Friday, September 28, 2012

PDC "La Cabane aux Pommes" :An evening of epic gluttony

I was lucky enough to get a chance to have an epic food experience that is etched in my tastebuds, memory, and gut. I don't want to seem overdramatic but I feel like this meal was DESTINED! This was a case of The Leggy Redhead and I planning a trip to Montreal to visit our friends Linda and Greg on the same weekend that they happened to have a reservation for a Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack's first fall apple-themed dinner "La Cabane aux Pommes."

For those unfamiliar with Pied de Cochon, Martin Picard, and Sugar Shack dinners....basically a Sugar Shack dinners happen in the country side about an hour out of Montreal during "sugaring" season somewhere from late Feb to early May. There are about 200 or so sugar shacks spread over the province of Quebec, show casing how maple syrup is made, making maple taffy on snow, offering up sleigh rides, and feeding visitors with massive maple-drench dinners. Typical fare at a traditional sugar shack dinner would be pea soup, baked beans in maple syrup, tourtiere, maple smoked ham, sausages in maple syrup, omelettes, pancakes, sugar pies....Martin Picard is a iconic Canadian Chef, famous for his over the top, curious, experimental, lusty, gluttonous culinary spectacle.

 His restaurant "Au Pied de Cochon", is one of Montreal's most famous restaurants. In 2009, he created his own Sugar Shack in St. Benoit de Mirabel, a rustic, warm wooden farm house that seats around 100 at communal tables and is only open 10 weeks a year. Reservations are coveted, with foodies and fans clamouring to guarantee a spot at the sugar shack table many months in advance. This year is the first time he's opened for fall season and created an apple-centric menu. 10 courses- $50.

Because I'm a food nerd, I had researched the menu, been reading blog posts, checking out food photos, and pretty much drooling in anticipation since we started planning the trip in August. I also knew that I had to mentally and physically prepare. From all accounts, Picard's meals are not something one enters into lightly. One must keep their wits about them, these are incredible feasts of fat and sugar and are pretty much guaranteed to induce a food coma. Many others had issued cautionary tales- "take a few small bites of everything," "Heading into the main course, my appetite was already satiated and I struggled to make it through and taste all 4 desserts." We had a 5:30pm seating, arrived just in time, and took in a few minutes to take in the gorgeous country property bathed in late afternoon sunlight before rushing inside.

The appetizer course kicked things off with bang.

Cured Ham from the Cabane PDC and Headcheese draped over skulls. Obviously this was a WOW factor for presentation and pretty in your face. The meat itself was okay, but no one at the table was too amazed with this (other than the look). It wasn't overly flavourful (wished it was saltier) and a bit too fatty.
The star of the appetizer round for me was the gigantic bowl of Cream of Squash Au Gratin garnished with thinly sliced apples, and topped with crushed Amaretti cookies. This soup was so smooth, so velvety, so creamy, so buttery, and so cheesy- there were strings of melted cheese on my lip with every spoonful. We all agreed that this was a soup you wanted to actually dive into. The crushed cookies added a nice texture and crumbly, almond-y sweetness. For a few at our table- this soup was the highlight...and the downfall for the rest of the meal. Linda had two small bowls of this delicious soup and it definitely filled her up so the rest of the meal was more of a struggle to eat through.

Goat Yogurt with honey on the comb topped with grated foie gras. This was firm and velvety with a mild flavour but given an overt sweetness from the generous cubes of honeycomb and a whole different level of richness and depth from the grated foie gras.
Along with these dishes, there were small jars of house made corn relish, sweet cucumber pickle, eggplant pickle, apple butter, and a dish of apple mustard. These condiments were delicious, and I found them crucial to lighten and brighten up some of the heavy dishes and keep my palette and digestive tract from being lulled into a coma with all of the buttery, rich, heavy flavours.

