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.]