Our dinner at Au Pied De Cochon was all about excess. Did Al need two pre-dinner drinks? Probably not. Was it necessary for me to drink a bottle of red wine? Not really. Was it wise to order 5 things between the two of us at a restaurant known for serving incredibly rich dishes in trough-sized portions? Nope. But gosh… it sure was fun. We started off the orgy with an order of the famous cromesquis (deep fried cubes of foie gras). Remember Freshen Up gum? Do you recall the way that the liquid center would burst into your mouth as you bit through the pliant outer coating? Now imagine that the center was molten foie gras instead of a fruity corn syrup blend, and you’ve got the general idea. This was one of the most decadent things that I’ve ever had the pleasure to eat.
Slightly stunned from the hot foie experience, we moved on to the “crispy” salad and the pickled venison tongue. The former made a mockery of the entire mixed greens genre. A huge mound of pork parts mixed with sweet stewed tomatoes sat on a base of arugula and perhaps a few other leaves. The accompaniment was a large, square cake of breaded, deep fried pork puree. This somehow managed to be an even guiltier pleasure than the cromesquis, despite the mitigating presence of greenery. The venison tongue seemed almost light in comparison. And it was perhaps even tastier. Al, who had never before shown much interest in the beef and veal tongue that I like as a taco filler, deemed it one of his favorite dishes. It was fork tender, richly flavored with just the right level of gaminess, and bore a sweet residual astringency from the brine.
After our starters, we would have been fine with throwing in the towel and waddling out into the freezing night. Mais non! We had the Melting Pot and a boudin tart to contend with. Had we had any of our wits about us, we would have ordered the latter packed to go immediately and just focused on conquering my meal. However, wits (unlike pork and pork products) were in short supply at that point. Al polished off as much as he could of the tart, which was liberally topped with excellent housemade boudin. It was roughly the diameter of a hubcap, and probably weighed more. Now, about the Melting Pot. It came in its own crock, which delighted me. (I’m very childish that way – serve me anything in a dedicated container, and I’ll no doubt go into raptures.) I knew it had a few different kinds of pork in it, but I was unprepared for the level of complete porkiness that this dish achieved. It contained boudin, pork belly, pork shank, some other kind of pork sausage, and I think yet one more kind of pig. All of this was enveloped by garlic mashed potatoes made with so much cheese that the mixture could be stretched out and twirled around a fork. A thick puddle of roasting juices lurked at the bottom. I was completely overwhelmed, but I gave it my best. Reader, I ate it.
(Actually, no. I didn’t. I just wanted to say that. “Reader, I had to concede defeat after three bites and ask for a doggie bag” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.)
Believe it or not, we were offered a dessert menu after this. For the only time that evening, good sense prevailed and we asked for a cab instead of pudding chomeur. End result: Us, 1; Au Pied De Cochon, 2.
Au Pied De Cochon, 536 East Duluth, Montreal, Canada
We’ve been REALLY lazy about trying new places in the neighborhood, be they for eating or for drinking. For the latter, we generally stick with the Pencil Factory for a few pints or the Mark Bar (and its lethal $4 mixed drinks) for really tying one on. So even though Black Rabbit has been open and close by since the summer, I hadn’t set foot in it until this week. My bad. It’s a really nice bar. The renovation was carefully done, in contrast to a lot of the shiny but shoddy work you often see. Heavy fixtures, characterful dark wood, and well-considered little touches are everywhere. There’s plenty of seating, some of it in deep, dim snugs. The bar itself is stunning, a gently curving beauty fashioned from antique wood. It could have been oppressive, it could have been too kitschy, but it absolutely isn’t. (The owner worked for the company that runs the Carnegie Club and the Campbell Apartment, amongst other refined establishments, so I guess he knows from elegant.)
