Let’s go back to the night of November 30th/December 1st. It was a week night so that meant I needed to be up the next morning at 4h26 to head to work. The only problem there was that I needed to be online for midnight in order to submit my reservation request for the Pied de Cochon Sugar Shack season. My inner circle of Phatsoes that join me there were counting on me. I did what any reasonable moron would do and rather than take a nap I downed a few sexy microbrews since I was too excited to sleep anyway. Booking requests for the winter/spring season always open at midnight December 1st. You might think I am crazy for doing this, like why not just wait until I wake up in the morning and submit it then? There can’t be that many people that sit on their computer at midnight during the week trying to book a table, can there?
Well, by 23h50 when I was trying to get on the page without success I can tell you that yes, there are that many people. I clicked and I clicked, and then paused and then clicked some more. I did this for two hours with zero success and several new swear words later finally gave up and figured wow, this is like trying to get concert tickets. When I woke up a few hours later I gave it another shot and got in and sent in my request for a table of 15. I had little hope that I would get a call back in the coming weeks since 5 hours had passed since the bookings opened. I’ve always found this process kind of part of the fun excitement of getting to eat at what can only be called one of the most unique dining experiences in the world but now that it feels like I’m not getting in I’m a bit grumpy about it.
I found out later that day that there were so many people trying to get onto the site that their server crashed for 4 hours! This means that I might be one of the first requests sent in! Hope renewed! I never got the memo that they were boosting up their server power and starting the booking process over again the next night so when I saw that note a day later my heart sank and I wasn’t sure my request would count. But, as you can tell by this review I did get a call about a month later and BAM! I got us a table for 15 at 20h on a Sunday night. I am obviously going to need to take a vacation day for the Monday after. And just in case you think I am nuts about needing to log on and book fast a friend of mine put in his request an hour after I did and was turned away. You wanna eat here? Do your homework and have a good internet connection!
Enough about that. Let’s fastforward to the night of the feast. As you all know by now Martin Picard is my favorite chef in the world at this point. His whacked out genius and heavy, gluttenous meals are so counter to “high end” cuisine and shee shee poo poo fru fru la di da-ness that so long as you love meat you are going to have a crazy time at either his restaurant in Montreal or his shack out in the country. It’s my 5th or 6th time engorging myself here so I know what I am in for. At least a dozen plates laden with food ranging from foie gras, duck, eggy cheesy madness, pork, pork, ham, pork, pork, ham, and probably more pork. Oh, and then desserts with an “s” as in like 4 desserts or more. So, we’re seated promptly at 20h, which is rare here since the enormity of the meal usually allows for a bit of a backup for tables, hence the food truck out front hawking cotton candy and maple popcorn and the bonfires for people to wait by. I’m actually used to having a beer outside before our table is ready and I am kinda sad that I don’t have time for that this time around. I get me a pina colada style drink served in an actual coconut once at the table. Which, while it tasted really nice, was a lot of work to suck alcohol laced ice cream through a straw, but I did my best. Do I look like a Kardashian here?
We usually get about 4 to 6 “starter” plates before the main dishes come out and here they come at about 20h20. Starting off is a hot and sour soup (what??at the shack?) with a sexy pork dumpling that you plop in there and pour some maple syrup on top of. Hot damn this soup was fantastic and I love when he makes ballsy calls like this. I was petrified to add maple syrup to this but it actually worked really well. My hopes were high that this was going to be a fun, whacked out shack(cabane) take on Asian cuisine. That hope was quickly dashed when they brought out soufflés piled obscenely high with smoked meat with some lettuce between and once we dug into this we also found a massive amount of oozing melty cheddar. This plate is much more in line with what he traditionally serves and on its own it was pretty great. The house made smoked meat was addictive. Sadly, cramming this on top of the spicy Asian soup angered something in my fat belly and unprecedently I felt myself hitting the wall that I normally hit around the last main dish. I thought to myself, wow, I am some kind of a wuss. But as I looked around the table I could see the fear, sweat and beginnings of pain on many other faces. We’re 2 plates (3 if you count that dumpling separate) in guys! This is going in a bad direction. Next out was what I can only call a two layered cake like deal (sponge cake) with foie gras in the middle topped with bacon, if memory serves me correctly, cheddar cheese and a berry sauce/gravy. Some at the table seemed to dig this dish finding it reminiscent of the famoud Plogue a Champlain from the city restaurant but I found this plate to be something of a mess that was much more akin to a meaty dessert. My gut let out a groan like a wounded animal dying that I am sure half the restaurant heard. The first traces of The Meat Sweats trickled down my forehead. Something is going terribly wrong tonight.
