Canada

October 21, 2011
montreal-ontheroad.jpg

All photos by Eddie Lau.

Eddie Lau is currently the chef-partner at The Summit. A Bostonian at heart, he has lived and worked in San Francisco the last six years. He is also the founder and creative director of progressive culinary concept project Dux.

Having worked tirelessly over the last year to get the wheels of a new business aligned and running straight, I realized that I hadn’t been afforded much of a chance to live on my schedule for quite a bit of time. Faced with an obligatory return to Boston for a wedding, I decided I’d take one of the few chances that I have had in order to decompress for a few days first in one of my favorite East Coast cities and nearby foreign retreats: ~MONTREAL~.

And, one of the best ways I could think to deprogram the madness of my work routine was to drive right through the heart of New England—where the beautiful late summer weather paired perfectly with an iced beverage from the land of Dunkin’ Donuts. It wasn’t a Kerouac journey, but I did enjoy the Sioux City Sue CD album that someone left behind in the rental. All in all, my ride cruised into Montreal in less than five hours and exactly four hours before my dinner reservation at Au Pied de Cochon.

One of the most common misnomers of a working professional is the assumption that keeping a schedule is the same thing as being on your own schedule. For instance, my own schedule would not normally include a 6:30am wake-up time—especially, when it involves beating an imaginary stroller rush at the Saturday farmers’ market. I understand the importance of keeping such a schedule is necessary, but working seven days a week does not allow much breathing room.

When I started to think about this short trip, I wondered whether it would be a good idea to have friends join, but I ultimately decided against it. The advantage of traveling alone—something that most people understandably dread—is the ability to reclaim your time. The chance to live according to your own schedule, for your own enjoyment, and on your own trip is one of the best ways to liberate and detox from the demands of our work lives. How often do you get the chance to be in complete control of your ability to lose control?

And so, I arrived in Montreal and sought to do anything my heart desired for the next 48 hours. These were some of the culinary exploits of my trip.

After checking into my room in Montreal’s InterContinental hotel, I immediately started lap swimming in the hotel pool. For those that do not know, you should try your best to burn every available calorie prior to dinner at Au Pied de Cochon. I swam more laps that afternoon than I had all year combined.

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I arrived at Au Pied de Cochon and was promptly seated at the center of the bar as requested. They squarely placed me in clear and direct view of one of Au Pied de Cochon’s signature photo frames—one that I had read and flipped through so many times and so many miles away. It was a very “I have arrived” type of moment.

I ordered a starter followed by a couple of appetizers to start my meal. Now for those that are not familiar with APDC, you need to understand that a starter and two appetizers typically equate to a portion for an entire meal almost anywhere else.

First up, foie gras cromesquis—a little known classic that is credited to three-star Michelin chef Marc Meneau of L’Espérance. Foie gras cromesquis is a breaded and fried square of liquid foie (hard set with gelatin for breading/frying). Much like a soup dumpling/ravioli, the cromesquis explodes a gushing stream of savory and rich foie directly into your mouth. I love sauce delivery systems, and I like fried sauce delivery systems even more.

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The appetizers followed the starter almost immediately. I decidedly made selections that I felt would be true to the heart of APDC, but I also picked a couple of items that I thought would possibly be lighter. I ordered the guinea hen liver mousse and the beef tartare in hopes of enjoying lighter spreadable dishes where I could pacify the quantity of intake with the activity of smearing food on other food. But as is the case with all the APDC dishes, there are no throwaway dishes when it comes to tiptoeing the limits of indulgence, fulfillment, and utterly ridiculous excess.

There are only a certain few meals in my life that I have strategized in terms of eating. Some of the more notable ones involved buffets (when I still enjoyed them as a kid), family reunion banquets, and family events involving collaborative cooking.

But on this night, I applied an eating strategy for my APDC meal—something I had not done in probably a decade. My last regret associated with not employing “strategic eating” happened at the 15-20 course dinner at L2O (details of all the items served during the night are still fuzzy). At APDC, eating strategy dictated I box half of both the appetizers prior to the arrival of my next courses. Unfortunately, the handrolled beef tartare threw me off my game and lead to a subsequent breakdown of game-planning. This basically means: impending punishment.

