I feel extremely lucky to have won a seat at the highly coveted Martin Picard’s Au Pied de Cochon Cabane à Sucre (Sugar Shack). Cabane à sucre in the Fall, you ask? Let me explain.
We all know the iconic Martin Picard, he who created the Foie Gras Poutine and owner of the reputable Au Pied de Cochon restaurant in Montreal. In 2009, he introduced us to his version of Cabane à Sucre with a fixed menu made for maple heaven. Reservations are by e-mail requests only, begining on December 1st . Every foodie in town clamours to get a reservation to this 10- week maple syrup extravaganza à la Martin Picard. Within 12 hours, they are fully booked 3 months ahead of time!
A month ago, I read an article in The Montreal Gazette about the launch of Martin Picard’s Cabane aux Pommes, a menu paying homage to the apple.
This new diabolical feast would now take us to apple heaven, spanning over a 9-week period, Fridays through Sundays. Needless to say it was sold out. The good news was that they were now opening up Thursday nights as well and we could try (and hope) to get an in by requesting a reservation by e-mail. So I did. I waited. And waited. And waited. I actually forgot all about it. Until I came home last Wednesday afternoon and noticed on my display that I had missed a call from a “Cabane a Sucre…”. There was no message, but it had to be them! What other cabane a sucre would be calling me? And why did they not leave a message? What if they had given my spot to someone else? I quickly pressed redial and took a deep breath. When my call was answered with the full name of the sugar schack, I was ecstatic! I let out a sigh of relief. “It is you! I noticed you called but didn’t leave a message.” They don’t leave messages, they just keep going down that list until somebody takes that lucky, open spot. “Do you have a spot for me?” When she replied with an affirmative, I felt like I had just won a prize! Not only did she have a spot for me, but because there were just two of us I actually had a choice. When people cancel (crazy as that may seem!), they refer to their very long waiting list. My choices were Thursday, Friday or Saturday evening, or Sunday afternoon lunch. Because I was going to the country Friday afternoon, I had to go Thursday eve. Last night I discovered, to my great dismay, that had I gone Sunday afternoon, I would have lunched with non other than Jamie Oliver!!! As in The Jamie Oliver! Instead, I was in the country watching Jamie on the telly! Darn it!
You need to be open to adventure when it comes to dining with Martin Picard. His specialty is over-the-top spectacular when it comes to food and its presentation. Peter not being one who takes too keenly to adventure when it comes to eating, I went with my girlfriend Sue. Lucky Sue had attended his Cabane a Sucre Feast in the Spring so she knew what all the fuss was about.
We started off with apple cocktails. Sue had an apple Martini, with a salted apple core replacing the olive, and I had a Pommette, a drink consisting of sprakling apple cider and… something else. All I know is, it was yummy!
The 10 course fixed menu begins with jars of homemade pickled eggplant, corn relish and cornichons sitting on the table. There was even a bottle of very good olive oil.
Any hot foods were served in magnificently colourful Le Creuset pots and pans of every imaginable shape and size. I wanted them all! Picard makes use of local produce from neighbouring farms. The honey comes from Intermiel just around the corner, and the cheese from his neighbour, Les fromages du verger.
And then began our decadently rich feast. Four appetizers were brought out all at once. First, the caillé de brébis, a firm sheep’s yogurt, almost cheese-like, topped with thin slivers of apple, shavings of foie gras, honey and a honeycomb on the side. Sublime!
Next up was the unctuously, velvety-smooth Squash soup Gratin. With both Emmenthal and Gruyere cheese, this rich and creamy and buttery soup was to die for! It seemed like the thin slices of apples were added in just at the very end, keeping the apples firm and crunchy. Crushed Amaretti cookies filled in for the bread croutons, adding just enough sweetness and crunch. Oh man, this was good!
And then, the pièce de resistance. A piglet’s skull came out draped with feather- thin slices of head cheese, similar to Italian pancetta, drizzled in an olive oil and shallot vinaigrette. Also on this piece of wood bark was a deliciously, salty prosciutto-style ham. Served with an apple mustard. All homemade, with the piggies grown on Picard’s land.
Last, but not least, came one of my personal faves. A dish of ravioli filled with liquified foie gras, cavatelli and chunks of sous-vide cooked foie gras, all in a luxuriously rich apple-Parmesan-rosemary sauce. Oh My Heaven!
For large groups, the serving of this pasta dish is a show in itself. A wheel of Parmesan is rolled out and the pasta is dumped into its centre. Added to that is the foie gras and then huge shavings of Parmesan go flying into it as the waiter grates around the edges with a spoon. Magnificent!
Oh, and their bread… crunchy crusts on the outside, light and airy on the inside. Served with apple butter. I could have eaten that bread with the sheep’s yogurt-cheese all night and been quite happy. With a bottle of wine.
Did I mention these were the appetizers? Yes, really!
Oh man, were we full! As the next three dishes were served to us, we decided that a bite of each would suffice, and then we would doggy-bag it. We needed room for the desserts!
First up was the Salmon “en papillote”. Wrapped and cooked in a newspaper, the salmon came stuffed with thin slices of apples, basil, onion, garlic and lemon. Steamed to perfection!
The accompanying sauce reminded me of a clam chowder, consisting of cream, cider, bacon, cubed potatoes, clams and whelk (a.k.a. sea snails).
We’re almost there… The Surf and Turf à la Martin Picard came with a fall-off-the-bone-tender shoulder of beef, braised with white wine, apples, caramelized onions and mushrooms. (I’m sure there was butter and cream in there somewhere.) The surf part was warm oysters from Malpeque, P.E.I., sitting on top of the beef. Yum!
And then the last main. An eggplant pancake topped with hazelnut broccoli, reminding me of a peanut sauce. At this point, the richness in every single dish we had been served was just a little too much for us. We barely managed a taste before packing up the left-overs. The little bowl of Boston lettuce leaves drizzled with olive oil and light vinegar was a welcome treat. I could have used a few more of those lettuce bowls!
Lastly, a smorgasboard of desserts! Three of them! Four if you count the ice cream!
Apple pie. The same apple pie recipe I posted a few weeks ago and I’m happy to report that my apple pie was just as delicious as this one! It came with marble ice cream, a mix of vanilla-honey ice cream and apple sorbet, topped with apple cotton candy. The apple sorbet was a welcome freshness. Fantastic!
There was an Apple Soufflé. Light and airy soufflé on top, caramelized apples and chocolate ganache on the bottom. Delish!
And lastly, my personal fave. A sticky apple-toffee pudding, cooked in a can and drenched with a caramel-honey sauce. OH. MY. GOD. Sue laughed when she saw my face as I took the first bite. She wished she could have had my reaction on camera. Instead I found this video, courtesy of montrealbreakfastreview.com, which describes my love affair with this pudding!
We ended this Au Pied de Cochon Apple Extravaganza with some Apple Cotton Candy and Honey-Almond Popcorn to go… for our kiddies waiting at home!