As fall settles in on San Francisco, it brings changes at the farmers' market, restaurant menus, and the type of weather-related bitching done by city residents. With each successive fall, one food item seems to be rearing its greasy head on more and more menus: poutine. Every year, this Quebecois pub snack gains traction as additional restaurants slot it on to their menu, and each year someone writes about a few of them, but it's usually only a short list of three to five places and ends up resembling more a rapper's name check than an informative breakdown. This doesn't cut it for me. Having traveled to Montreal on many occasions to watch the Canadian Formula 1 races and then to Quebec, I have indulged in many late night poutine-eating sessions in bars, and even a sad afternoon stop at a poutine-serving Burger King, so uncovering only a few of San Francisco's poutine stops would be criminal. Instead, I found eleven. Yeah, "Vladamir Poutine," president of Poutinestan, would approve.
But what is poutine? For the uninitiated, it is the eastern Canadian equivalent of chili cheese fries, In-N-Out animal style fries, Buffalo wings, or Bullitt's Tot-chos. Simply, it is a pile of thin to medium cut French fries which are crispy enough to withstand a ladle-full of brown gravy on which a generous serving of crumbled cheese curds are dropped, melting slightly from the heat of the fries and gravy. It is the 2 a.m. greasy, bar food for which you would kill your best friend. It is the salty and satisfying snack that tastes like ambrosia as you shove it down your gullet while drunk in a bar that smells like it has sticky floors as Rush's greatest hits plays. It is the regret that punches the inside of your stomach and wakes you the following afternoon.
So with a moderate amount of ado, I present the poutine breakdown. Note: these aren't ranked by authenticity, but on their overall enjoyment from flavor and preparation, such as the crispiness of the fries and how they hold up to the gravy, how thin or thick the gravy is, and how melty or firm the curds are. Ultimately, it's up to you to choose which one you like the best, but choose wisely.
11. Jamber Wine Pub: $9The weakest of the bunch: the fries, while nice and crisp, were so salty that a majority of them were inedible. Inspecting one of the fries made it clear that each was decorated with an incredible amount of salt crystals, glistening like morning dew on a leaf. The last time I ate something this salty that wasn't an actual salt lick was the tripe dish from Locanda. The "cream gravy," as described by the menu, was too thin and watery, contacting very few of the fries, with a flavor that was non-existent ... or perhaps it did exist, but the salt made it impossible to taste. Lastly, the barely present melted curds ended up being more "stiff" than gooey.
10. The Beach Chalet: $9Available during dinner or brunch, The Beach Chalet's poutine uses a thin, broth-like onion and beef gravy that ends up sitting at the bottom of the bowl in which it's served, getting soaked up by the giant pieces of roasted potato which are soft, but not crisp, as promised by the menu description. The mozzarella curds are melted nicely and generous, distributed throughout, but like other mozzarella-curded poutine, contribute little to the overall flavor of the dish. A sparse amount of braised beef sits atop the curds, like a sad patch of hair on a balding man's head, where they act more like a meat garnish than anything else.