It's extremely rare that I have a dining experience so enervating that the quality of the food becomes almost irrelevant. In fact, I can only think of two other examples of restaurants not worth re-visiting because my first impression was too tarnished: Lupa and Chickenbone Café (which is gone anyway).
I love the idea of meat in monstrous portions, using unusual parts, and high-low ingredient combinations (foie gras poutine?). Au Pied de Cochon struck me as potentially being Montreals St. John restaurant (which it isn't exactly—St. John is austere where APDC is convivial). And I wasn't disappointed by the food. James had the French onion soup, which he declared the best hed had, and the massive “Happy Pig Chop.” I went pork crazy and started with a plate of pates and sausages that wouldve been better suited for sharing with a table of diners. For a main, I had to try the namesake pied de cochon. I didn't realize a pigs foot was so large. It filled the plate, and contained all the best aspects of pork: crispy skin, gooey gelatinous fat and tender inner flesh. The foot sprawled on a puddle of mashed potatoes and creamy mustard sauce. A tart onion, tomato and parsley relish was scattered liberally over the top and helped balance the porcine richness.
But–yes, theres a big but—the dining experience as a whole felt abusive. Initially, it was just off, the vibe was wrong, nothing specific. You'd think as New Yorkers wed be used to cramped spaces and long waits, so that wasn't quite it. But it did seem that no matter where we stood we were in the way. Before even being seated we felt a touch beat-up and jostled, like how a bad subway ride can ruin a day before you even get to work. After eventually getting our table, we were promptly ignored. After nearly 15 minutes it started feeling intentional. Customers seated after us already had food and drinks, and we couldn't even get eye contact with a server. It seemed like everyone knew each other. Maybe that was it, we weren't regulars? Was it because we were speaking English? I don't think so, there were plenty of non-French conversations in the air. We finally ordered drinks, then lost our waiter for about another 10-15 minutes. Things started getting odd when we noted our waiter and a cohort motioning to our table, speaking in hushed tones, then laughing. I was like what the fuck? Paranoia set in, we didn't say anything weird, I don't think we ordered poorly, I like to believe were at least moderately attractive—what was the deal?
By the time our food arrived, I was totally turned off to eating. No matter how much I scooted my chair and our entire table forward, the guy behind me would inch closer. After the millionth time he leaned back enough that the backs of our heads were touching, I started to lose my shit. Did I mention this was our fifth (dating) anniversary? If this meal was any indication of the future of our relationship, we were in serious trouble. It was just plain non-good and creepily ominous. I'd had high expectations for our dinner, and all I could think about was dining and dashing (I never even did that as a teen, but its never too late to start).
The clincher came when James chomped down on something hard in his onions, and pulled out a big fat metal screw. Yeah, a screw. Was this some sort of messed up message? A not so subtle screw you. Honestly, I didn't think so, but we weren't even able to point out the little screw up (ha) because not once did anyone stop to ask us how we were doing. At this point we were invisible, we couldn't have flagged down a waiter if wed tried. So, we just sat and waited, both our entrees barely touched. To be fair, the staff seemed genuinely concerned after politely being shown the screw. We didn't make a fuss at all, I'm never one to cause problems at restaurants, in fact, I'm probably overly passive when it comes to bizarre customer service. Thankfully, the Happy Pig Chop wasn't included on our bill (they offered to make another one, like we wanted to sit in this hell hole any longer).
The whole evening was so horrendously bad that all I could do was laugh. I mean, it was kind of comical. We imagined an Au Pied de Cochon review being written in a New York Post-ian style. The headline would invariably say something about the staff having a screw loose. It would be a hoot to read. But then, maybe I'm the only one gets a kick out of the Post.
Au Pied de Cochon * 536 Rue Duluth E., Montreal , Canada