On the Road with Chef Eddie Lau: Montreal

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.

montreal-piedcochon-piccopy.jpg

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.

piedcochon-foiegrascromesquis.jpg

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.

montreal-schwartz-meat.jpg

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.