Monday, May 4, 2009

Resto La Banquise, Montreal, QC

Since we started dating, I had been telling Tam about my hometown, which she had yet to visit. One thing she couldn't wrap her head around was the appeal of poutine, the province of Québec's most well known culinary contribution. Why anyone would want to smother their fries with cheese and gravy instead of malt vinegar, or, in a pinch, ketchup, didn't make sense to her.

"Not just any cheese, but cheese curds," I would try to explain. "The fresher the better. And with time, the piping hot gravy starts to melt them so they get a bit gooey." I could have continued to delve into different points of view on the important matters crispy versus soggy fries (I much prefer crispy, although armies of people adore La Belle Province's soft, fat fries) and ideal plating technique (I prefer it to be spread out over a largish surface area so that the fry-to-gravy ratio is uniform but some like it packed in a styrofoam bowl so that the cheese gets really hot and fully melted), but I could tell from her facial expression that she was uninterested and a little bit disgusted by the whole idea.

The only way to convince her would be to try it, so when we recently visited the city, I took her to La Banquise, an east-end diner that specializes in the dish. While not the most traditional establishment (they offer 25 different poutine variations while most places only have one) it is my favorite.

Although quite crowded on a Sunday March evening, we were immediately seated in the colourful dining room. A proper introduction to poutine should really be the straightforward fries with cheese and gravy (refered to on La Banquise's menu as the "Classique"), but we opted instead to share their award-winning "Poutine B.O.M.", which, in addition to the aforementioned cheese curds and gravy, also includes sautéed onions, bacon, and merguez sausage atop a heap of fries. We ordered two Quebec microbrews, a Tremblay and a Coup de Grisou, to wash down our salty meal.

A few minutes later, our plate arrived.

Tentatively at first, Tam started taking bites. After carefully considering what she was eating, she proclaimed it really good. Soon, we were both attacking our meal, making sure to get a good potato/cheese ratio as well as enjoy the little extra bits of bacon and sausage that this decadent poutine had tucked in between crispy fries.

We had ordered the smaller portion size, but it was more than enough to fill the two of us up. Our beers didn't blow us away since we're spoiled by the wealth of exceptional microbrew offerings available at any decent bar or beer distributor in Pittsburgh these days, but the Coup de Grisou was a nice, light, citrusy wheat beer. The Tremblay, despite its local microbrew status, might as well have been a Labatt Blue or other mega-brewery lager. Next time, we'll stick to the Unibroue offerings, which are always excellent.

It's fair to say that the poutine initation was a success. Next time we're in town, we'll knock off another Montreal food institution: the legendary smoked meat and grumpy waiters at Schwartz's.

La Banquise is located at 994 rue Rachel E, in Montreal, QC. Call 514-525-2415 or check out their webpage for more info.


Jesse G said...

While it is more than a little sacrilegious to be initiated into the world of poutine by anything other than a Classique, the B.O.M. is really good.

And I'm glad Tamar enjoyed it. I suppose you both now have my blessing.

Hungry Canuck said...

Thanks for the blessing. If you're willing to get ordained or certified to perform legal ceremonies in the State of Pennsylvania, we're still looking for an officiant for our wedding. This would allow you to bless us in a more formal setting.

(I'm only mostly joking...)

Knatolee said...

Crispy fries! They must be crispy!