Well, it was a bit of a rocky start to our first day in Montreal. We were unfortunately awoken by some pretty amazingly loud house music from our neighbours upstairs at 3:30 in the morning. Unable to get back to sleep with that thumping bass overhead, we opted to throw headphones in and watch Interstellar. Mercifully, the music ended about the time that our movie did, so we grabbed a few more hours of sleep (not before emailing our hosts to let them know about the issue). As a result, it was a pretty lazy morning when we finally did get up for the day. With highs expected to be around -10 C (14 F) and wind chills in the neighbourhood of -25 C (-13 F), we decided on spending most of the day inside and check out the Musée des Beaux Arts.
First order of business was getting a little something to eat. After poking around on the Interweb, I suggested checking out the little boulangerie on the corner of our street (the one we actually stood in front of last night to get wifi). We picked up a pain au chocolat for me and a pain au raisin for David and headed off to find the Metro, which was about a 10 min walk away. We passed through quiet streets lined with adorable, narrow town houses, often with fun winding staircases out front. Eventually, we made it to the Metro and grabbed a pair of 3-day transit passes, just to make life simpler for ourselves. The metro station reminded us a great deal of Parisian metro stations, with the same curved architecture and 60s tile work.
As we sat on the metro, I contemplated the demographics of my fellow metro-goers and commented that it felt very young. Perhaps this is not surprising given the number of universities in Montreal (indeed, the station we got off at was at Concordia University). We passed an alarming number of folk wearing St. Paddy’s Day paraphernalia and discovered that a St. Paddy’s parade was taking place right next to the station. We quickly beelined in the opposite direction, which thankfully, was the appropriate direction for the art museum. For 30 and under, admission was free (sweet!), otherwise it was $12, a small price to pay for art.
The museum is actually several different buildings housing different collections (European, Canadian, etc.) linked by underground passages. We wandered our way through the European art wing first, enjoying the odd Monet and Picasso and marveling at Napoleon’s famed hat and the surprisingly good-condition of his boots. From there, we browed the contemporary art section, a fascinating selection of fun pieces and “what’s going on here” pieces. We made our way through the Canadian art section, which had some really great pieces. One of both of our favourite pieces was painted by a Quebecois artist, Marc-Aurèle Fortin.
After several hours of art and suitably sore shoulders, we decided to head back to the apartment. We stopped briefly at an IGA to pick up some groceries, grabbing cheese, saucissons, crackers, liver pâté and creton (a Quebecois concoction, it’s basically a pork spread containing onions and spices). We tucked into our goodies in our fabulously warm apartment. I’d made reservations at a fairly renowned Montreal restaurant, Au Pied de Cochon, known for their pork and, crucially for me, their foie gras. It was only about a 20-minute walk away, so we made our way down the icy streets and were soon bathing in the warmth of the restaurant.
It definitely had a kind of rustic lodge feel with a hipster twist. Our waitress treated us to perhaps the longest list of specials ever (there had to be at least 15 dishes), one of which perked David’s ears up: seal. He absolutely had to try it, since it was a fair certainty that he’d never have the opportunity again. I ordered a foie gras terrine and apple jelly to start with, while David ordered “naked” foie gras, which is fresh, pan-seared foie gras. I couldn’t resist trying the famed “duck in a can”, which is duck breast, 100 g foie gras, bacon, carrots, cabbage and a few other veggies in a balsamic reduction, all cooked in a tin can. David ended up ordering the seal, which included smoked pork and potatoes. Our foie gras soon arrived, and I tackled my amazingly large portion of terrine with gusto. It was actually a bit of a slog to finish it all (but I suffered through it).
Mercifully (and likely knowingly on the part of our servers), there was a nice break between our appetizers and main course to let our stomach digest things a bit. My duck in a can arrived, opened up right a the table and presented on my plate. It was superbly delicious, flavourful and rich and round. Cooking duck breast with foie gras and all of those other lovely things is, as David noted, somewhat like a boulder rolling down a hill. You want to see what will happen, but the conclusion is really inevitable (delicious!). David’s culinary exploration turned out to be quite an intense experience. The seal meat was a deep mahogany colour, heavily smoked aroma and an intense, oceanic savoury flavour. As always, when David is experience some new gastronomical sensation, it sometimes difficult for me to tell whether he’s enjoying it or not (the myriad of emotions crossing his face make him somewhat difficult to read). However, he declared that it was a delightfully special experience. Ultimately, not a dish to eat on a regular basis, due in large part to its intensity of flavour, but definitely worth trying. Stuffed to the brim, we waddled our way back to the apartment, where David started a fire, and I very quickly fell asleep in a warm, post-gluttony glow.