01 September 2010

1st Anniversary Road-Trip Day 1

Holy hell where do I start? 9 days, 2 countries, and 4 cities eating all the way. Yes, my wife and I have just returned from our road-trip to celebrate our first anniversary and I am eager to tell you all about it. We spent 2 days in Montreal, 3 days in Quebec City, 2 days in Portland, ME, and one day in Boston. There were some fabulous surprises and some pretty disheartening disappointments, but overall I think this was the best food trip I've ever embarked on. We ate everything from fried whole-belly clams to blood sausage to lobster ceviche to tofu ice cream. And I'm going to tell you all about every single bite. Aren't you excited? I sure am. This is quite a daunting task, no doubt, but I think I'm up for the challenge. So let's begin, shall we?

We embarked on our journey a Thursday immediately after work. We threw our luggage into the car and saw the dogs off with their grandparents and hit the road. The drive from Maryland to Montreal is about 9 hours so we split up the drive and crashed at a hotel in Albany that night, after about 5 hours on the road. The next morning we gased up the car and made our way into Canada. Driving through upstate New York was absolutely gorgeous and we were uber-excited to finally come to the Canadian border. A few short hours later and we were crossing the bridge into Montreal. We checked into our hotel and were thrilled that we had a balcony with an amazing view:

Pretty sweet view
Immediately afterward we headed for the subway. This subway was MUCH nicer than NYC. Not only were the stations huge and clean, but the trains all ran much smoother and there were maps posted everywhere ensuring no one could get lost. All I had for breakfast at our hotel in Albany was half an apple and I was starving. Our first destination was Olive et Gourmando in Old Montreal.

We got off the metro and made our way into the heart of Old Montreal. The walk was just great, the quaint little streets were just wide enough for a car to fit through and the sidewalks could only accommodate single-file pedestrians. It was a pleasantly sunny day and when we arrived at OeG at around 12:30 it was bustling with the activity of the lunch rush. The first item in my sights to try here was the "poached egg on your face" sandwich. After being seated we approached the sandwich counter and happily inquired and were informed that they were sold out for the day and they were rarely available after brunchtime. Ack, not a great way to start our food-centric road-trip! The pleasantly helpful woman behind the counter directed us to the salad du jour which featured cous-cous, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, almonds, celery and a variety of other things. The Mrs. opted for a half-portion of that (which was still pretty huge) and I was torn between their cubain panini and the cajun chicken panini with tomato, mangoes, and avocado. The woman behind the counter recommended the cajun chicken so I went with her suggestion. The Mrs. also ordered a citrus ice tea.

Petite salade du jour
This salad had so many layers of flavor going on that my palette didn't really know what to do with it. It was wonderful. Among the things I previously listed it also had scallions, cilantro, black currants... I mean this thing was pretty out of control. But it worked.  My favorite part aside from the flavor was the great texture from the crunch of the almonds and celery. 

Pile of goodies..
Unfortunately my panini fell a little short of the mark. While I could taste all of the components, the bread was really tough and required more than a little jaw work to tear through. It may have been due to the wonderful salad, but the sandwich also tasted a tad plain. The flavors were there, they just didn't wow me.

Looks great, tasted not so much.
After the Mrs. gobbled up her salad and I left the better part of half of my sandwich uneaten I knew the chocolate brioche would surely pick me right back up. Our waitress stopped by to check on us and I placed an order for the chocolate brioche and an almond croissant. Here comes strike number 2: they were also sold out of the chocolate brioche. Gah, I guess the secret is out on what to order at OeG. After much discussion we decided to go with Jamie's bar which she informed us was a butterscotch pecan bar. She had me at butterscotch.

Sorry excuse for an almond croissant
This is the part of the meal where I wished we had been able to look at the pastries before ordering. While I'd never had an almond croissant before, I knew what they were supposed to be. And this long tame looking thing definitely wasn't what I expected. Unfortunately after biting into it, I still wasn't impressed.

