Clam-chowder poutine? Foie gras poutine? This Canadian favorite is everywhere now, and chefs are taking it to new levels.
Poutine seems like the pluperfect beer sponge — squeaky cheese curds and hot gravy spilled over a Jenga pile of crispy fries.
It’s the mess that made Quebec.
But like every dish — and everything else really — we adopt, we tweak and we make it our own. And thus it’s also true with our poutine.
We top it with bacon, foie gras and even seafood. We demand a medley of cheeses, a mayhem of toppings. The rest is just gravy.
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It’s getting its nachos moment on menus citywide.
• Witness bar on Capitol Hill gives it a Southern-fried treatment with pimento cheese and bacon gravy.
• The Swinery in West Seattle tops fries with smoked pork gravy and pulled pork.
• The Angry Beaver in Greenwood runs a poutine special topped with a beef- stroganoff base. There’s also a burger poutine.
• Seattle Fish Company in West Seattle slatters it with clam chowder.
• Ba Bar in the Central District? A pho-gravy variation of course.
• Karaage Setsuna in Belltown does a Hawaiian-Japanese take with a tomato-curry gravy.
• Falafel Salam restaurant won’t open in West Seattle until May, but the chef is already touting his lamb poutine as a Middle Eastern brunch special.
Poutine in ’17 sounds like some campaign slogan, but it sums up the bar scene right now, at least from my experience. About half of the watering holes and happy hours I’ve hit since January featured poutine or its offshoot — from Jude’s Old Town in Rainier Beach (only $4 during happy-hour) to Bar Charlie in Wallingford, which does a twice-baked potato variation.
Its popularity comes partly from its practicality. Most bars already serve fries and thanks to the advent of Beecher’s, they have access to some of the best cheese curds on the West Coast. That’s two of the three primary ingredients right there.
Once, poutine was harder to track down. You had to go to Smith on Capitol Hill; Linda Derschang put it on the menu in June 2007. She wasn’t the first, but hers was the first to be popular, especially with the Capitol Hill crowd who had the late-nite munchies.
Then Josh Henderson made headlines with his Skillet rendition. Lines started forming, and Canadians just about lost it. Those poutine purists thought it was blasphemy that Skillet subbed cheese curds out for cheddar and Parm. I haven’t seen that many Vancouver transplants upset since the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup.
The late Coterie Room in Belltown took it up another notch, elevating poutine to gourmet status — tossing fries with rosemary-infused oil and a pork-demi glacé and throwing in deep-fried battered cheese curds and slow-cooked pork shoulder with herbs and lemon juice.
Now, poutine topped with protein is pretty routine.
The modern poutine doesn’t drown in gravy. It’s drier, so fries stay crispier. Cheddar or other melted cheese is added to create that comforting mac-and-cheese-like gooeyness. And a handful of herbs and scallions are thrown in to add color and cut into the greasiness.
Below are the five best plays on poutine I’ve had in the Seattle area.
Out of all the seafood variations around town, this “Poutine O’ The Sea” ($13) is the best. The secret is in the sauce, a clam chowder that’s really a roux, so thick, it wouldn’t spill if you knocked the chowder pot over. The clam sauce is poured over open-faced Littleneck clams and fries, with bacon bits adding a smokiness to the brine. Use the empty clam shell to scoop up the remaining chowder.
1001 Fairview Ave. N., Seattle (206-588-2680, whiteswanpublichouse.com)
The “Crispy Pig Ears” appetizer ($13) is more a worship to pork than an homage to poutine. It’s a bowl of fried pig ears cut into slivers to look like fries and doused with bacon gravy. It’s an artery-clogger. Chef Nate Crave is an evil, evil man. There’s a modicum of matchstick fries for that familiar starchiness and fresh cheese curds for creaminess. But this is a pig pen. The faux fries have the crunch of pork rinds with a chewy, gelatinous bite for a pronounced oinky flavor. Great with beer or a big red.
2030 Fifth Ave., Seattle (206-448-2001, palacekitchen.com)
Arguably the most talked about poutine now, these beef-fat fries ($8) glistened, each coated in a mushroom gravy made with sherry, thyme and Dijon mustard and melted Gruyere. They’re topped with curds and herbs. The fries are salty and crispy, crispier than other poutines across the city. The new Ballard gastropub can also make a poutine without the beef-fat fries for vegetarians.
1744 N.W. Market St., Seattle (206-706-2977, mariahinesrestaurants.com)
I’m starting to suspect Chef Howie is trying to drum up business for some secret fat farm he has invested in. His last three poutine spinoffs were a spicy seafood chowder, New York cheesesteak fries and a chili-cheese version. Now, back by popular demand, his Wagyu oxtail take ($14).
They’re meaty but, just as important, acidic to cut into the fat drippings. The beef-fat fries are bathed in veal stock, butter, a red-wine gravy, cream, sherry, more butter and the juice from the braised oxtail. Melted Monterey Jack and white cheddar bind the fries and the rich sauce. Red onions, rosemary and chives cling to them as well. It’s already the most gluttonous poutine if you stop right there. But why stop there? Add some strands of succulent oxtail to top it off.
The Bravern, 11111 N.E. Eighth St., Bellevue (425-440-0880, johnhowiesteak.com)
Scott Staples’ decadent “foie gras frites” ($15) dish has been a staple since his Capitol Hill gastropub debuted in 2007. Beef-fat fries are coated in a veal demi-glace and Fontina sauce, but the richness comes from shavings of foie gras and a foie sauce. If you play hooky, you can get this foie gras poutine for only $7.50 during happy hour (3-5 p.m.) when it’s half off.
1001 E. Pike St., Seattle (206-325-7711, quinnspubseattle.com)