For my next course, I consulted the waitress on deciding on my pre-entrée foie course. If you follow the APDC menu as seen here, the foie section seems to be intentionally designed to be a secondary course; one that comes prior to the mains. It was a tough decision between a few different foie items, but my waitress insisted that if I was to have anything on the foie menu, it could be none other than ploye à champlain.

The ploye à champlain is both a terribly flawed and perfect dish all in one. It is a dish that is constituted of a little bit of cheese, broken pancake bits, slabs of pork belly, and a lobe of foie. Then all of this is stacked and smothered with maple syrup. To eat any of these elements separately seems to net a nauseous sensation, but the sum of the parts eaten together in one forkful creates an oddly balanced equation of sweet, rich, and salty. A villain by way of its success: the ploye à champlain is one of those dishes where you must eat everything together—and if you do, then you are likely eating everything on the plate. Again, I failed to prolong reaching my stomach capacity by eating everything on the plate.

For my entrée, I flipped back and forth on all the multitude of meaty options, but my intrigue and foolish hunger (prior to the arrival of three appetizer courses) insisted that I “go big or go home.” So I did just that and I ordered the foie stuffed au Pied de Cochon—a braised, breaded, and roasted trotter stuffed with braised chunks of pork and foie and topped with another giant piece of foie. This dish was so massive, they served it in a shallow oval crock pot. A dish likely meant to feed entire families or small islands. I barely finished a quarter of the beast.

After which, I waddled to my hotel, got a change of clothes, took a two-mile stroll, and enjoyed drinks and the random company of strangers at a bar called La Distillerie.

536 Ave. Duluth Est
514-281-1114

The next day I spent a good deal of time hanging out in the Mile End neighborhood of Montreal eating and sampling different bagel and sandwich shops. Those who have been to Montreal know that Montreal may quite possibly have the best bagels in the world. Led by two of the most famous bagel shops in the world: Fairmount and St-Viateur, the Montreal bagel is one that is hand-rolled, boiled, and open-fire roasted. The size, texture, and fire-roasted aromatics are what really set these bagels apart.

74 Ave. Fairmount Ouest
514-272-0667

263 Rue St-Viateur Ouest
514-276-8044

montreal-wilensky.jpg After a morning bagel binge, I went sandwich hunting for lunch. It is a little known secret that in the Mile End neighborhood, you can find some of the oldest deli sandwich shops—ones that still sell their sandwiches at unreasonably cheap prices. The oldest of them, I think, is Wilensky’s. A place that has served a classic smoked beef, smoked bologna, and cheese sandwich for 75-plus years. Wilensky’s certainly looks all of its 75-plus years.

34 Ave. Fairmount Ouest
514-271-0247

My favorite, however, is a little place called Boulangerie Clarke. I think I found this place like how all people find food treasures: hungry wandering. At Boulangerie Clarke, they make their own fluffy giant sandwich rolls and keep their prices in a time warp. Admittedly I’m not a fan of any of the pastries or loaf bread there, but the deli roll and sandwiches are a staple of my Montreal experience.

29 Rue Saint Viateur Ouest
514-276-7827

And of course, I went to Schwartz’s for a smoked beef (pastrami) sandwich. I’m not sure I can say much that hasn’t been said on a million TV shows that have featured Schwartz’s. So I will simply leave you with a picture.

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3895 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
514-842-4813

After an intense afternoon of smoked meat sandwiches and a few more laps in the hotel pool, I decided to spend my last dinner meal in Montreal at a classic burger dive known as Patati Patata. Patati Patata specializes in their little bacon cheeseburgers and classic poutine. A fitting last meal and proper end to the trip. Sadly, this time in Montreal, I was underwhelmed by classic poutine—partly because I’ve been spoiled by the multiple interpretations (notably foie poutine), and partly because I’ve had better outside of Montreal. I guess it was naïve to think that I could reclaim all of the former paradise I had come to expect.

montreal-poutine.jpg 4177 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
514-844-0216

I roamed some coffee shops, stores, and bars along Rue Sainte-Catherine, including a stop at a place named Café Myriade—a spot that was serving Ritual coffee to a crowd that was all too reminiscent of the madness of my own place many miles away. A fitting “back to earth” signal for the end of a good trip.

