Montreal

Dinner at Au Pied de Cochon

by Joey deVilla on June 2, 2010

01 au pied de cochon exterior

There are a couple of restaurants with the name Au Pied de Cochon, which translates as “with the pig’s foot”. There’s the one in Paris — a place that became popular for serving its namesake – whose glory days are probably long gone as it’s become a bit of a tourist trap. Closer to home is the one in Montreal run by Martin Picard, an adventurous chef whose hijinks you may have seen on Food Network Canada’s The Wild Chef, or if you speak French, on Radio-Canada’s Martin sur la Route (“Martin on the Road”). It’s probably one of the only shows where a TV chef has cooked a muskrat.

(My Quebecois friend Guy Barrette tells me that The WIld Chef is a bowdlerized version of Martin sur la Route; the French edition shows butchery that the producers think that English viewers wouldn’t stomach.)

The Ginger Ninja and I stayed in Montreal this past weekend to sample some restaurants we’d been meaning to try. One was the steakhouse called La Queue de Cheval (“the horse’s tail” – I should organize a tour of restaurants named after animal anatomy), the other was Au Pied de Cochon. We managed to squeeze ourselves into the first seating on Friday night – the place is always booked solid unless you make reservations well in advance – and I took some photos of our visit.

Au Pied de Cochon is far from stuffy. While the food is a little more adventurous than your typical bistro, the place is pretty down-to-earth (although well-kept). The layout isn’t all that different from a diner, you can get a hamburger – yes, it’s got chunks of foie gras in it, but it’s still a burger, and the staff (clad in black jeans and mechanic’s shirts with their names on patches) are not only friendly, they look like they love their jobs.

02 canard en conserve

The can shown above line Au Pied de Cochon’s foyer. Canard en Conserve translates to “duck in a can”, one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. Chef Picard uses a number of unorthodox techniques for cooking, the best-known of which is canning. He has his own canning rigs in which he prepares a dish, cans it and then cooks it in the can.

03 potato pancake

We ordered a couple of appetizers. The first one, shown above, was an appetizer special. It was made of two potato pancakes with shaved cheese and ham between them, served with fiddleheads and walnuts and topped with a fried egg. It was delicious!

04 duck carpaccio

The second appetizer, shown above, was a regular on the menu: duck carpaccio topped with mushrooms, parmesan cheese and spices. It was topped with an egg yolk, hot mustard and hot sauce, which the waiter suggested we mixed together to form a sort of mayonnaise. I loved this one, and ended up sopping up the remaining goo with bits of the restaurant’s tasty baked-in-house bread.

05 poutine and duck in a can

Ask a Canadian outside Quebec what the official dish of Quebec is, and nine times out of ten you’ll get the answer “poutine” (I’ll have to ask some Quebecois what they believe their official dish is). Poutine is the perfect post-drinking food: fries covered in gravy and cheese curds. It’s popular all over Canada and has even been making inroads into the U.S. where they’ve been marketing them as “Quebec Fries”.

We ordered poutine as a side dish, which you can see on the left in the photo above. The fries are cooked in duck fat, and the gravy is made of pureed foie gras, egg yolks and cream. You can also order it as a main, topped with foie gras.

As for the dish on the right, that’s Duck in a Can, which I’ll describe later.

06 beef tartare

Wendy ordered the beef tartare, which is unusual for her – normally that’s the sort of thing that I would order. She chose it on the strength of a recommendation of our friend Jason Gorber, and it was delicious. It was served with a salad and two pieces of toast made from their wonderful bread.

07 duck in a can

This is Duck in a Can. In the can is a duck breast, a generous slice of duck foie gras, a slice of duck fat, balsamic vinegar, duck cabbage and a head of garlic. The whole thing is boiled in the can for a half hour and then the can in opened right in front of you and the contents are emptied onto a slice of toast covered in a puree of celery root and lardons (which is essentially French for “chunky bacon”). I was in fatty heaven.

You probably shouldn’t eat this every day, but life needs its pleasant vices, and I highly recommend this one.

08 can o duck

We had seats at the bar right by the kitchen (I asked for them, because we love watching food being made – it’s dinner and a show, all in one). The photo above shows my empty can of duck, with the kitchen crew in the background, hard at work.

09 olive oil

Au Pied de Cochon have their own olive oil specially commissioned from a co-op in Spain. It’s very good, and a great deal at $14 a bottle. We picked one up.

10 seafood kitchen

The next time we’re at Au Pied de Cochon, we’ll have to try their seafood. While half the kitchen is devoted to meat and fat, the other half has a lovely array of fruits de mer, which I also like.