Something is missing from this picture... Wait maybe not
There wasn't any almond paste filling, at least I thought there wasn't, but after looking at that picture I guess there was.  Nonetheless I obviously didn't taste it, so the only almond flavor I got from this pastry was from the barely noticeable almond slivers on top. It did have a pleasing crispy sugar coating to it, but otherwise it was a very unmemorable pastry. Fortunately we fared much better with Jamie's Bar.

Now we're talkin'
The flavors in this bar were very potent and pleasing. They went wonderfully well with my decaf espresso. After a few bites I started to pick up on some graham notes that reminded me of the honey Teddy Grahams of my youth. A very pleasing memory indeed. Pecans, butterscotch, and a slight graham note coupled with a pleasing density... What's not to love?

This place was jam packed when we arrived and remained that way until after we left. The cashier/pastry line was wrapped around the store and was getting mixed in with the sandwich/salad ordering line. A very bizarre way to operate an eatery.

A jumbled mass of bodies
Now that we had something in our stomachs it was time to do some sight-seeing. First up was the astonishing Notre-Dame Basilica. This place was astoundingly beautiful. If you want a full history lesson, go here. I just want to show you some perty pictures I took inside:

Honestly, when I saw the photos of this cathedral I couldn't believe it really looked like that inside. Well, believe it. I'm not a religious man by any means, but I was in sheer awe of this place. Simply breathtaking.

After tearing ourselves away from the beauty of the basilica we hit some souvenir shops and made our way to the Clock Tower pier in the Old Port to do some speedboating. We signed up for the next available time slot and watched as thoroughly soaked and smiling passengers walked by.  Here's our boat:

One bad-ass boat
While not an intense ride per se, this was the most fun I'd had in a while. It was great to spend 30 minutes speeding through the St-Lawrence river doing 360s and flying through bridge columns at around 120 mph. We chose the back row of seats and were drenched from head to toe.

Happily soaked
Luckily, it was a bright and sunny day so we dried off rather quickly walking through the city. If you ever find yourself in Montreal looking for something fun to do you'd be hard pressed to find a better way to spend $25.

We meandered back to the metro and headed back to the hotel to clean up and relax before dinner. Our first night in Montreal featured the meal I was probably most excited about: dinner at Au Pied de Cochon. Luckily it was a short 10 minute walk from our hotel, but we walked right past it our first time around. The entire front of the restaurant was open and there weren't any signs. But after back-tracking a few blocks and checking the street number we finally found it.

Au Pied de Cochon
We scored a table right in front and I let my wife have the view of the street as I wanted to see as much action in the kitchen as I could.

Sexy lil food nerd, aren't I?
The menu has no descriptions whatsoever, featuring many dishes that your average diner would have no clue as to what they were. But don't think I hadn't done my research. I already knew what I wanted. The specials sounded great, a tomato salad and a mushroom tart, but the wife cares for neither tomatoes nor mushrooms so I let them slip us by. We ordered a bottle of Riesling to cut the richness we would certainly be consuming and I placed an order for the Foie Gras Cromesquis and the Tarragon Bison Tongue.

For those of you who don't know, and I'm sure that's most of you, the Foie Gras Cromesquis is a deep-fried cube of liquid duck foie gras. They bring out two little squares and you give them a minute to let them cool and then plop them into your mouth, being sure to close your mouth before biting so you don't squirt foie gras across the room.

Fried cubes of liquid awesome
My brave wife takes the plunge
My turn!
Holy hell, I can't really think of a much better way to start a meal than filling my mouth with liquid foie gras. The coating was nice and crunchy and it paired fantastically well with our Riesling, bringing out a sharp cheesy note. I had to restrain myself from ordering another round of them for dessert.

Not to be outdone, the Tarragon Bison Tongue knocked it out of the park. It was like uber-tender pot roast swimming in a sauce of vinegar and mustard with a strong backbone of tarragon.

Mmmm, tongue

There was no gaminess just straight meaty goodness. The tiny slices of pickle added a great little crunch. We pratically licked the plate clean.

I knew I wanted the Plogue a Champlain so our waitress suggested we split that and order whatever mains we wanted. The Mrs. went for the catch of the day which was crispy skinned cod on cauliflower puree and topped with long beans sauteed in bacon fat. I was torn between the Confit Lamb Shank and the Duck in a Can and since the DIAC is their signature dish the waitress talked me into that.