The first of the main dishes was a full-on show. Ravioli stuffed with chicken livers, Cavatelli apple sauce accompanied by a Foie Gras Confit. Half a wheel of parmesan cheese was pushed out on a metal tray with wheels. Our waiter began scraping the cheese with a metal spoon to grate some large chunks of cheese before dumping in homemade cavatelli pasta and chicken liver ravioli, adding a steaming hot apple and Calvados (apple brandy). He continued to scrape the cheese from the wheel to grate the cheese into the dish. He then emptied a sous-vide bag of foie gras on top and folded everything together. Jaws dropped. Drool formed at the corner of my mouth. It smelled AMAZING!

Self control really came to play when consuming this over-the-top dish. It was so opulent, buttery, rich, and delicious with amazing depth of flavour and shock of delight with every nugget of foie gras and morsel of luscious chicken liver.

The next entree came in as an interpretation of "Surf and Turf" (I loved the way that phrase sounded with a Quebecois accent!) Apple Glazed Beef Roast with roasted carrots and oysters in the shell. We started looking around for a knife to cut and serve the beef but it was totally not needed. This beef was ridiculously tender, practically melting off the bone. The sweetness from the apple glaze was subtle and appropriate. The fresh salty oysters provided a nice hit of salty tang to balance out the heaviness of the beef. The roast carrots are worth noting as well. They completely sucked up all of the flavours and tasted amazing.

With the "Surf and Turf, "came an eggplant crepe, warm oysters, hazelnut brocoli and lettuce. We were instructed that the best experience would come from putting a little bit of all of the entrees on a piece of crepe and eating it all together. That was a little tricky logistically, but there was really no way for this dish to fail. An interesting note: For me, I actually found the eggplant crepe with hazelnut brocolli to be the richest, most filling item on the menu....apparently, it's fried in duck fat.

Another entree, that arrived with the beef was Salmon “En Papillotte” with snails and apple cider sauce. This was another great presentation. The fish was wrapped in newspaper and twine and stuffed with onions, apples, baby bok choy and basil. The fish was steamed to beautiful pink perfection a beautiful sight when our server unwrapped the package and the smell of the sauce made my mouth water. This fish just absorbed all of the delicious flavours that it was stuffed with (particulary the basil) and absorbed the rich creamy sauce.

Some of us actually left the table to do a lap of the property, stretch our legs, get the blood flowing, and mentally prepare for the dessert course. It was a quick jaunt, because even though I was completely stuffed, there was no way I wanted to miss a second of the dessert course presentation.

First on the table for the dessert course was Apple Pie. But, this my friends was the best apple pie, anyone at our table had ever eaten. The crust was somehow dense and sturdy, while impossibly flaky and light. The filling was buttery, tart apples drowning in a caramel sauce.

What is pie without the a la mode? Soft marbled ice cream and apple sorbet.
In an adorable innovative presentation, out came a whipping cream carton, transformed into a serving dish filling with a mound of vanilla ice cream, apple sorbet, and a apple/vanilla/cinnamon blend with whipped cream, homemade maple cotton candy garnish. I LOVED the apple sorbet and found myself polishing off most of the portion while my dining partners were working on the other dishes. It was amazingly tart, smooth, and light.

A server came out with a can and large decanter full of caramel sauce. She used a can opener and dumped the solid contents of the can onto a plate before dousing it with caramel. Apple and Plum Sticky Toffee Pudding with Caramel Sauce. This was really good but not as amazing as we had expected. Keep in mind at this point of the meal, we were all struggling with each bite, we were sooo full. There was also a Chocolate and Apple Souffle- and damn, that was nice. The light and fluffy souffle rose perfectly and underneath its silky topping with deep rich chocolate and warm smoky apples.

This experience was legendary... it's a feast for all the senses. I hope I'm lucky enough to come back and experience one of their Maple dinners. One of the greatest meals of my life! EPIC!
If you're interested in additional pictures from this dinner and Montreal please check out Life Bites on Facebook.

Cabane à sucre Au Pied de Cochon on Urbanspoon

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