After gaining 5lbs from last year's poutine marathon (can you say 'muffin-top'?), I swore that I would cut back on the poutine action during my visit to Vancouver this year. That is, until I started to hear murmurings about a new authentic poutine shop opening up on Davie...and then saw Brado's new over-the-top poutine pizza getting national attention on Serious Eats...
Brado was the winner of last year's poutine roundup so I was really anxious to try his newest creation. But I wasn't going to attempt eating an entire pizza by myself, so I called in some backup...Vancouver food bloggers Jessica and Mark from Yum-O-Rama: Where I Live to Eat!, Kim Ho from I'm Only Here for the Food, and Sherman from Sherman's Food Adventures.
We met up at Brado Pizza on a Saturday afternoon and placed our order at the counter with Brado himself. Fifteen minutes later, a steaming extra-large poutine pizza, smothered in french fries, gravy and cheese curds was set down in front of us.
And then came a flurry of photo-taking. My tiny point-and-shoot camera was feeling rather insignificant among the all the serious hardware:
The notorious 'upskirt' shot:
While the poutine pizza was undeniably tasty, I still prefer eating poutine on it's own. French fries on top of a doughy crust made it way too carbolicious (even for this carb-addict). I also prefer my crust a little crispier and some char on the edges (you can tell by the 'upskirt' shot that it needed more browning).
Sherman suggested we get some poutine by itself (for comparison sake) and proceeded to order a giant smoked meat poutine:
This was my first time trying poutine with Montreal-style smoked meat and I was pleasantly surprised. I've always stuck with classic poutine because I assumed the addition of smoked meat would make the entire dish too salty. On the contrary, the tender pieces of meat added welcome little bursts of smokey flavor throughout.
I also noticed that Brado's poutine gravy was darker and more intense than I'd remembered, so I asked Brado whether he had changed his formula from last year? Yes, he was now making his gravy deeper in both flavor and color after succumbing to local pressure; according to Brado, the locals expect gravy to be dark and beefy (unlike the milder velouté typical to Quebec-style poutine). I was a bit disappointed as Brado's gravy was near perfect (IMHO) when I tasted it last year. Well, at least the fries were still super crispy on the outside, but then someone pointed out that there was much to be desired when it came to the insides. Our batch of fries, comprised mostly of crispy 'shells', was lacking potato-y goodness on the inside. Last year I remember eating meatier fries that were delicious both inside and out. Brado, if you're reading this, please change your gravy back to the way it was! And use some thicker cut fries.
Kim also surprised us by bringing desserts all the way from Cake-Ya, a Japanese bakery in Port Moody, BC. I was quick to grab one of the milk tea flavored purin (Japanese pudding):
Mmmmm....creamy silken custard with a touch of sweetness and subtle hint of black tea. A thin caramel sauce (from the bottom of the container) enhanced every quivering bite. If you like the luxurious mouthfeel of flan, creme caramel or creme brulee, this is your kind of dessert!
I also grabbed some matcha shortbread cookies for later. The consistency was softer/moister than a traditional shortbread and each cookie was surprisingly filling. But I did enjoy the mild matcha flavor with the occasional crunch of sugar crystals.
This was my first real blogger meetup and everyone couldn't have been nicer. A big thank you to Jessica for organizing the meetup, to Kim for the Cake-Ya treats, and Sherman for treating us to smoked meat poutine. Be sure to head over to their excellent blogs to see what they thought about our Brado meetup!
1399 Commercial Drive
2415 Clarke Street
Port Moody, BC
LA BELLE PATATE
Vancouver's newest kid on the block, serving up authentic Quebecois poutine in the West End. La Belle Patate opened about 6 months too late for me to include it in last year's poutine tasting marathon, but it's been getting rave reviews so far. I was really anxious to check it out, especially since Kim had given it a decent review. The excitement was building, could La Belle Patate edge out Brado as my new go-to place in Vancouver? Would the poutine be as authentic as everyone claimed? I should note that since last year's poutine binge, I finally made a pilgrimmage to Quebec for truly authentic poutine, with stops in Montreal (where I sampled a 1/2 dozen popular poutine establishments) and at Drummondville's Festival de la Poutine (which I wrote about here) which included a visit to one of the original inventors of poutine, Le Roy Jucep. So while don't consider myself a poutine 'expert', I have tasted the real deal.
Kris and I stopped at La Belle Patate on a quiet Sunday afternoon, armed with extremely high expectations. Immediately I noticed Poutine Galvaude (w/chicken and peas) and Poutine Choux (coleslaw on top) on the menu (both are popular variations in Montreal). And I felt my heart flutter (and my stomach jolt awake) when I saw the all-you-can-eat poutine for $25. "Don't even go there", warned Kris, so we ended up ordered a small traditional poutine to share.
Overall, I was a little disappointed after all the buildup. First of all there was way too much gravy, drowning out all the fries and making them too soggy to evaluate them fairly. The gravy itself was quite tasty, but it had a slightly bitter aftertaste with a hint of an unidentified spice that reminded me of something in BBQ sauce, maybe ground cloves (?). In Montreal and Drummondville, I encountered a couple places that added BBQ sauce to their poutine gravy, and although I was not a fan of bbq spices in poutine, maybe the weird clove-y aftertaste helps raise the authenticity factor of La Belle Patate's gravy? As for the cheese curds, we did get a bit of squeaking, which is as good as you're going to find in Vancouver as it's probably difficult to get really fresh cheese curds on the West Coast. I learned from the owner of Le Roy Jucep last year that the freshest, squeakiest cheese curds have never been refrigerated so this limits how far they can be transported. Overall, I think I would have enjoyed this poutine a lot more if they weren't so heavy handed with the gravy that day. So definitely worth another visit the next time I'm in town.