1432 Rue Mackay
514-939-1717

It felt like so long since I had the simple chance to actually sit and enjoy my meals as they came. There was no need to shovel food in my mouth between tasks or prep items, and there was no need to confine my choices to proximity to my apartment. I think oftentimes people end up taking too many trips for specific reasons, aka other people’s reasons. Things like weddings, holidays, family reunions somehow begin to lump obligation with “vacation.” I’m not saying family time is not rewarding and fun in its own way, but it is easy to forget that a vacation is only a vacation when you choose to go somewhere for yourself, be on your own terms, and spend your own time.

December 4, 2007

By Chef Charlie Kleinman

Four pounds of foie gras. That, according to the best estimates of the three of us (all chefs with ample experience working with foie) is how much we consumed of the lipidinous substance in our two-hour dinner at Au Pied De Cochon. Certainly after a goring like that we would stop our binge eating and find the nearest salad to try and correct our dangerously high cholesterol levels. Well, maybe if we were normal people. But we are not. We are chefs, a different breed, and we were determined to eat all we could after years and years of staff meals that left us (not quite) satiated.

I am a New Yorker, and count myself as one of the chosen people, not only as it applies to my religion, but perhaps more importantly as it applies to my bagel eating. You see, bagels really are better in New York, and yes I really do believe it is our water (that and a little bit of our superior attitude as well). So imagine my surprise when a trip to Maison du Bagel (263 St. Viateur Ouest, Montreal, 514-276-8044), the bagel shop in Montreal that some people claim rivals any New York bagel, actually left me satisfied.

These bagels are good, really good even, but they are still not as good as the best New York City has to offer--give me Columbia Hot Bagels or H&H any day. That said, these bagels are excellent and different than anything found in the U.S. For one thing, they are cooked in a wood-fired oven, which gives them a smoky and rich flavor not often associated with the bagels of my youth. They are also a little flatter than what I am used to, which helped save them from the cottony texture that plagues the impostor bagels across this country. Their texture was an excellent blend of crispy and chewy, and the bagel had just enough malty sugar mixed in with salty topping to officially make it the best bagel I have ever had outside of New York.

The trip to Maison du Bagel satisfied my intellectual quest for finding the best of the best in culinary delights, but our next stop would be purely visceral. We were on a daytrip to Quebec City, that capital of French-speaking Canada, and one of the most beautiful cities in North America. This walled city surrounded by cannons and gun turrets is the fastest and cheapest way to feel like you are in a European medieval city that I know of. On every corner is another bistro that looks warm and inviting, offering classics such as steak frites and tartare.

However, we didn't go to Quebec to mess around with any of that frou-frou. We were here to eat poutine, the uniquely French-Canadian food that is an ambrosial blend of crispy French fries, meaty gravy, and squeaky cheese curd. (Yes I described the cheese curd as squeaky, and I challenge you to find a better word to describe this pleasant yet slightly foreign texture and flavor.)

There are a myriad of places where one can enjoy this treat, but after much research, we chose Chez Ashton (54 Cote Du Palais, Quebec City, QE, 418-692-3055). This chain of fast food restaurants has the look and feel of a McDonald's, and the added bonus of employing a cashier who made us feel as if we had walked in to the Canadian remake of Clerks. We all ordered the poutine avec saucisson, or poutine with hot dogs for the less sophisticated of you out there.

How to describe this treat? Ethereal? Subtle? No. How about stick-to-your-ribs, make-you-want-to-take-a-nap, no-need-to-eat-again-for-the-rest of-the-day good. I'm glad we did this, and am relieved that I won't have to eat it again for a while since I'm not sure my system could take it.

