Monday, August 25, 2008

It's Poutine Time

Greetings, oh fans of the potato and all things starchy. It's time to open your mind to new delights of the spud. As a girl from Jersey, you may say I've been inclined to diner out at midnight with some disco fries (french fries with gravy and melted cheese), and maybe that's true! (It is true.) However our neighbors to the north have another way of saying it, and making it, that is near and dear to those who know it, and also appears in a Google search when you type in disco fries (as in, "not to be confused with..."). The name of the dish, seen above, is poutine.

Now I have a habit when traveling of seeking out regional specialties in the most accessible, ie. cheap, places: supermarkets and fast food chains. On my second trip to the lovely city of Montreal, during cold season, I walked underground in that if-you've-been-there-you-know- what-I-mean beneath-the-city mall. So as said, per what I usually do when traveling (never at home ;) I looked into an underground Burger King and noticed they served a potato dish beyond french fries: the poutine! This was very exciting, so I sidled into a line to order a BK poutine, loonies (Canadian $1 coins) in hand, when my elitist Toronto-born boyfriend said “You don’t want to have your first poutine at a Burger King do you?” This was the tone in which he said many things, except this time he kinda made sense. So I skipped it, figuring I'd try poutine another time. Another time never came, and it’s 10 years later.

That is why this Canadian dish-of-affection is always in the back of my mind, and when I was having an e-conversation with a fellow (USC) Trojan from Ottawa, I mentioned the poutine and he wrote back a wonderful overview of it, including where to get it in LA! I asked his permission, then, to feature his story in my blog, and with that I present to you the rest of this post, as written by Planet Marly’s first guest blogger, Theodore.

Theodore's LA Poutine Story

As a Canadian ex-pat living in Los Angeles, every so often I come down with a craving for some Canadian cuisine. Until recently I had been making a bi-monthly pilgrimage to this restaurant in Monrovia called the Canadian Café. Unfortunately, they recently closed shop which I attribute to the fact that they were located somewhat remotely at the intersection of the 210 and 605 freeways and that warmer temperatures in Southern California don't really warrant such high-fat foods such as back bacon sandwiches and poutine.

Having grown up on the border of Ontario and Quebec, however, poutine is something that is dear to my heart and after some extensive internet research I was pleased to discover that there are four other venues in Los Angeles that serve the "delicacy."

Redondo Beach Cafe
1511 S Pacific Coast Hwy
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
(310) 316-1047

3200 W Sunset Blvd
Silver Lake, CA 90026
(323) 906-1018

Soleil Westwood
1386 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 441-5384

Alibi Room
12236 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230
(310) 313-1404

In the course of my research I located a few photos as well (click here), from someone else in LA who is apparently as obsessed with poutine as I am. So far I've only been to the Redondo Beach Cafe. They use real curds, a medium-dark gravy, and thick cut fries. Judging from the pictures, the poutine at Soleil looks to be quite authentic as well, albeit with shoestrings, which is more like something you'd find at a ski lodge in Canada.

The poutine at Dusty's also looks tasty, but it is a little spurious as to whether or not they use real curds. I recall reading a review of sorts indicating that they do, but it's not really possible to tell if the curds had melted in the photo or if they had simply used shredded cheese.

The Alibi Room is more of a bar, so I'm thinking one of these evenings I'll make the trip out there for a beer and a poutine.

My only reservation about the poutine I've had here is that the curds are larger and more uniform in size (like a bunch of scallops), which may or may not be a function of their Wisconsonian origin. I like poutine best when the curd size varies from little bits to large chunks; it makes for a more even distribution of cheese and a more varied mouth feel. (See photo here.)

Signed Guest Blogger,

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Proposal: Abolish Continental Breakfast

Hello. So something about me you may not know... I love breakfast. What you may know is I also love travel. Even tiny travel like visiting a nearby town for a conference gets me excited, like a few weeks ago when I went had the chance to visit Stanford.

When you're traveling and want a bright start to an adventurous day in a new place, what do you do? You get yourself a nice breakfast. If you're in a hotel or at a conference, usually the free breakfast is the ubiquitous Continental. And you always begrudgingly eat it because who wants to pay for breakfast when someone is giving it away for free.
Perhaps that is why Continental Breakfasts suck so bad! Because what company wants to pay for quality when they're giving it away for free. And since giving it away for free is the norm I guess they can't stop now. Yes, we're in a vicious cycle here. And we have to do something about it!