Despite my growing concerns about what is happening to my stomach I am determined to soldier on. Notably absent tonight are Captain Beerism who is all “oh I got a house now and another kid coming and I just can’t be going places and eating” these days, and Sassy the Sasquatch, who backstabbingly got himself his own booking next weekend with The Fancy and Friends. He was all “Oh I’m Sassy and I don’t need you anymore Phatman.” We’ll see about that. Yes, all my friends start their sentences with “Oh”, they got problems. Those two dudes can pack it away and maybe I am subconsciously eating more to make up for it? The last of the starters come out and it’s kind of an upright, stout canelloni pasta dish stuffed with baked beans, lobster, cottage cheese and dressed with some arugula and then spritzed with some liquified sage butter. The smokiness from the beans is tasty and the light taste of the cottage cheese works well with that. Picard’s work with pasta seems to be criminally underrated and I can say that any pasta of his I’ve had can compete with any of the best in town. I struggle to see the role of lobster here though. As much as I love lobster and really did like this dish, the lobster flavor was way in the background here. Lobster, and any seafood really, should be the star of whatever plate it’s on if you ask me. So, go ahead. Ask me. Now it is clear to me that my body and these dishes are in an all out brawl about now. I’m used to the usual hurting at this place and I welcome it and wear it like a badge of honour. This time is different though. Things just aren’t sitting well and I’m not seeing any cohesion to the plates coming out of the kitchen. Each one, aside from that cakey thing, as its own meal would be great, but together in quick succession seem too heavy and not complimentary to each other. Well, they’re not flat out insulting each other but they sure aren’t talking. Let’s just say it’s like a culinary awkward silence.
Despite the fact that I am almost comatose now and can barely even speak or sip my water I am eager to see what the main dishes are going to be. The 3 main plates comes out together and we’re looking at some rabbit loin stuffed with rabbit innards and what appears to be foie gras, served on top of some buckwheat farfelle pasta with a blood sauce on top. Sliced duck breast served with a sticky squid ink sauce came out next to it. Finally out came BBQed/smoked pig’s head with pork sausage links accompanied with a fennel and maple candied popcorn salad and duck fat fried little bread buns akin to little pancakes. In the name of the adoring fandom of you, my Phatsoes, and for the love I have for the crazy Picard, I took a small sample of the duck. While I love the dynamic that squid ink adds to any dish, and I was happy to see this be another dish that could have worked in an Asian influenced theme along with the soup and dumpling, the duck seemed a bit overcooked. I enjoyed the overall flavor of the dish but the saltiness of the duck fat combined with the saltiness of the squid ink left this dish feeling, well, salty. I was still determined to sample more food and took a small serving of the rabbit. I quite liked this plate and the underlying pasta was fantastic. Don’t get turned off by the idea of a blood sauce. It was all quite good and using blood in sauce has been common in the cooking world for ages. The meat stuffed portion of this dish still makes it feel a bit unnecessarily heavy and I think it could have benefited from more of a nut/fruit/herb kind of stuffing instead. Maybe whiz up the innards and incorporate it into the sauce. I was dead on my feet at that point. Well, I was sitting so I was more like dead on my ass at that point. The thought of stuffing a little pig face and fennel salad into my face at this point almost had me passing out so I didn’t taste this plate and can’t comment on it. Some of those who did have some really liked it while a few who have had the legendary roasted pig’s head at the restaurant found the restaurant version to be better.
I did my best to muster up some excitement for desserts because even after so many courses of food here each time I come the desserts are mindblowingly amazing. First out was the traditional warm maple taffy poured out over snow tableside. Even in this state I always have room for this sweet little treat. Good start. The sugar brings me back to life a tad. Out next is a shot glass of maple cotton candy intended to have milk poured into it so that the cotton candy melts and you down it like a sweet shot. The thought of milk going into the now bubbling, volcanic vat that is my stomach was not appealing to me so I skipped that part and just ate the cotton candy. Still the best around. Sadly, the rest of the desserts didn’t interest me much. There was a maple baklava that I didn’t sample. There were beaver tails with a maple custard which was good. Finally there was a coconut, pina colada type ice cream which I feared eating due to above mentioned stomach on deathcon 1 meltdown alert but Shawn’s face seemed to like it muchly. Thinking back to past desserts like the dark chocolate and blueberry torte, warm taffy in maple ice cream, and the stout and squash ice cream, this season’s offerings just don’t compare. The meal is done now. I am going to crawl away and die if you don’t mind.
So as you can tell, this was my least favorite of shack visits. While some dishes were still great there was no real commonality to anything that would have made the meal flow seamlessly. It was incredibly harsh on the system and not just for me, others were on a new level of pain too. Look, you still get incredible value for your money here and the sheer unique madness to the dishes is worth checking out but I’ll need a serious game plan for when I come back. There was a legitimate lack of vegetables in this meal this time too. The desserts were really not on the same level we are used to. I roll myself over to Pete’s car and he kicks me hard so I can manage to get in and I look at the clock expecting it to be close to midnight as is standard when we wobble out of here. Alas, it is 22h30! That means we were served all of that food in roughly 2 hours. A full hour less than the time we’re usually there for, at least. That would explain why it felt like I was a disgruntled factory worker whose only job is to never stop eating food. The staff is usually amazing here but the vibe even seemed off too. So ya, I’ll come back but I might take the Fall season off to recover but don’t worry, we’ll meet again. Hell, I’m going back to the restaurant with family in two days anyway. Hopefully I’ll be hungry again by then.