11 seafood

Our meal, which consisted of:

  • Two hearty appetizers
  • Two very filling mains
  • Beer (their own house beer, which went very well with all that fat)
  • A bottle of olive oil to take home

…cost a grand total of CAD$132 before tip. For well-prepared food that you’re not going to find in many other places in such generous quantities, that’s a serious bargain.

If you’re going to Montreal (or if you live there), make sure you pay a visit to Au Pied de Cochon. I’m heading back there next time I’m in town.

I’ve posted my photos from Au Pied de Cochon at full size in a Flickr photoset, which you can also view in the slideshow below:

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Taking Montreal’s Bixi for a Spin

by Joey deVilla on May 30, 2010

What is Bixi?

If you walk around downtown Montreal, you’ll eventually run into one of these:

01 bixi

It’s one of 400 docking stations for Bixi, Montreal’s public bicycle sharing system. You shouldn’t think of Bixi as a bicycle rental service – instead, you should think of it more as self-powered public transit. With Bixi, you check out a bike at the Bixi station closest to your starting point, bike to the Bixi station closest to your destination, where you check it in.

In Montreal, there are 5,000 bikes in Bixi’s system, which was introduced last summer. Since then, a number of cities have signed up to purchase and install Bixi systems, including:

  • Boston (2010)
  • London (2010)
  • Melbourne (May 2010)
  • Minneapolis (June 2010)
  • Toronto (May 2011)
  • Washington DC/Arlington (Fall 2010)
  • Washington State University (Fall 2010)

Bixi Rental Rates

02 bixi

You can rent a bike in one of two ways:

You can purchase a subscription to the service online. This entitles you to unlimited rentals. Subscriptions are available at these rates:

  • $5 per day
  • $28 per month
  • $78 per year (a killer deal, if you do the math)

With a subscription, bike rental is free if each trip between docking stations is under 30 minutes (other than the number of hours in the day, there’s no limit to the number of trips you can make). Trips longer than 30 minutes are charged as follows:

  • $1.50 for the second 30-minute period
  • $3.00 for the third 30 minute period
  • $6.00 for subsequent 30-minute periods

You can pay at the docking station on a per-use basis. This is the pricier approach, aimed at tourists and people who cycle only occasionally. The rates are:

  • $5 for the rental fee, which includes 30 free minutes
  • $1.50 for the second 30-minute period
  • $3.00 for the third 30 minute period
  • $6.00 for subsequent 30-minute periods

The increasing prices are meant to discourage people from “hogging” the bikes; they’re meant to keep them in circulation.

Checking Out a Bike

04 bixi

While in Montreal this past weekend, I decided to take a Bixi bike for a spin. I went to the docking station closest to my hotel, at the corner of Rene-Levesque and Mansfield. It’s a popular station; there were only two bikes left on that Saturday afternoon at about 4:30 p.m..

Like all Bixi stations, it had a map showing the locations of the Bixi stations, with that particular station highlighted:

12 bixi

…as well as a control panel for renting a bike.

To rent a bike at the station, you touch the screen, which prompts you to swipe a credit card. Once your credit card has been authorized, you’re given a passcode which you use to unlock a bike. You can either have the passcode displayed onscreen (which means you have to memorize it) or have it printed out on a small ticket.

Although I have great faith in my memorization skills, I have even greater faith in Murphy’s Law. I opted for the printout.

11 bixi

Once you have your passcode, it’s time to unlock your bike. The passcode is a five-digit number using only the digits 1, 2 and 3. You unlock a bike by typing that passcode using the keypad on the bike dock. If you entered your passcode correctly, you’ll see a green light and the electronic lock will release the bike.

03 bixi

The first bike I checked seemed in good shape and had full tires, so I entered my code and undocked it. I quickly adjusted the seat to match my height:

06 bixi

…and it was time to hit the road!

The Bixi Bike Experience

Here’s a look at the handlebars of a Bixi bike. The plastic covering on the handlebars serves two purposes:

  • To provide a place for additional instructions
  • To cover the brake and gear cables, protecting them from the elements and meddlesome users

The “basket” and integrated bungee cord are good for holding small packages and bags.

08 bixi

Here’s a close-up of the plastic covering over the left handbrake. It explains the finer points of returning a bike to the dock once you’re done with it:

09 bixi

Here’s a close-up of the plastic covering over the right handbrake. It shows you how to report a damaged bike when returning it to the dock:

10 bixi

Here’s a shot of the rear wheel and pedals. Note that wherever possible, mechanical parts are sealed away out of view and harm’s way.

05 bixi

Bixi bikes are three-speed; they have a Shimano grip-shifter mounted on the right handle. You’re not going to win any races nor do any serious bike courier work on these gears, but it’s more than enough for city biking.

