Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

Swiss Chalet, Fredericton

November 27, 2009

Full disclosure: This was my first visit to Swiss Chalet.  Not just the Fredericton location, but ever.  It’s nowhere near my house, and my parents are a little bit insane about dining out, so I never got to go when I was growing up.  Case in point: I was 18 before I visited a burger place that wasn’t McDonald’s, and my mother insists to this day that KFC’s chicken is too spicy.  You can’t make that up.

The Contender: Swiss Chalet, 961 Prospect St., Fredericton, New Brunswick

When were you there? November 19th, 8:00pm

How much? I don’t know!  Keep reading for the explanation.

The Experience: So, it turns out 8:00pm on a Thursday is not an optimal time to go to Swiss Chalet.  When we arrived there was a server sitting at a table near the door rolling cutlery into napkins, a sure sign it’s closing time.  The posted hours say they’re open until 10:00, so whatever.

We were seated at a booth next to what turned out to be a very drafty window, and were subjected to way-louder-than-necessary holiday-themed pop music.  (“Is this Justin Timberlake?” “I dunno, I think N*sync had at least one Christmas album, so maybe it’s that.”)  Ugh all around.  The whole place is basically a slightly classed-up fast food restaurant, but I guess that’s what Swiss Chalet is all about.

I was disappointed to note poutine isn’t listed anywhere on the menu, not as a stand-alone dish, nor as a side.  I’d heard Swiss Chalet served it, but saw no direct evidence to support this.  I ordered the much-hyped Festive Special, and enquired whether poutine on the side was an option, and the waitress confirmed it was.  Okay, we’re in business!

The poutine ended up being the best part of my meal.  The fries were fresh-cut style, but definitely weren’t fresh out of the fryer.  The gravy was warm-ish and not over-salted like what you seem to get at many restaurants.  The cheese curds weren’t fresh at all.  They were ice cold and had a slightly sharp taste to them similar to medium cheddar, which says to me they’d been sitting around for quite some time.  Suggestion: maybe if poutine was listed on the menu, they’d sell more of it and wouldn’t wind up serving old cheese.

The Verdict: This definitely isn’t the worst poutine I’ve ever had, but it wasn’t great either.  Deluxe is right across the street, I suggest going there for your uptown Fredericton poutine needs instead.

6 of 10

The Saint John Ale House

October 30, 2009

The Contender: Saint John Ale House, 1 Market Square, Saint John, NB

When were you there? October 25th, around 1:00pm

How much? $4.49 + tax

I lived in Saint John for a little over two years and didn’t eat much poutine in that time, save for what passed for the dish in my college’s cafeteria. This was actually the much-maligned disco fries, but it was usually edible (provided you didn’t look too hard at the gravy as the lunch lady slopped it on) and it was the cheapest thing on the menu that would actually leave me feeling full for several hours as I slogged away in system design purgatory.

More recently I’d been hearing the Saint John Ale House was turning out a pretty good poutine, so I was looking forward to finally checking out what they’re doing.

The Experience: I was surprised to see poutine wasn’t actually listed on the menu, neither under appetizers nor sides where you usually find it. It was, however, listed as one side option among many choices you could get with a wrap or sandwich. Mainly I was curious about the price, but there was none listed, other than to say you could get it instead of standard fries for an additional $3.50.

Our food took a long time to come. I neglected to actually time it, but it felt like a long, long wait despite being out with two friends I hadn’t seen in ages. Later we ordered coffee and dessert, and these were equally slow coming.

When my poutine arrived, I noticed the colour of some of the fries sticking out of the top of the bowl. The tips were very dark brown, almost black, which suggests to me the dish spent some time under a broiler. Probably a little too much time, in fact.

sjahpoutine

The fries were frozen shoestring style, and not fresh cut like I expected. SJAH offers fresh kettle chips, so I figured they did their own fries too, and though I hear they normally use fresh fries for their poutine, that’s not what I was served.

I’m not opposed to frozen fries, but these particular ones were overcooked and bland. That could be their natural state, or it could be because they had been broiled, but they were tasteless and very dry. Note: the broiler shouldn’t be necessary for poutine. If the gravy and fries are both fresh, this will normally provide enough heat to soften the cheese.

I’ve discussed this with others, and the consensus is that the optimum state for cheese curds on poutine is “just starting to melt.” In this case they were totally melted, which is still better than cold cheese with cold gravy, but not what I’d prefer. However, the curds were stretchy, and I’m told this is an indication of a better quality cheese made from milk, as opposed to lower quality varieties, which are made with lots of oil and don’t stretch well when melted.

The gravy was far better than I expected. The vast majority of poutines I’ve reviewed here has led me to conclude it can be difficult to get the gravy right, but this was much, much better than the over-seasoned goo turned out in a lot of kitchens. This was a brown sauce with a unique flavour, owed to several whole pepper corns mixed in. It was a bit difficult to avoid biting into a whole one, but overall the gravy was the best part of this poutine.

The Verdict: The Saint John Ale House poutine isn’t astounding, but still much better than most. They’ve got what is apparently the trickiest part figured out, so they just need to get the fries up to par and skip the broiler, and then it could be very good.