Bed & Breakfasts have "breakfast" in their title so are naturally expected to provide a nice complete breakfast for their guests, which they always seem to do. Their breakfasts are called Full Breakfast and these usually include carb-y homemade yummy stuff like pancakes or French toast stuffed with berries and bananas. You can also order such things at fancy hotels via room service however this will cost you your life savings. To accommodate the frugal, fancy hotels do offer room service Continental Breakfast for maybe $17, or for a little more money you can order what you really want: the American Breakfast. This basically translates to some sort of bread basket (straight from the Continental) plus eggs, and bacon if you're lucky.

What I want to know is, have you as a person, with the exception of airport discussions, ever used the word “continental” in a sentence in this century or the last several decades? You would use this word only if you now lived in the proverbial '50s or were Christopher Walken on Saturday Night Live. The joke of The Continental skit on SNL is how dated Mr. Walken's character is, how dated his hotel is too, and how creepy. True, continental used to suggest a sense of luxury, that the person who was continental in nature was some sort of jet-setter, literally jetting around the continent like a star. Now all it means is crappy free breakfast.

Another thought: I'm assuming "continental" in this context may have referred to “items from around the country” back in the day, when Americans were starting to fly and see the country outside of their home town. People started to get more excited about cooking and trying new things. I imagine Continental Breakfast could have referred to regional specialties, or a variety of regional specialties, served at the breakfast table. Now it is, appallingly, drab tasteless pastries, dry untoasted fake-ish bagels, with packets of cream cheese, butter and jam. If you’re lucky and have a generous host, there may be some non-organic high fructose corn syrup-sweetened yogurts also served. And if you’re really lucky you may get a nice cut fruit plate with melon and berries, which everyone loves, though come on who eats that and stays full until lunch?

For another extra fee a host can add on a lox platter to go with the fake-ish untoasted bagels. This helps. Sorta. Same as adding butter to stale movie popcorn and suspending disbelief.

And for another extra fee the host can add on the buffet-style hot stuff,
which on the agenda or menu changes the name of the meal to simply "breakfast." I'm talking about the add-on of scrambled eggs, home fries, bacon and sausage. This would be the free breakfast of choice to most people, who perhaps wouldn't even mind paying a little extra for the hot stuff. But hey, about that, have you ever noticed that these items ALWAYS are served THE SAME WAY everywhere ACROSS AMERICA. Nothing is unique when a hotel or conference center offers these items. THEY SAY WE LIVE IN THE LAND OF THE FREE, BUT WE LIVE IN A LAND OF COPY-CAT BREAKFAST BLANDNESS. There is no uniqueness to breakfast in too many places charged with serving it. CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST IS NO LONGER AN ACCEPTABLE OPTION, it is BAD and it is the worst thing about traveling. That is, UNLESS YOU ARE TRAVELING OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

* * intermission * *

Let's talk about the free breakfasts provided at hotels in Europe. Let’s especially talk about breakfast in Denmark. My free breakfast in Copenhagen, at the lovely and charming Admiral Hotel, was one of the most satisfying hotel breakfasts ever. Sure, there were no hot stations of scrambled eggs or a chef-manned omelette or waffle station. But I ask you, who cares! In its place were tables full of hearty breads and crackers, organic European yogurts with fun flavors like "forest berry," hard-boiled eggs, smoked ham along with country paté, rows upon rows of fresh Danish cheeses (some beautifully fresh and white as snow, most of which you have never seen on these shores), and Danish pastry. Yes, Danish pastry! The most incredible pastry in the world (and never to be confused with what we here in the U.S. call Danish pastry). All this magic was included in my free hotel breakfast.

In other European hotels I've been happy to experience fresh baquettes, cheeses and meats, and as always a fine selection of European yogurt, and it's good, very good! It's not crap. (Note: one brand of fantastic Swiss yogurt is sold is several high end food stores in the US, and in LA! It's called Emmi, pictured above. I especially recommend the pink grapefruit and the apricot. You can find it at Surfas in Culver City and Bristol Farms).

So America, please hear my plea. If you're going to serve free breakfast, can it please not suck? Can it please be good? Turn to Europe for inspiration, or anywhere else. At least serve some decent yogurt. Now you know where to buy it too, so there's no excuse.

Until we eat again,