Whenever I am asked what dishes, if any, are quintessentially Canadian, the first answer that always comes to mind is poutine! Originating in rural Quebec in the late 1950′s, this delicious combination of fries, cheese and gravy has since spread throughout North America and the world. For the month of February, Vancouver’s very own Richard Wolak (@vanfoodster) is hosting the 2nd Annual #PoutineChallenge event. Made up of over 20+ restaurants, local Vancouverites are invited to try a list of poutine submissions and vote at the end of the month for their favourite. You can see the entire list of participants here.
Richard invited a dozen of the city’s top food media on a mini tour yesterday to taste three of the participating submissions. Although I do not eat poutine that often, I was eager to try three very different interpretations on a very traditional, well-known Canadian dish.
Our first stop was Darby’s Pub in Kits. Going with a rich duck confit poutine, Executive Chef Jackson really presented an indulgent yet balanced dish with plenty to like. First off, the Kennebec fries were well prepared and held up quite well under the caramelized onions and duck meat. I really liked how moderated the cambozola cheese was as I personally dislike it when poutine is buried in dairy. Also, the dark gravy was delicious and tied together all the individual ingredients quite gracefully.
The duck poutine was paired with a glass of Switchback IPA which cut the saltiness of the dish beautifully. I would definitely recommend ordering a glass of the IPA to go along with your poutine. Overall, a very tasty effort with a generous amount of duck meat that can easily feed two adults.
Darby’s Duck Poutine
Description: Kennebec fries, caramelized onions, duck confit, cambozola cheese, and red wine demi
Created by: Executive Chef A.J. Jackson
Offered: Daily after 4 pm
Our second stop was the 131 Water Kitchen & Bar in Gastown. Of the three poutines we tried, this was probably the most adventurous in terms of non-conventional poutine ingredients. The inspiration behind this dish was quite simple: fried chicken, waffles and poutine are all archetypes of comfort food and should go well together. My thoughts? The breaded fried chicken was very good and went naturally with the fries and white pepper gravy. In the same way the dark gravy worked with the duck poutine at Darby’s, the light gravy was spot on here at 131. The one thing that needed a little tweaking for me was the waffles which unfortunately ended up rather soft and bready. I would have loved to have seen the waffle toasted and then presented with a small cup of maple syrup. By tossing the waffle pieces in with everything else, they simply were not able to retain themselves structurally. That said, this was still a great attempt at the ultimate comfort food poutine and is quite a steal at only $10.
Crispy Chicken & Waffle Poutine
Description: Hand cut fries, belgian waffle, cheese curds, breaded fried chicken smothered in white pepper gravy & finished with fresh cilantro
Created by: TBU
Offered: Lunch 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Our third and final stop of the tour was the relatively new Vancouver FanClub. I was here previously for the Dine Out Vancouver Launch Event and loved the New Orleans themed bar feel of the venue. When I first saw the $6 price tag for this poutine, I thought it was a typo as that is extremely cheap for a dish of this composition in downtown Vancouver. Chef Josie was at hand to introduce her interpretation which turned out to be a pulled pork poutine. Now, pulled pork poutine is a fairly common offering that you can find anywhere but I was pretty impressed by the depth of flavour in this one. After my first bite, I was hit by the wonderful smokiness of the bourbon BBQ sauce. The cheese curds and chicken gravy were fairly commonplace but it is the sauce that I fell in love with. Some of my colleagues were even asking if Chef Josie was planning to sell the sauce in bottle form as it really was that good. Overall, an phenomenally well priced poutine made up of fairly familiar components but underlined by an exceptional smoked bourbon sauce.
Pulled Pork Poutine
Description: Smoked Pulled Pork in a Smoked Bourbon BBQ, Cheese curds and a Chicken Gravy, Garnished with shredded Mozzarella and chopped parsley.
Created by: Chef Josie.
Offered: Served all the time.