7of10

The Garrison District Ale House II

October 23, 2009

The Contender: Garrison District Ale House, 426 Queen St., Fredericton, New Brunswick

When were you there? October 6th, 6:00pm

How much? $6.99 + tax

The Experience: I caught some flak for my last review of the GDAH’s poutine, in which I gave it 4 out of 10.  Not “flak,” per se, but I did get a series of emails from the owner who wanted me to come in and act as a poutine consultant, trying different recipes and helping them make it better.  I agreed, but he stopped responding to my emails after a while.  In addition, the consensus on Giraffecycle seemed to be that their poutine is actually quite good as-is.

So I gave it another try, thinking perhaps my first poutine was an isolated fail.  This seemed plausible, since I’ve been satisfied (and sometimes very impressed) with every other meal I’ve had there.  Unfortunately, the poutine somehow managed to be worse than the first time.

The fries were warm, but the gravy was tepid at best.  As I munched away, I noticed what I thought was a cheese curd completely coated in the dark brown gravy.  Nope.  Just a wad of cold gravy, gelatinous enough that it could easily be picked up with a fork.  And there were several of them:

Apologies for the photo quality, it's not well-lit in there and my camera phone doesn't do well in the dark.

Apologies for the photo quality, it's not well-lit in there and my camera phone doesn't do well in the dark.

In addition to its unappetizing texture, the gravy was also over-salted.  By a lot.  So much so it made anything it touched close to inedible, and I found myself trying to scrape it off the fries and not-at-all-melted cheese curds as I ate.  Luckily its gelatinous state made this fairly easy to do.

Unrelated to poutine: my dining companions were also unimpressed with their meals during this visit (a pasta dish, and a meal-sized salad, respectively), and I know my friends at Our Word of Mouth also recently had an unsatisfying experience there.

With all that in mind, I’m not sure what’s up with the GDAH right now.  Their cocktails are great, they have an impressive beer selection, and the service is typically excellent, but the food is becoming inconsistent.

The Verdict: This poutine was disappointing, doubly so because this was the second time.  Shame on me, I guess.  I can’t endorse it, and I definitely can’t endorse charging $7 for it.

3of10

William’s Seafood, Fredericton

September 30, 2009

The Contender: William’s Seafood, Exhibition Grounds, Fredericton, New Brunswick

When were you there? Friday, September 18; 8:00pm

How much? $4.25 + taxes

The Experience: William’s is an independent fast food-style restaurant. There’s lots of faux-wood formica, and no glass or stoneware in sight — everything here shows up in styrofoam or cardboard. As the name suggests, they mainly serve seafood, along the lines of [fish of your choice] and chips.

I was genuinely surprised at how busy it was when I visited and there were only a few empty tables of about fifteen. Not that William’s has a negative reputation, but the exhibition grounds are a strange location and not near any other eateries, save for a Tim Horton’s.

The procedure here is that you order and pay at the counter, and if you’re going the “for here” route, they bring the food to your table. I didn’t think to time exactly how long it took from ordering until my food was in front of me, but it defintely seemed longer than you’d normally wait for fast food. I had time to read and refresh Twibble several times, anyway.

williams

When it arrived, the curds were soft and perhaps starting to melt, but not there yet. The poutine might have been better if I’d let it sit and congeal for a few minutes with the lid on, but I was quite hungry so I got to it right away. The sauce was pale chicken gravy with little green bits in it.  My palate is not sophisticated enough to detect what the green bits were.  Parsley?  Summer savoury?  Those are my best guesses.

I couldn’t really tell much about the fries, either.  I believe they were good.  Enough cheesy gravy goo had seeped into the depths to prevent me from eating many fries without it, so it’s difficult to evaluate them on their own.  My fish and chips experience at William’s says they were probably fresh cut but maybe a little limp from being left under a heat lamp.  And you know those really long fries you get at some places, and you look and think, “Wow, that potato must have been HUGE?”  There are none of those here.  Little French fries, made from regular sized potatoes are what you get. Those are fine by me, but a lot of people seem to have a preference for long, skinny, McDonald’s-style fries.

When I was about finished, I noticed the gravy left in the bottom of the container had the consistency of meringue or slightly runny mayonnaise.  I could form it into soft points with my plastic fork and it might bake up nicely as a topping for chicken pot pie or something.  Kind of gross like this, though.

The Verdict: I was disappointed with this overall. I know I’ve had the poutine from William’s at least once before, and I remember it being one of the better ones I’ve had in Fredericton. The lukewarm, gelatinous gravy is what killed it for me this time. It’s not awful, but I’m going to stick with their fish an’ chips from now on, which are pretty great.

6of10

Daryl’s Montréal Poutine Adventure

September 21, 2009

I’ve always been curious what people from outside of North America make of our culture’s penchant for all things greasy and cheesy. Last year Daryl from Singapore visited Montréal where he tried his first poutine at the tiny Patati Patata on St-Laurent. He confesses to usually not liking cheese very much, but here’s his video review.

via The Curious Foodie