I am a chowhound from western Canada alone in Montreal on business for the week, and I planned two special nights out while I was here, preparing with the help of the reviews on this board. After much deliberation, I chose Au Pied de Cochon for Wed night dinner and Toque on Friday night. I did not know about the recently released documentary Durs a Cuire exploring the connection between the creative forces behind these two restaurants until the coincidence between my choices was pointed out to me by one of the staff at Au Pied de Cochon.
I enjoyed two of the best meals of my life this week, both of them very special experiences, and so very very different from each other.
At Au Pied de Cochon I was seated at the bar with my nose in the kitchen, where I was guided through my choices by a friendly man sitting next to me at the bar who turned out to be a long-time regular guest at the restaurant and a friend of the owner (and who was later replaced by a visiting professor from Italy), and by one of the young chefs who prepared all of the dishes that I ate less than a foot away from me, and who practically fed me by hand. I enjoyed the foie gras cromesquis (excellent, as I had hoped after having read the reviews here); a fresh seasonal special tuna tartare; the poutine with foie gras at the insistence of my new found friend at the bar, who refused to leave until I had ordered this dish and tasted it (even after the recommendations, the silky richness of this dish caught me off guard); and another seasonal special, a salad of bacon and a local herb (I forget the name) which is only sweet to eat for 2 or 3 weeks a year, wonderful; all paired by wines selected by the staff. Finished with chocolate pot au creme and a glass of Armagnac. Warm and welcoming, the place was packed from my arrival at 7pm until I left at 9:30 when there was still a lineup reaching out the door. I was fortunate to be able to watch the cooking with my direct view into the kitchen, together with helpful commentary from the kitchen staff when they had a free moment or two to answer my naive questions, as well as a chance to see the Chef himself, Mr. Picard, as he ensured that everyone enjoyed themselves.
Toque was something else completely: cool and open and much more formal. I was seated alone directly next to the wine cellar where I enjoyed a view of the cellar, the bar and the kitchen. The restaurant was quite busy but not completely filled, and the the service was formal but friendly, understated but attentive and patient, consistently excellent. Of course, like many of the other guests at the restaurant, I had the 7 course tasting menu including the warm foie gras with the wine pairing. Expensive yes, but it was worth it. Each dish was subtly quirky, colourful and fun, and delicious. The wine pairing was close to perfect (maybe it was perfect).
Now I must get out to see the documentary and learn more about Mr. Laprise and Mr. Picard and their perspectives on life and food. Thank you for the recommendations.