The Plogue a Champlain is basically a buckwheat pancake, topped with potato, bacon, cheese, foie gras, and covered in maple syrup reduction. Holy hell it was like all of the meals of the day packed into one plate. Did I love it? Well, yes and no.

Pile of foie gras bacon pancakes
While this dish most certainly tasted great, three flavors dominated the plate: maple syrup, smoky bacon, and foie gras. Now I know you must be thinking I'm a fool as all of those things are awesome, and I most certainly agree, but I'm also a staunch believer that every component of a dish should be there for a reason.

 If I were simply served a plate of foie gras, bacon, and maple syrup (yes, I know, that sounds like the best dish ever concieved) it would taste exactly the same as the Plogue a Champlain. My point is, why even include those other items if you're going to smother them with powerfully rich flavors? The only reason I can come up with (and probably the correct one) is to lend a variance in textures. In the end, I dropped my hyper-analysis of this dish and enjoyed it for what it was: a rich, fatty, smoky, sweet landslide of flavor.  We did clean our plate like good little gluttons:

Plogue a Champlain defeated
Now for the Canard en Conserve or Duck in a Can. First I am presented with a plate of buttered toast and mashed potatoes:

Then a food-runner brings a can to our table and opens it table-side. She then proceeds to dump it's entire contents onto my plate:

And there you have it, a big ugly mountain of fatty indulgence, i.e. Duck in a Can.

That's a huge lobe of foie gras in the front, duck breast in the back
 Now you may be wondering just what is in that can. Well it's basically a ultra-fatty breast of duck, a lobe of foie gras, jus, garlic, onions, and a balsamic demi-glace and probably some other stuff all braised inside the can and served to you immediately. Some people even have APdC wash the can out and they keep it as a souvenir. I wasn't one of those people. The presentaton was truly something special, unfortunately the execution fell flat on it's face.

After removing the half inch layer of fat from the duck breast I noticed that it was pleasantly pink inside, a great sign. I love duck, but two things are usually it's downfall and those are toughness and fattiness. This duck breast was the epitome of both.

Pink and tough? How is that possible? Notice the sheet of fat at the top of my plate...
 I'm not exaggerating in the least when I say that this was the toughest piece of duck I'd ever been served. I literally had to brace my plate and saw through it with a huge steak knife. The entire table was shaking. I sigh.  I'm sure they're all not like this, but unfortunately mine was.  So I cannot recommend this dish to anyone.  Duck aside, this dish as a whole was extremely unbalanced and just a big fatty gut-bomb.  I regretted not going with my gut and ordering the shank.  To salt my wounds even further the woman dining next to me ordered the shank and moaned with pleasure throughout her entire meal.  They turned out to be a great couple from New Brunswick and we went out for drinks with them afterward.  Hey Stacy and Steve!

Nikki's cod was decent and while she liked it I wasn't really thrilled.

Cod special that wasn't very special
By the time I tasted it the skin had turned tough and flaccid and you could really taste the bacon fat that the beans were cooked in but I saute green beans in bacon fat all the time.  Nothing new here. 

After dinner I wanted to go check out the microbrasserie Dieu du Ciel, but no one else wanted to walk that far so we went into a random nearby bar Bieres et Compagnie and Steve and I enjoyed a Dieu du Ciel Aphrodisiaque which was surprisingly light for a stout with 6.5% abv.  It had a strong smell of vanilla and a subtle coffee flavor.  It wasn't filling at all and proved to be the perfect beverage to sip after a heavy dinner.  The wife ordered a pretty sexy glass of house sangria.

Thus ends the first day of our food-centric road-trip.  Stay tuned as I will be churning out posts as fast as my skinny little fingers can type.  Until then, go eat something!

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theminx said...

I was beginning to regret reading this post before lunch, because it was making me hungry, until I got to the tough duck part. :(

Mr. Micro said...

Yeah, it was quite unfortunate, but I'm sure it was a fluke as there can't be so many rave reviews about a dish with tough duck. I most certainly intend to go back next time in Montreal as there are so many more dishes I want to try (and about 10 more cromesquis I want to eat)

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