While we had a blast in Montreal and Quebec City, we were excited to move on to Toronto for the next stage in our trip. There were many reasons we were looking forward to Toronto. The Hockey Hall of Fame (okay that was just me), Wayne Gretzky's restaurant (okay, again just me), and last but not the least of all, Susur (601 King Street West, Toronto, OT, 416-504-7886). We had all wanted to visit Susur Lee's eponymous restaurant for as long as we knew about it, and this reservation had been burning a whole in our itinerary for over a week now.

That said, how can I best describe our experience after weeks of great food? I guess Susur would have to be categorized somewhere in between disappointing and criminal. It is one thing to leave a meal you simply didn't like, and quite another to feel like you had been held up at dinner. Nothing was done correctly here. The service was inattentive and awful. The wine was overpriced and did not deliver on its promise. But the food, the reason we had visited this restaurant, nay, this city? Under seasoned, poorly delivered, uninspiring, and well, lets just leave it at that. Let's move on to happier meals.

This was not hard to do as we had one more stop on our tour before arriving back in New York City. We woke up bright and early to make our last trip to Buffalo. That's right, you read it correctly. Buffalo was the next stop on our road trip for two reasons. First of all, we had to drop chef pal Ryan Farr off at the airport, but more importantly, we needed to see the culinary mecca, the place in which my favorite food was invented, and hopefully still executed in its truest form.

The place was the Anchor Bar (1047 Main St. Buffalo, 716-886-8920), and the food is, as some of you may have guessed, Buffalo wings. The wings delivered. The three of us polished off a heaping pile of these wings with such alacrity that we were ready to head to Nathan's and challenge Kobayashi to a hotdog-eating contest. These spicy, salty, and crispy fried treats were the only positive thing about Buffalo so far as we could tell, so we made haste back to NYC and the end of our culinary adventures.

With 15 days of eating and drinking under my belt, there are quite a few things I have learned. For one, there is just simply not enough room on tablehopper to tell you about every meal. The casualties of this limitation include (but are not limited to) Sri Pa Pai, an amazing Thai restaurant in Queens, New York, and Shake Shack has one of the best burgers I have yet to taste. I am sure many of you who are a wee bit jealous of this trip may be happy to find out that I have wrecked my stomach to the point where I get heartburn after almost every meal. That said, I will carry on, but might for the time being try and change my focus back to feeding people, and away from feeding myself.

Thank you, Marcia, for a forum to share tales of my gluttony. Let me know the next time you need someone to help you out with your dirty work.

November 27, 2007



Gluttony, thy name is Au Pied De Cochon (536 rue Duluth, Montreal, 514-281-1114). Okay, I guess that's not fair. A better name for gluttony would be Charlie Kleinman, Jake Des Voignes, and Ryan Farr. You see, the three of us have eaten enough in the last week to feed a small (well, not that small) country for a couple of weeks. Jake and I started in New York before hopping in our rented car and driving to Boston.

Why Boston you ask? Well, it's a budding food city much like San Francisco, and more importantly I worked there for years and had to see a couple of friends about a couple of horses. Before making it all the way to Boston, Jake and I were feeling a little bit hungry and decided to stop at one of the East Coast's legendary pizza places for a little lunch.

The place was Frank Pepe's (163 Wooster St., New Haven, CT, 203-865-5762), a New Haven relic from the days when pizza was a religion and the Yalies were scared to go to the wrong side of town. Frank Pepe's, or Pepe's as it is known colloquially, is famed for one thing and one thing only. The clam pie. This is a brick oven pizza topped with clams, garlic, oregano, and just a touch of Parmesan cheese to round it out.

For all of those out there who think that cheese and seafood should not coexist, save it. You are just jealous of this religious experience we had. The crust was crisp yet chewy. Smoky from the oven, but not burnt as so many pizzas I order these days are. It was just great, and Jake and I finished it off with little hesitation before hopping back out on the highway for Beantown.