I didn’t have anywhere to be in a hurry, so I was using the bike like a velo-flaneur, doing a lot of looking around and just wandering where the road and the occasional whim took me. I kept a casual pace and stayed mostly in second and third gear, switching only to first gear for that hill going up St-Laurent from Ste-Catherine to Sherbrooke.

The bike has nice fat nitrogen-filled tires, and I found the ride to be pretty smooth. The gears shifted smoothly, although I noticed the occasional lag between gear changes as I shifted downwards – a mild annoyance rather than a serious problem. The chain was well lubed, and pedalling took very little effort. The brakes were nice and tight, requiring only a little squeeze before they engaged – they felt like my bike’s brakes just after a tune-up. The frame itself – a one-piece aluminum affair designed by Michel Dallaire with metal provided by Rio Tinto Alcan – was light (light for a “cruiser” style bike, anyway) and solid-feeling.

I made a quick jaunt from the Queen Elizabeth Hotel (where I was staying) to Old Montreal, where I tooled about its winding streets and caught some kind of festival, through le Quartier Chinois to the shops on St-Laurent north of Sherbrooke. From there, I checked out some of my old haunts in the McGill “student ghetto”, and then it was back to the docking station where I’d checked out the bike because I had a dinner reservation to catch.

Returning the Bike

07 bixi

Returning the bike is easy – you find an empty dock and “plug” your bike into it. A green light confirms that you’ve locked the bike and that your rental session is over. If your bike is damaged in any way, you can report it by pressing the “report damage” button. I’d gone over a half-hour but was under an hour, so my total charge was $6.50.

Thoughts on Bixi

13 bixiPhoto by jonny.hunter.

Bixi is a Montreal-based company, and its bike sharing system seems to work well there. While walking about during my stay there over the past couple of days, I saw more than a dozen people on Bixi bikes, and saw even more during my Bixi bike jaunt on Saturday afternoon.

Montreal has a couple of advantages that make it suitable for a bike sharing system:

  • Dedicated two-lane bike lanes, which are separated from the street with actual physical barriers.
  • A strong attachment to public transit and cycling, which comes from its European “feel”, large student population and well-regarded public transit system.
  • Limited geography: the city is an island.

Will the Bixi experience in Montreal “translate” to Toronto? I don’t know.

Toronto is more “American” than Montreal, so many more people there perceive bikes as toys rather than serious vehicles. A number of Toronto politicians have know-nothingly painted bicycle activism as “the war on the car” and at least a couple of them have attempted to turn modest proposals to get more dedicated lanes on city streets into an issue for the upcoming mayoral election (with opposing them seen as a way of getting more votes).

There’s also the matter of city coverage. When the Bixi project launched in Montreal, they started with 300 stations and 3,000 bikes, which meant that a for a good part of the city, it was likely that there was a Bixi docking station nearby and it was likely that that station would have at least one bike available. Since then, those numbers have been boosted to 400 stations and 5,000 bikes. You see both stations and bikes (both docked and in use) everywhere.

Despite the fact that Toronto has a population larger than Montreal’s, we’re launching with 100 stations and 1,000 bikes. I assume that most of them will be in the core, with the concentrations heaviest around the streets with bike lanes or a high hipster quotient. Will it be enough stations and bikes? We’ll find out as the service launches.

Finally, there’s the question of whether the bikes will get used in the winter. One of the favourite arguments of opponents of bike lanes is that nobody bikes in the winter. While cycling is reduced, there are still many cyclists on the street of Toronto in the winter months. Toronto doesn’t get anywhere near as much snow or anywhere as cold as Montreal, and even they have a year-round biking culture. As a year-round cyclist who regularly shuttles between High Park and downtown Toronto on his bike, I can say with certainty that winter cycling in Toronto is no big deal.

I’m in Montreal every couple of months for conferences, so I think I’d end up using Bixi when visiting. These events often call for quick errands to be run, and being able to get a bike would come in handy.

Would I use Bixi in Toronto even though I live in the city and have my own bike? There are times that bike rental would come in handy. For the rare times when I drive downtown or the more frequent times when I take the subway downtown but have to run errands all over the place, Bixi would come in handy.

I’m looking forward to seeing Bixi in Toronto. We’ll have to see if it works out.

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My Photos from Make Web Not War 2010

by Joey deVilla on May 29, 2010

I’ll post a more detailed write-up of the Make Web Not War conference later, but I thought that those of you who were there (or wished they were there) would like to see some photos as soon as possible. I’ve posted my photos at full resolution to my Make Web Not War Flickr photoset, which you can view either on Flickr or the slideshow above. The photos all have titles, and I promise I’ll finished the remainder of the descriptions over the next couple of days.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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I’m in Montreal This Week

by Joey deVilla on May 24, 2010

Montreal: photo of poutine

I’m headed to Montreal this week, where Microsoft Canada’s Developer and Platform Evangelism team (of which I am a member) will be getting together for our annual team meeting as well as to help run the Make Web Not War conference on Thursday. There’ll be a lot of crazy stuff going on, and whatever isn’t blackmail material will end up here on the Accordion Guy blog, so watch this space!