La Belle Patate
1215 Davie St
Before every trip to Vancouver, I spend countless hours researching restaurants, reading food blogs/reviews, and making lists of all the places I want to eat. And then I never get to any of them because my trip is really about spending quality time with family and friends. One of the restaurants that's been on my list since it opened was Fuel (now Refuel), and it's honestly taken me 3 years to finally get there.
So on the only unscheduled day of our trip, Kris and I stopped at Refuel for some afternoon snacks. We arrived during the mid-afternoon lull so the dining room was empty except for one other table, giving us the opportunity to chat at length about the menu with our wonderful host, co-owner and sommelier Tom Doughty. We ordered 4 appetizers to share, including poutine...
Vegetarians beware, there is nothing vegetarian-friendly about Refuel's decadent poutine. First off, the fries are cooked in beef tallow (which happens to be my fat of choice when it comes to french fries, duck fat coming in a close 2nd). Refuel also butchers all their meats in-house and the bones are simmered down to create brodo, the base of their flavorful poutine gravy. However, I didn't get much squeaking from the cheese curds. My only other criticism is that the gravy was bit salty for my taste, but that didn't stop us from devouring the entire dish.
Wild leek risotto with smoked provolone:
I was excited to discover that the wild leeks were actually ramps (especially since I'd just reluctantly left the Northeast during the height of the short ramp season). The ramps are pureed, so you really taste the distinct onion-y flavor in every bite. A melted slice of smoked provolone was a good complement to the sweet ramps, while crunchy provolone bits provided textural contrast.
Seared Qualicum bay scallop with foie gras croquette, and English peas:
This dish typically comes with only one foie gras croquette, but Tom asked the kitchen to give us two so Kris and I wouldn't have to fight over them. We'd had foie gras croquettes/cromesquis only once before at Au Pied De Cochon in Montreal and they were a truly ethereal experience, a molten foie gras explosion that made our tastebuds do a happy dance. I was anxious to see how Refuel's croquettes would measure up but it was hard to compare because we ate them in a totally different way. Unlike Au Pied de Cochon, where we were instructed to place the entire crosmesquis in our mouth, Tom recommended we cut these open on the plate, allowing the luscious foie gras to ooze out and intermingle with the scallop, fresh peas and lomo ham. The sweet Qualicum scallop was perfectly seared and the freshly shelled English peas were a delight. We licked this plate clean, scraping up every luscious bit of that foie gras sauce.
Roasted Bone Marrow with green apple and pickled red onion:
If you'd never had roasted bone marrow I suggest you go out and try it! It's one of my absolute favorite indulgences, I may even like it better than foie gras. While the idea of scooping marrow from a femur bone may freak you out, but it helps to remember that marrow is what makes homemade stocks and dishes like osso bucco tastes so darn good. The texture reminds me of foie gras, but more delicate as the marrow just melts away in your mouth. You can spread it on toast like butter. And the flavor is rich, beefy and luxurious. At first I thought it was strange that the dish only came with one piece of bread until I had my first spoonful of marrow. It was roasted and seasoned so perfectly that I quickly forgot about the bread. The refreshing green apple slaw helped cut through the fatty richness of the marrow.
Horse Bresola (yes, HORSE! It's Weird Food Wednesday, afterall):
Tom brought us 2 complimentary slices of horse bresola to try (please note that these pieces are slightly thicker than normal because Tom sliced them for us himself). Despite being a weird food enthusiast, I actually got a bit nervous before trying horse for the first time. But it definitely helped that my first equine encounter was in the form of charcuterie and not sashimi! Actually, the bresola was quite delicious, very similar in taste to beef, with hint of sweetness.
1944 W 4th Ave
After eating 12 local poutines in 12 days last year, several locals asked me why I hadn't included Costco in my roundup. So during our last day in Vancouver we stopped by the Costco food court in downtown Vancouver (across from GM Place) in order to satisfy our curiosity. This also marked the first time I've ever eaten anything at Costco (and perhaps the last?).
The cheese had the flavor and consistency of mozzarella so there was obviously no squeaking to be had, the fries were standard foodcourt fare, and the gravy, while tasty, had a slight 'mix' aftertaste. But I thought the fry/gravy/cheese curd ratio was pretty good. Overall, not too shabby. I could see this easily satisfying a late night craving (but I don't think Costco stays open that late).
Costco Warehouse, Downtown Vancouver
605 Expo Blvd
After trying poutines at 15 different local establishments between May 2009 and May 2010, here are my current top five Vancouver poutine stops:
1. Salade de Fruits
2. Brado Pizza
3. Crave on Main (short rib poutine)
4. La Belle Patate
For the other restaurants we've already tried, including detailed reviews, see last year's poutine roundup.
Places still left to try in Greater Vancouver:
Anny's Dairy Barn (serious cheese curds from Quebec)
La Brasserie (truffled poutine)
Chambar (poutine à la belge)
db bistro moderne (duck poutine Lyonnaise)
Chill Winston (poutine with truffle demi-jus)
Boneta (fresh Okanagan cheese curds)
Did I leave out your favorite? Please leave me a comment below :)