Quebecers beware, these aren’t your classic poutines

Poutine Challenge Feb 5th-28th

A new day, a new challenge! For Vancouver chefs that is…

Vancouver Foodster launched yet another culinary competition, and this time the focus is, our “national food”, the poutine. The competition takes place from February 5th to 28th and features 21 different restaurants in Vancouver, Burnaby, Ladner, New Westminster, North Vancouver and even White Rock.

The chefs involved had no limitations on their creations, but were told to keep in mind that they would be judged on originality, creativity, uniqueness, price, value and, most importantly, taste.

I went on a media tour, led by Vancouver Foodster, to three of the participating restaurants in the Poutine Challenge – Darby’s Pub in Kitsilano, 131 Water Kitchen and Bar in Gastown and Vancouver FanClub in downtown Vancouver. All of the chefs in this particular tour created very different versions of the dish, however there are five different takes on the pulled pork poutine in the challenge.

Our first stop of the day was at Darby’s Pub.

Executive Chef A.J. Jackson - Darby's Pub

Chef A.J. Jackson prepared Darby’s Duck Poutine, which consists of Kennebec fries, caramelized onions, duck confit, cambozola cheese and a red wine demi-glace in lieu of traditional gravy.

If you’re not familiar with cambozola, I’ll save you the Googling and tell you that it’s a combination of French soft-ripened triple cream cheese and Italian Gorgonzola. Because of the strong flavour of this cheese, A.J. was wise to put only a small amount on the poutine so as to not overpower the other flavours. However, deconstructing the meal you’ll notice that all of the flavours in the dish are robust and can hold their own, from the rich and addicting demi-glace, to the fatty and flavorful duck confit. Unlike the other ingredients, the caramelized onions were a bit more subtle and added just a nuance of sweetness to the otherwise salty serving.

Duck Confit Cambozola Poutine - Darby's Pub

To go with the poutine we had some of Lighthouse‘s Switchback IPA, using the hops to mellow out the saltiness in the dish.

Lighthouse Switchback IPA

Would I order it again? Definitely, but to save my arteries I’d share it.

Offered: Daily after 4 pm.
Cost: $12
Address: 2001 Macdonald Street [Kitsilano]
Twitter: @Darbys_In_Kits

Our second stop was at 131 Water Kitchen & Bar, a restaurant that I didn’t know about, let alone been inside of.

Derek Omar, 131 Water’s Owner and Chef, took the sweet and salty trend of crispy chicken and waffles and turned it in to a topping for poutine.

Owner/Chef Derek Omar - 131 Water Kitchen & Bar

This Crispy Chicken and Waffle Poutine is made up of hand cut fries, a Belgian waffle, cheese curds and breaded fried chicken smothered in white pepper gravy & finished with fresh cilantro.

The fries were crispy and the chicken was crispy, but the waffles? They were soggy. This was my major complaint and I know I’m not alone when I say that it made a big difference to the wow-factor of the dish. I liked the sweet touch the waffle brought to the dish but lacking the crunch it looked and tasted more like wet bread. And what’s a waffle without the syrup? Although it may not be for everyone, a little drizzle of it would be nice and a serving on the side might be a good idea. All of that aside it was actually a pretty tasty poutine with an interesting combination of flavours. The chicken was cooked perfectly, juicy and moist in the middle and coated with a nice batter, while the gravy was light but creamy, and not overwhelmingly peppery. Also, the cilantro was a nice touch to add a little color to the otherwise neutral toned food that we call poutine.

Crispy Chicken and Waffle Poutine - 131 Water Kitchen & Bar

We paired it with Phillips Blue Buck, because it is a light beer that wouldn’t overwhelm our palates when combined with the poutine. It was also chosen because at 131 Water Kitchen and Bar they like to support local producers, which you’ll notice by the assortment of craft beer that they offer.

Would I order it again? If they offered syrup with it and made the waffles crispy. I need to really love it if I’m going to ingest that many fried carbs.

Offered: Brunch/Lunch 12:00 – 4:00PM
Cost: $10
Location: 131 Water Street [Gastown]
Twitter: @131Water

Our third and final stop of the day was at Vancouver FanClub to test out Chef Josie Dib’s Pulled Pork Poutine.

Chef Josie Dib - Vancouver FanClub

Chef Josie utilized the venue’s in-house smoker to make pulled pork in a smoked bourbon BBQ sauce, then piled it on to french fries with cheese curds and a chicken gravy before garnishing it with shredded mozzarella and chopped parsley.

I loved that the poutine was served in a basket with a newspaper lining, because the vibrant food popped against the drab grey news. The vibrancy in color translated in to flavour as well with the sweet, slightly smoky, saucy pork, and the milder, but still flavorful, chicken gravy. The meat had been cooked for at least ten hours which was obvious in its tender and moist mouthful. I was impressed that the fries held their crispness against the gravy and meat, though I would’ve liked a slightly stronger cheese or maybe a bit more. My favorite part of the dish was the fact that clever Josie layered the dish so that when you finished the top of the mound there was still meat, gravy and cheese waiting for you, right until the end.

Because they make their own BBQ sauce, smoke their own meat, and have french fries delivered from an outside source, they are able to keep the cost of this dish at a shockingly low, $6.

Pulled Pork Poutine - Vancouver FanClub

Would I order it again? For that price, sure why not, every element of it was delicious, but since it’s pulled pork poutine they wouldn’t get my vote for creativity, originality or uniqueness.

Offered: Served all the time.
Cost: $6
Location: 1050 Granville Street [Vancouver]
Twitter: @VancityFanClub

These are but 3 of the 21 poutines in the challenge. Others include ingredients such as poached eggs, halibut, shrimp, truffle oil, bechamel sauce, and apple rosemary bacon cheese fritters.

If you live in Vancouver it’s a bit of a trek, but I recommend heading to South Burnaby to check out Riverway Clubhouse‘s Spätzle  Poutine for a unique treat.

After you’ve tasted as many as you can (you only have six more days), be sure to vote online for your favorite restaurant. The winner will be announced on March 3, 2013, so stay tuned!

For more photos check out my Poutine Challenge set on Flickr.

** Disclosure – I was invited as part of a media tour and my poutines were compliments of the involved restaurants, however my opinions and experience are completely my own. **

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