On the Pilgrimage to Montreal

Here’s a hypothetical scenario for you: You’re given a car. It’s yours for three days, to drive wherever your want, as far as you want—so long as you make it back by the end of three days. It’s got pretty great mileage too, so you could drive a thousand kilometres, turn around, and drive back pretty easily. Actually, a savvy driver with a lot of endurance could do a lot more. So, where do you go?

Faced with that sort of freedom, some of you might choose to see great sights, visiting one of Canada’s many gorgeous national parks. Others might travel for culture; years of listening to meandering Boomer stories have given me the impression that driving hundreds of kilometres and over national borders to watch Pink Floyd was a normal thing back in the good ‘ol days. The best amongst you might even travel for friends or family, making memories and finding that sort of personal enrichment that’ll gild their golden years.

As for me, I’d drive five hundred kilometres for a poached pig’s foot with foie gras, turn around, and drive my satisfied carcass back home. How do I know this? Because, when actually given a car for the weekend, that’s exactly what I did. I took an Audi A8 TDI five hundred kilometres to Montreal, home of Martin Picard’s shrine, Au Pied du Cochon, ate a delightful meal, and promptly returned home, slightly greasier but doubtlessly happier. Some people use their freedom to feed their eyes, their mind, or their soul; I’m happy to stick with simple gluttony.

So, why was Audi giving away cars for the weekend? Well, DailyXY is inclined to write the occasional car review, and Audi was presumably looking for a way to test their diesel entry onto the luxury car market. On that score, I say: trust in diesel. Europe’s been doing it forever, and, on paper, the car gets 8.7L/100 km city, and 5.3L/100 km on the highway. In practice, I didn’t need to fill the ninety-litre tank at any point on the journey. Top score for luxury, too: this is the most comfortable car I’ve ever driven, and also the only one that required me to move the seat up. Throw in graceful handling, a phantom black coat of paint, adaptive cruise control, lane assist, night vision assist, and literally dozens of other safety and comfort modifications, and my pilgrimage to Picard’s Temple of Foie Gras was perhaps the easiest and most comfortable pilgrimage in history, and Musa I of Mali will just have to settle for second.

So, now that I feel like I’ve paid a sufficient moral debt to Audi (seriously, if your automotive budget is around a hundred grand, I say go for it), let’s move on to the object of my obsession, and indeed the obsession of gourmands and gluttons the world over: Au Pied du Cochon. My fascination with the restaurant began with their eponymous cookbook, which I bought for my mother one Christmas in an attempt to alleviate the shortage of French Canadian cookbooks in her otherwise considerable gastronomic library. A scant three days later, on Childermas, I was following Picard’s instructions for cipaille, a layered meat pie that involves rabbit, duck, quail, pork shank, beef marrow, and a considerable bricolage of spices. If you’d spent hours butchering and baking Picard’s cipaille, you too would be compelled to visit the kitchen of it’s origin.

Five hours of driving works up quite an appetite, especially when you’re dreaming of foie gras, and I arrived at the Plateau Mont-Royal for my ten o’clock reservation a man famished and deranged. Au Pied du Cochon has a clean exterior garnished with potted rosemary, but does not advertise it’s name on it’s façade.

How does one sate the hunger created years of cookbook inspired longing, amplified by five hundred or so kilometres? Well, I started with pickled tongue, elegantly spiralled on the plate. I continued with a special instead of a regular appetizer: they were offering foie gras in a kind of raspberry sauce, since it’s only right that a patron of Au Pied du Cochon order at least one dish where foie gras is the main attraction. Finally, for the main event, I decided to eat what the place is named for: I ordered Au Pied du Cochon, though I couldn’t resist the version that’s stuffed with foie gras. The foie gras is added to onions, garlic, tomatoes, and mushrooms, which, of course, is wrapped in a medley of pork flesh, jellied cartilage and ligaments, velvety fat, and crispy skin, resting atop a mound of potatoes flavoured with cheese curds and the collected juice of everything else.

Two and a half hours after my meal, rite, and ordeal began, I stumbled out into the Plateau, whose streets, in my rosemary-addled brain, possibly with aid of my throat coated in warm pork fat, may as well have been those of a dark medieval city past the hours of civilization, or even Dis—though gluttons never get that far down.

I did not make it back to Toronto that night, or even attempt it—I found a hotel and crashed into a luscious food coma. I left in the morning—but only after visiting Schwatz’s. It wouldn’t do to hit the road hungry.

Dave Robson is the editor of DailyXY. He spends his time reading books, drinking Scotch, and smoking cigars.

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