Last December, I felt quite the food nerd for making reservations, five months in advance, for a restaurant 600 km away. The first weekend in May, I went up to Montreal for my reservation at Cabane a Sucre au Pied de Cochon.
About a 50 minute drive from the city, the restaurant is a quaint wooden cabin dedicated to celebrating maple syrup.
The prix fixe menu consists of 5 appetizers, 3 mains and dessert. If that sounds like a lot, think even bigger. Martin Picard, of Au Pied de Cochon fame, is not a man known for restraint. After my dining companion and I were seated at the bar, the waitress explained how the meal would proceed and offered us the option of adding a half or full tourtiere. When asked if that wouldn’t be too much food, she flashed a smile and noted that either way we would be taking food home. We ordered maple daiquiris and said yes to half a tourtiere.
The first dishes arrived. There was a terrine served with sweet buckwheat pancakes and a fennel salad. Picard’s take on sushi were little squares of sturgeon, avocado, rice and nori topped with oreilles de crisse and gold leaf. Decadent? Yes. Delicious? Absolutely. My favourite of the first trio was pickled herring on a bed of thinly sliced potato served with maple mayonnaise and pickled onions. A surprising — and surprisingly delicate — dish, the flavours were perfectly balanced. I could eat another plate and another and another…
The next plate to arrive wasn’t even a plate, but rather a small cast-iron sauce pan, brimming full of lobster soufflé topped with a heaping pile of maple smoked meat. The generous portion of lobster was sweet, and the smoked meat piquant and tender.
When the tourtiere arrived, we looked at it and gulped. Half of a 10- or possibly 12-inch pie is a lot of pie for 2 people. A tangy homemade ketchup was a bright accompaniment for the moist, smoky pork shoulder meat.
The beautifully presented vol-au-vent was an exercise in decadence or excess depending on who you ask. The puff pastry was filled with a whole foie gras in béchamel sauce topped with apples, watercress and more oreilles de crisse. At about the two-third mark, my dining companion put up a white flag but I couldn’t get enough. Rich and creamy, it was a mix of savoury and sweet. It was a major highlight in an already delicious meal.
As we sat there in a food-induced delirium, we lost count of the number plates and wondered aloud if we had already moved on to the mains. Overhearing us, our server winked and said no, not yet. The three mains arrived together. A delicately smoky, maple-glazed pork loin was served with dumplings, cole slaw (yes, vegetables!) and maple mustard. A bowl of feves au lard concealed duck confit. The third dish was half a duck glazed in maple-soya sauce served with onion rings. The meat fell off the bone and just melted in the mouth.
Finally, dessert! It seemed like every imaginable maple-based dessert was on the platter. There was maple-vanilla ice cream with chocolate-covered maple toffee, maple marshmallow, maple meringue, maple cotton candy, a maple éclair, duck fat pancakes with maple syrup and a maple-glazed cinnamon bun. But my favourite dessert item was tire d’erable, the first maple syrup of the season chilled down to a soft and chewy maple taffy. It showed that simple is best and helped me understand why Picard was inspired to create a complete menu based on maple syrup.
Cabane à sucre Au Pied de Cochon
11382 Rang de la Fresnière
St-Benoît de Mirabel, Québec
Written by Pauline Dong
A native Torontonian, Pauline enjoys much that the city has to offer, especially in the areas of food and drink. She is also an enthusiastic traveller and explorer of other cultures. A self-described film geek, her interest in movies was first piqued by the early works of Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino and Wong Kar-Wai. More a fan than a critic, she invites your thoughts on the films in her articles.