The first part of the trip is about getting there, and we’re not doing it in the usual way. We’ve hired out a VIA Rail car to take us and a lot of Make Web Not War attendees to Montreal in style. The car’s rigged with power, wifi, Xboxes, Rock Band, monitors and other goodies to make the five-ish-hour trip even more nerd-a-riffic. I’ll post photos from the train.

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via nerd car

A quick reminder: if you’re looking for cheap transport to Montreal for MonDev, Montreal’s Open Source Week (which concludes with the Make Web Not War conference), we’ve booked an entire VIA Rail car from Montreal to Toronto! The train car (pictured above) has wifi, power outlets and will be equipped with video monitors, an Xbox or two, a big-ass HP TouchSmart computer and other technological goodies to make the time pass by.

Best of all, if you want to book a trip on this car, we’re subsidizing it. Round-trip tickets are a mere $50 and cover the cost of the ride, a sandwich lunch and drink voucher! The train departs for Montreal on the morning of Tuesday, May 25th and departs back for Toronto on the morning of Friday, May 28th.

For more details, email cdnsol@microsoft.com.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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Montreal Bound

by Joey deVilla on January 20, 2010

porter plane Photo by Tom Purves.

I’m boarding a Porter flight bound for Montreal, where I’ll be attending CUSEC (Canadian University Software Engineering Conference). I’ll be there from today through Saturday afternoon, watching technical presentation, flying the Microsoft banner, hosting DemoCamp and having a beer (or twelve) with my fellow conference-goers. I’ll be posting notes and photos from the presentations and other goings-on, so watch this space!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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TechDays Montreal, Day 2

by Joey deVilla on December 5, 2009

Day 2 of Techdays Montreal began with the A/V techs (and yes, me) ooh-ing and ahh-ing at presenter Maxime Rouiller’s Alienware laptop, He showed us the utility for controlling its backlighting colours:

01 alienware

Once set up, the Building for the Microsoft-Based Platorm track’s acting host Laurent Duveau introduced Maxime, who then presented Introducing ASP.NET MVC.

02 maxime and laurent

Maxime will present the same session in Ottawa, so if you’re there, you too can get a look at that Alienware. Wonder what it would take to get Microsoft to assign me one of those babies.

Continuing the morning’s ASP.NET MVC theme, Simon Laroche took to the lectern:

03 simon 1

Simon presented SOLIDify Your ASP.NET MVC Applications, which used the refactoring of an ASP.NET MVC application to demonstrate the SOLID principles of object-oriented design in action:

04 simon 2

Next came lunch, once again held on Centre Mont-Royal’s fourth floor:

05 lunch

Here are Developer Evangelist Christian Beauclair and IT Pro Evangelist Rick Claus preparing for the lunchtime presentation:

06 christian and rick

07 christian

And here they are doing that presentation, in which they show off some of the new features in Office 2010. I rather the like the goodies in PowerPoint 2010:

08 christian and rick

In the meantime, some of the attendees hung out in the Windows 7 lounge, trying out the touchscreen machines and playing games – including the indie hit I MAED A GAME WITH Z0MB1ES!!!1 – on the XBox 360:

09 windows 7 lounge

Mario Cardinal led the first session of the afternoon:

10 mario

His presentation was on Building RESTful Applications Using WCF (Windows Communication Foundation). Mario knows his stuff, and as a seasoned presenter, had no problem crossing the stage and doing part of his delivery far away from the lectern and any speaker’s notes:

11 mario and audience

Mario will also present the same session at TechDays Ottawa.

Some of the staff saw me walking around with Rick’s DSLR camera and asked me to take their picture. I was happy to do so – TechDays doesn’t happen without their help:

12 staff

One nice thing about Centre Mont-Royal is that there’s plenty of “hanging out” space. If you’re not spending at least a little time in these spaces between sessions, getting to know the other techies in your community, you’re not getting all you can out of TechDays:

13 break

14 break 2

The final session in my track had Francis Beaudet speaking:

15 francis 1

He presented Developing and Consuming Services for SharePoint:

16 francis 2

Day 2 wrapped up at 4:00 p.m., at which point we quickly dismantled the machines we’d set up on Tuesday and packed them up for shipping to Techdays Ottawa. Some of the team stayed to do the end-of-conference review, which Christian and I had to run to catch the Microsoft open source cocktail party at the W, which I’ll cover in the next blog entry.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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