There’s a large-ish tap beer listing, and an even larger bottle selection. You can go high end, or you can have a can of Miller Lite. Al had a well-poured Guinness ($5), and I had a glass of not very good Rioja ($6) and a glass of very decent Malbec ($7). I really wanted to try the specialty cocktail composed of Rioja, tequila, lime juice, and triple sec ($7), but at my advanced age that combo would buy me a one-way ticket to Hangover Town. (With a stop at Vomit Junction, quite possibly. The old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be. )
Next visit, I’d like to try the food. In particular, they have a cheese plate that sounds like a great deal: Huntsman, Pecorino, and triple creme Brie cheeses; crostini; fresh fruit; and brandy-soaked cherries ($9). Nice!
Black Rabbit, 91 Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
Originally uploaded by warmleatherette
I’m being EXTREMELY slow in writing up the bulk of our Montreal jaunt, but little by little I’ll get there. Today’s small step: La Casa Bianca. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon this lovely, lovely little place while searching a directory of Canadian B&Bs and quickly booked a room. I can’t say enough good about LCB – it’s beautiful, reasonable, has tons of atmosphere and charm, and it’s located in Plateau Mont-Royal on an exceedingly charming street (Avenue de L’Esplanade) facing Mount Royal. We were a quick walk from most of the restaurants we wanted to try and a brisk 15-20 minutes or so from Mile End in one direction and downtown/Chinatown in the other. As you can see, the room itself was fab. LCB is in a renovated mansion (which must have been something in its heyday), so details like high ceilings, crown moldings, wide staircases, and alcoves abound. We had a huge bay window, lots of space, and a proper clawfooted tub.
The cherry on the sundae was the innkeeper, Michael, who seemed to honestly enjoy hanging out and kibbitzing with the guests (or put up a damn good show of it). He was a great, friendly source of advice. I can’t believe that I’m saying something so corny, but coming back at the end of the day actually felt like coming home. There are many reasons why I’m already looking forward to another trip to Montreal next year, and a big one is the opportunity to stay here again.
Originally uploaded by warmleatherette
On the way up to Montreal, we stopped in Plattsburgh for a late breakfast. Sadly the couple of independent restaurants that we saw weren’t open for brunch, and since we didn’t want Applebee’s or Friendly’s we almost got back on I-87 and left hungry. Fortunately as we were turning around on Rte 9, I noticed McSweeney’s. The nondescript grey building looked more like a feed store or auto body shop, but the sign promised Red Hots. “That means food,” I somewhat unnecessarily told Al. The parking lot was full, which at 11.30am on a Friday we took to be a good sign. We sat at the counter and ordered the house specialty: garlicky steamed hot dogs topped with a thick, slightly spicy meat gravy (I wouldn’t call it chili). In order to keep the delicious sauce from leaking out, special buns are used. They’re closed at either end (you can kind of see what I mean in the photo). Genius! A hot dog that has its own accessory!
In addition to the Red Hots we shared an order of fries, paying 50¢ more for “homemade.” They were crisp, double-fried perfection. Basically, McSweeney’s is everything you could ask of a hot dog experience. We loved it. We loved it so much, in fact, that we had to stop there on the way back to NYC. This time around I tried the “Sauceburger,” which is the bun and sauce minus the dog. I didn’t want anything coming between me and the gravy. Al polished off two Red Hots, which left him happy and satisfied yet also disgusted with himself. Isn’t that always the way?
McSweeney’s, 4704 Ste Rte 9, Plattsburgh, NY
Originally uploaded by warmleatherette
Skyway doesn’t disappoint. I’ve been there numerous times (including the fabulous dinner with Ian, mentioned below), and I’ve yet to have a bad or even mediocore meal. There are a few individual items that I wouldn’t order again – poh piah (steamed spring rolls) and Macau beer (a watery, anemic brew that makes Budweiser seem like Sam Smiths Oatmeal Stout) spring to mind – but overall the food has always been excellent. And plentiful. And cheap. While I work on my mega Montreal trip report, feast your eyes on the beautiful fish that we enjoyed a little while back.
Skyway, 11 Allen St, New York, NY