On Poutine and Horses

We spent last week in Montreal, attending the Just for Laughs festival, shopping, drinking in pubs, and generally getting to know the city a little better. We stayed at the Hilton in Laval, and drove in to the Île de Montréal each day, finding a parking spot somewhere, and exploring until the evening shows. We got to see Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Ryan Stiles and Greg Proops, and Russell Brand. All funny shows … though the South Park Live show was more like hanging out with a bunch of slackers while watching a South Park marathon.
One of our key tasks in Montreal was to get poutine. Well, really we were looking for the most authentic poutine we could get in the city of Montreal. Poutine, in case you are unaware, combines french fries with gravy and cheese curds. Yes, on the surface, it seems like a pretty basic dish, yet so many of us go on and on about how crappy most poutine is. Most often the comparison is with any kind of poutine that’s not sold in Quebec, versus Quebec poutine. Probably the largest issue with poutine is the omission of the cheese curds. Any place that uses shredded cheese isn’t making it properly. Doesn’t mean it isn’t tasty, though.
The second task was to partake in some of the other dishes which are generally not available in Ontario; dishes such as horse meat, unpasteurized cheeses, liquor from the SAQ which one can’t find at the LCBO, etc. On our first night, we came downstairs to find that horse was the special of the day at the hotel restaurant. Though we didn’t take advantage of the $27 plat principaux, we did look for horse elsewhere in Montreal. Interestingly enough, La Queue de Cheval Steak House does not have horse meat (just in case you needed to know this, cheval = horse).
(Of course, after we got back home, we discovered at least two places in Toronto that serve horse meat. Batifole and La Palette.)
We even found a place that did horse poutine (I think it was Frite Alors), along with many of other poutine variants. Some of the restaurants had whole menus dedicated to different kinds of poutine topped with other stuff. One of the best overall places was La Banquise, a 24-hour poutine restaurant, with a couple dozen poutines on the menu.
We never did get any horse meat (I’m not too disappointed), but we did end up trying about six or seven different poutines from around town. We also got a plate of plain frites from Boris Bistro, which were fried in duck fat. Very crispy. Otherwise, tasted the same as regular fries.
All of the poutines that weren’t hidden under piles of bacon, smoked meat, or other additions were variants of the same simple recipe: fries, some kind of gravy, and white cheese curds. So, the quality of these ingredients generally dictated the overall quality of the poutine. After trying a bunch of different kinds, I’m convinced that Harvey’s poutine is a perfectly serviceable replacement for most Montreal poutines. It just doesn’t seem very authentic.

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