Friday, 16 April 2010

La Banquise ~ Montreal, QC

Road Trip! Where to? Montreal!!!

But it was just a short trip, spur of the moment for the day. There were some errands to run so it wasn’t all fun, but I personally was excited for the food. I wanted to have one of three things while I was there: chicken wings, smoked meat or poutine. Montreal is known for its ‘Montreal Smoked Meat’, its bagels and its poutine. I’m not crazy for bagels, but I could go for authentic fries or brisket. And I’ve never had wings there so it would be interesting to see what they had to offer. With only a few minutes of foodie research, we were off on a sunny day and on our way to Quebec.

I’ve only been to Montreal once before, over a year ago and I got to go to the famous Schwartz’s Deli. How I regret not doing a photo review because the place was crazy and the food was good. But we decided to try something different. So smoked meat - out. That left wings and poutine. What better choice for lunch than poutine?

In my split second internet research one place kept coming up for poutine: La Banquise. A 24 hour eatery that serves more than 20 different types of poutine. That sounded like the place to be. The big problem was getting there.

Montreal is a beautiful city with old world charm. There are tons of restaurants, shopping and sights to see. But driving in Montreal was a little crazy. Not only do you have to deal with driving in an unfamiliar major city, with tons of one way streets that don’t follow a grid pattern and crazy cyclists and pedestrians, but everything is in French. Oh and street lights are short and on the edge of the roads instead of hanging over the middle of intersections. And normally I review the hell out of maps and figure out where to go, how to get there, where to park etc before I go somewhere. But this time I didn’t have a chance.

So I relied on a GPS which had us in circles and giving us turning info that was incorrect. On top of that, there is NO parking in Montreal. Side streets are all reserved, there are no lots, and the 5 parking spaces on the street were full, causing us to circle (and by circle I mean follow a convoluted set of side streets and one ways) the block for nearly 45 minutes. And if I knew Montreal better, we might have gone to another eatery, but parking would have been the same issue.

So finally parking and sitting down was a great relief. Next problem. Despite taking French for 7 years, I can’t really speak it – I mean I can kind of get by, but I wouldn’t put it on a resume. So when the waitress/hostess said many undistinguishable words and made the motion for 2, we nodded and smiled and she sat us at a table. Clearly she recognized our Anglaphone-ness, because we had English menus in front of us.

Looking around, the atmosphere was bright, slightly funky and busy! It was after 3 and the place was packed with young people eating huge piles of poutine. Giant plates with towering orders of poutine. Poutine, for those that may not know, is French fries and cheese curds covered in gravy. I made Hot Wing Poutine a while back, remember?

There were over 20 types on the menu. Some of the more interesting types include the T-Rex (poutine with ground beef, peppers, bacon and smoked meat), the B.O.M. (poutine with bacon, onions and merguez sausage) or Italian (poutine with Italian meat sauce). There were things like hamburgers and hot dogs on the menu, but nobody was ordering that. It was all poutine.

We chose a simple poutine with bacon, and the Kamikazi, merguez sausage, hot peppers and Tobasco sauce). The poutines come in two sizes, small (which range $6-$9 and what we got), and the monster large ($10-$14).


This was close to classic poutine with the wonderful addition of bacon. But let’s deal with the negatives for the poutines up front. First, the regular is still a big serving with generous toppings of curds, gravy and bacon, but they serve it on such a small plate that fries curds and bacon are guaranteed to fall onto the table.

Second, the fries. They use almost shoestring fries that are extremely limp. Don’t get me wrong, I like those fries normally, but they don’t hold up to the gravy. Also, several were not cooked and still hard inside. Not all, but a number were hard and floppy at the same time and really detracted from the whole dish.

That being said, they are fresh cut and the cooked ones are good. The gravy was much milder than I expected, but still warm and tasty. The cheese curds were definitely fresh and very squeaky. And came in big chunks.

The bacon was great. Smokey, slightly crisp but soft. It blended well with the Earthy flavours of the dish.

Finding two poutines that LJ and I both liked on their menu to share was difficult, but we could both agree on the Kamikaze. Regular poutine kicked up with hot peppers, sausage and Tobasco sounded damn good.

The fries on this bad boy were not under-cooked fortunately. The pepper rings were tasty and really added a zing to a dish that is usually very savoury and mute. I mean there was nothing special about the rings, but that tart bite punched up the dish. I didn’t really taste the Tabasco sauce, but they did bring it on the side.

The other part of the dish was the merguez sausage. Supposedly a spicy sausage from North Africa with lots of spices and usually a mixture of beef and lamb, the ones in this dish were very very mild. While I couldn’t quite place the flavour at the time, I am pretty sure they are either lamb or beef/lamb mixture. Interesting, but not heat spicy at all.

Plate after giant plate was being ordered the whole time we were there so this place is definitely popular with the locals. And it was good hearty fare. But I have to say it wasn’t the best poutine I ever had. The fries were really shocking, being limp and some under cooked. The gravy was good, as were the curds and the other toppings. The service was very friendly, forgivenly in English for us tourists. And the portions were very decent for the price. Would I go back? If I lived in the city, probably, but since I only go very rarely, I would experiment with other poutine places.

Resto La Banquise
994 Rue Rachel East

PS: For supper we were going to go to a pub that had a chicken wing so hot you have to do their Grim Reaper challenge. Unfortunetely, after over 45 minutes of circling for parking, the place was so packed for the hockey game there were no tables. Next time, next time. Montreal is a great place that I love to explore, but it really needs more parking.


Chris said...

Guess what! I found a local dairy that sells cheese curds! It's about 25 miles away and I'm going there next week. I'm finally going to get poutine! (They showed them on the news deep frying some curds in a light batter, yum!)

Anonymous said...

Next time, do like montrealers, leave the car at the hotel and take the métro!

Teena in Toronto said...

I'll be Montreal for three days next month.

Lord of the Wings said...

Chris - awesome. Remember, fresh squeeky cheese curds, crispy fries, and a light gravy. Deep fried curds sound pretty good too!

Anon - if I had a hotel and time to learn the metro, I should have. Driving in any city is always limiting.

Teena - Have fun! I wish I had more time to go food hoping and history sight seeing