11382 Rang de la Fresnière
St-Benoît de Mirabel, Québec
One of the most sought after reservation is the limited run Cabane à Sucre (or sugar shack) by reknown Restaurant Au Pied de Cochon in Montréal. Reservations are available on December 1st and are usually filled on the same day. By winter time before they are ready to open, the restaurant contacts the first ones on the list to confirm reservations. As there are cancellations, they work their way down the waiting list of food enthusiasts. That is how I got my chance at Cabane à Sucre Au Pied de Cochon, when my friend MC was contacted and transferred her reservation to me. (Her friend was contacted a few weeks before, and she went with him, not taking a chance on whether she'd be eventually called or not).
My sister Elle, our friend Em and I arrived at 6 pm sharp, as we were told not to be late as we were going to be sharing dishes, family style. People were already seated and some already eating, so I assume seating was slightly staggered. While the waiters took care of the other tables, it took us a while to get our drink order. Three drink choices were offered, and I picked the daiquiri à l'érable ($10), which was a great start to our maple syrup themed meal.
We were seated at a table of 10. The group of 6 next to us had started getting their food, while we were grouped with another diner who came all the from Québec City for this feast. Please note at this point that this means all the food coming next were served for four people (and four not very big women at that!). We watched our neighbours enviously as they received their food; it seemed particularly cruel to make you wait for food when you can see and smell what others are eating.
Finally, the appetizers, all 3 of them, arrived.
The maki à l'esturgeon was made up of nori, topped with rice, fried sturgeon, a (maple?) sauce and gold flecked oreilles de crisse (a cabane à sucre standard). I'm not sure the gold leaf stood out while we ate, but it sure looks nice in pictures! Elle and I really enjoyed this dish, but I tried to limit myself to one square, as I knew much more food was coming.
The next appetizer consisted of a large dish of house terrine of creton (made up of offal, sweetbread, boudin, tongue), an endive salad and buckwheat crêpes. The crêpe eaten with a goat cream cheese and a bit of creton was really good. Admittedly, while I like the idea of not wasting any meat and eating nose to tail, I was not too keen on the mysterious pieces of meat in the terrine and preferred the goat cream cheese. The endive salad was a good accompaniment to the fatty terrine.
The last appetizer was hareng fumé (smoked herring) on top of very thinly sliced potatoes, served with pickled onions. The potatoes were very good but the herring was a bit too fishy for my taste.
Next came the omelette soufflée à l'homard (lobster omelette) presented in typical Au Pied de Cochon style; the omelette was covered with in-house smoked meat and a lobster shell. Pieces of lobster were strewn throughout the fluffy omelette. We had read a recent blog post about asking for containers to take home, and cut out omelette pieces that made for perfect breakfast the following day.
Next up was the very decadent foie gras vol-au-vent, and because foie gras isn't sufficient, the puff pasty was also stuffed with Victor et Berthold Brie cheese, a béchamel sauce, leeks and ham. When we sliced into it, a messy combination of Brie and foie gras oozed out. To balance the fattiness, the vol-au-vent was topped with watercress and apple slices - and the another fatty layer of oreilles de crisse. I really liked the apple slices and watercress combined with the fatty fillings. One very small slice of vol-au-vent went a long way.
Since tables were at various stages of the meal, we got previews of what was to come. One very impressive dish (again in very typical PDC fashion) was the braised duck, topped with onion rings and dramatically stabbed through with a knife. The duck was served with a complete addictive parsnip purée. Elle had the deft hands to cut the duck into four beautiful portions, and it was absolutely one of my favourite dishes of the night.
Accompanying the braised duck, was a plate of pork flank and pork butt (well, porcelet, which translates to baby pork), served with cabbage dressed with maple, and a strong Dijon mustard. At this point in the meal, we were getting ridiculously stuffed so sliced a piece of pork 3 ways. The pork was perfectly cooked and I wish there was more cabbage to enjoy - but vegetables are definitely not served in excess at a PDC meal.
Again, it bears repeating that all this food was served for four people only!!! We packed up the rest to go.
The two meat dishes were served with another cabane à sucre standard, fèves au lard (baked beans). With a twist to the traditional, braised duck thighs were cooked with the beans and topped with ricotta. Note that the Creuset pot was quite large and filled with beans. Our fourth dining companion was not interested in beans at all, and we only ate a little as we were also stuffed. While I did bring some home and it made quite a good lunch, I did have to wonder if this amount of beans at each table was wasted (yes, I can't believe I'm complaining that there's too much food).
While we were all satiated, we also knew that the best part of cabane à sucre was coming: dessert! Not just desserts, but dessert doused in maple syrup. The main dessert was a maple sundae, with tire à l'érable stuck in. If you've never gone to a sugar shack, tire à l'érable is traditionally the last treat after the meal. This was my favourite as a child. It is served outside where there are wooden stands filled with snow. A person comes out with molten maple syrup and pours it onto the snow. Every person is provided with a stick, and you have to wrap your stick with the syrup that is starting to slightly harden. The syrup is sweet, hot and still fluid so if you don't eat it quickly enough, it will fall off of your stick. For someone who doesn't love sweet things, I would always go for seconds as I knew this was only an annual treat.
The maple ice cream was so good, and had pieces of homemade chocolate candy. Surrounding the sundae were maple éclairs, maple barbe à papa (the French term for cotton candy meaning dad's beard) and little cones stuffed with homemade maple marshmallow. There were also two very large danoises au beurre d'érable (maple butter Danish) that were packed home.
Saving the best for last, my favourite dessert were crêpes fried in duck fat, doused in maple syrup. I wondered with my sister how the duck fat made the crêpes better. At a higher frying temperature, the duck fat made the crêpes ultra crispy and deceivingly light. It did not matter how full I was, I could have eaten much more of this!
As my friend MC, who visited a few weeks prior, commented, abundance was the theme of the night. I could add excess and decadence to that. No doubt the food was very good and you definitely got your money's worth. I just wouldn't have necessarily picked all the dishes served but it's a good way of trying new things. I also think that such an abundance of food encourages waste, which I dislike.
We were a bit disappointed by the service too. It was a full house, and the waiters were understandably busy. However, we did wait very long for our food at the beginning, and for dessert at the end, when the second seating started to arrive. In addition, we had ordered half a tourtière that never came, even though we asked about it a few times. While we didn't need more food, we really wanted to try PDC's spin on another Québécois classic, and would have taken some home. When we mentioned this to our main server at the end of the meal, she didn't even really apologize for forgetting it, and just shrugged it off, saying a mistake must have happened in the kitchen.
All in all though we were happy to have gotten a chance to enjoy this special meal. At $57 per person, I don't think I would go every year but you definitely get fed what you pay. It's a great way to experience a cabane à sucre meal with a PDC twist. The meats (pork and duck) and desserts were definitely the highlights for me.
There was still some availability this season when they called me, so it's worth e-mailing if you're interested this year (they do take a bit of time to get back to you). They also mentioned that it's easier to seat a party of two, as you can sit at the bar. If not this year then remember to reserve early for next year's cabane à sucre Au Pied de Cochon.
Other 2012 Cabane à Sucre PDC posts:
* Foodie Date Night
* La Clique du Plateau