Boston was just one long food fest, with one friend after another jockeying to give us our best meal in the city. Its good to know people, but it's even better to see the guys I used to work with grow into chef jobs and just kill it. With tasting menus at Great Bay (500 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA, 617-532-5320) and Tosca (14 North St., Hingham, MA, 781-740-0080), Jake and I kept our gullets busy, and began to truly empathize with those foie gras geese for the first time.

The chorizo parsnip puree that chef Adam Fuller paired with scallops at Great Bay gave me a new appreciation for eating vegetables (especially when pureed with smoky pork products). Fuller's talent as a chef is equal only to the size of his personality, which on its own is reason enough to visit the restaurant.

Tosca also provided an excellent meal and is worth the visit to the South Shore if you have a car in Boston. Chef Kevin Long has a deft, if not light hand with all manners of Italian comfort food. His pork Milanese with mustard was delicious, but my personal favorite is still the fried calamari. I know this sounds kind of pedestrian, but I dare you to find a better version in the country. Crispy and tender with spicy aioli, it is mixed with pickled onions, cucumbers, and chilies, as well as some wild arugula.

The next night was our marathon of eating and drinking. We started off at Eastern Standard (528 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA, 617-532-9100) for cocktails. The menu warned, "Consuming raw eggs may increase your risk of being held in high regard by the bar." This was all the prodding we needed, so we ordered a pisco sour and gin flip respectively. These drinks were balanced and crafted with the care you expect to find in the best restaurants in the world. Of all the cocktails I have had in the last couple of weeks, and believe me there were many, the ones at Eastern Standard inspire me as a chef to execute my food at the highest level possible.

After cocktails we went for a three-headed dinner at Radius (8 High St., Boston, MA, 617-426-1234), Troquet (140 Boylston St., Boston, MA, 617-695-9463) and Toro (1704 Washington St., Boston, MA, 617-536-4300). Three very different restaurants, all with excellent results.

At Radius the highlight was the torchon course, mostly for its pairing with a buttery rugelach that would make my people proud (the Jews, in case you are wondering.)

The charcuterie and cheese plates at Troquet were delicious, but the star of the show here is the wine. This is the best wine list you have never heard of, and we cherry-picked the 1976 Chateau Palmer for a mere $129. While this might not be the best year for this wine, it was simply unbelievable, especially at that price.

Our last stop in Boston was Toro, a tapas bar from "celeb" chef Ken Oringer. This little spot decorated with a bull's head delivered some excellent razor clams a la plancha, but the tripe was one of the poorest examples I have ever had the misfortune to taste.

Done with our time in Boston we met our friend and fellow chef Ryan Farr and headed to Montreal. Taking care not to eat too much on the way, the three of us fearlessly made our way across the border, into what we could only assume was the wilderness. Our firm grasp on English (or at least some of our firm grips on English) would do us no good as we breached the language barrier in search of a meal that just might kill us. This meal was at Au Pied De Cochon, and strangely everyone spoke English to us and couldn't have been nicer.

The meal, in this palace of porcine overindulgence, was everything we expected and more. The eponymous dish was so big that when we saw it delivered to another table, we all burst out laughing. A whole pig's trotter, stuffed and fried, was sitting atop mashed potatoes and smothered with a gravy of mushrooms and onions. Rich you say? Ha!

That was light compared to our boudin noir and cured foie tart, which could have stopped a Kenyan marathoner dead in his tracks on mile two. This tart was so over the top that the foie was the third richest item on it. Yes, the boudin noir was artery clogging, but believe it or not, the buttery crust of the tart had more butter than a banquet hall full of chicken Kiev. Croissants envy this crust for its buttery texture, and I thought it just might be the last thing I ever ate.

Not to worry though, our trip continued for a whole other week with plenty more food and booze to tell you about. Hopefully Marcia will continue to find our gluttony a newsworthy event. Until then, Marcia please send your Italian indigestion remedy. [Ed. note--my family makes it through the holidays, and monster truck-sized feasts, thanks to Brioschi. Good luck.]

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