Yea, you read correctly - a whole lobe of foie gras. Decadent would be an understatement, the crisp and flaky exterior gave way to a melty, fatty, excessively over-the-top, delicious interior that could bring a grown man to his knees in joy and give your doctor a heartattack just thinking about it.
Lobster & Smoked Meat Omelette "Soufflée"
Whole-Lobe Foie Gras Vol-Au-Vent, Victor & Berthold Cheese, Béchamel, Apple & Watercress Salad
As you cut off a slab of pork belly and pass the Le Creuset cookware to the next person at the table, this is about the point in the meal where your tough-guy buddy who can eat two smoked meat sandwiches in one sitting is likely regretting the hubris he displayed on the drive up to the sugar shack when he blew off your repeated warnings of pace and told you "don't worry, I'll be fine". Lesson learned: all the preparatory blog-reading and past meals at PDC in Montreal in the world can't prepare your stomach for a meal of this magnitude; only first-hand experience or a super-human amount of restraint in the face of all the incredibly appealing appetizers and pseudo-appetizers will suffice.
The mains arrive hot on the heels of the previous course. A giant enamel vessel the size of a small stock pot came full of awesome maple baked beans, and what must have been at least 4 whole duck legs mixed in, topped with a big scoop of cottage cheese. Two roasted ducks, minus their legs which we assume were in the aforementioned Winnie The Pooh honey-pot-sized bean dish, were served looking picture-perfect; no doubt slathered in maple syrup to achieve the incredible golden color they had, topped with a handful of onion rings that were held securely in place with a serrated knife driven through the duck. The duck was tender as can be with a really sweet purée or maybe a sauce beneath but we couldn't figure out what it was and forgot to ask - our bad. Last but certainly not least was an extraordinarily prepared slab of fatty, sticky Gaspor pork belly served over some sort of cut dumplings, onions and buttered cabbage.
Maple Baked Beans & Duck Legs
Roasted Duck Breasts & Onion Rings
Gaspor Pork Belly, Dumplings, Cabbage
Are you getting the meat-sweats just looking at this yet? Food-coma? Well.... WAKE UP! Sleep is for the weak and we don't take too kindly to quitters around here. It's time for dessert: soft and sticky glazed maple-cinnamon rolls, sweet and crispy edged duck-fat fried pancakes, maple filled eclairs with maple cotton candy, a maple ice cream sundae with crunchy crumbles of Skor, popsicle sticks covered in tire d'erable (maple taffy) and mini ice-cream cones filled with maple syrup and maple flavored marshmallow appropriately served on a 2 inch thick cross section of a maple tree.
Duck Fat Fried Pancakes
Maple Eclairs, Maple Cotton Candy
Maple Skor Ice-Cream Sundae, Tire d'Erable, Mini Maple Cones
This year is also a celebration of the release of Au Pied de Cochon's second self-published book. We picked up a copy on our visit and would like to take a moment to urge you to do the same. Complete with everything from a detailed explanation of the entire maple syrup making process, a diagram of the property, a years diary recording the goings-on at the cabane, and tonnes of beautiful photography to over a hundred recipes from foie gras filled favorites that have been served in the dining room in past years to more "adventurous" ones like squirrel sushi or beaver stuffed with it's own tail and cooked sous-vide. This book is far more than a cookbook, it's a true masterpiece, full of information and anecdotes that really accurately convey the feeling of pride one has living in Quebec at this time of year. This book is without a doubt an instant classic that belongs in every food-enthusiast, cook, and chef's collection.
Following each course your waitress will bring around silver delivery style take-out trays for you to pile in the leftovers to take home with you. Don't be shy, no one is above a PDC doggy-bag, not you and certainly not us. We were eating amazing leftovers for the next two days after our visit with big happy grins on our faces. You can also buy frozen take-home tourtières, which we also strongly suggest you do, we never miss the opportunity. Another year gone-by and another extraordinary meal, we already can't wait for next year. If you're lucky enough to be going to the Cabane PDC this year keep in mind that they reserve the right to change any menu item or component at any time without notice so what you're served may vary from what we ate, it will surely be equally amazing though. If you didn't get a spot, mark your calendars for December 1st next year and try again, you better believe our calendars are already marked!
Cabane À Sucre Au Pied De Cochon
11382 Rang De La Fresnière
St-Benoît De Mirabel, QC