Bistrot Du Coin – Washington, DC

Bistrot Du Coin
1738 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC
(202) 234-6969

During short, non-leisure trips I’m often forced to put my interest in eating out and trying new things on the backburner due to various reasons, including unfortunate hinderances such as lack of free time and fussy travel companions. But there are those occasions when my interests do find a fortuitous match and I meet like-minded folks who know a good meal when they see one, and are willing to seek them out. A well travelled businessman, who was born-and-raised in the DC area introduced me to Bistrot Du Coin, which turned out to be the gastronomic highlight of my trip.

The sweltering heat of the DC summer did put a bit of a damper on my dinner experience as the inside was absolutely packed and the air circulation was minimal at best. We were seated on the upper floor overlooking the main dining area below, which perhaps made the stuffiness seem that much worse. With the boisterous crowd and plentiful tables full of wonderful smelling food, it felt part American overindulgance and part French bistro casualness.  I was so insanely hungry after another long day that I was willing to put up with the discomfort as long as the food was satisfying, and thankfully it was.

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Pommes Frites – New York City, NY

Pommes Frites
123 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003-8319
(212) 674-1234

I’ve discussed my never ending obsession with French Fries many times before, so i’ll endeavor to keep this short. In my experiences with  Belgian Fries from Vancouver, and and Duck Fat from Maine, i’ve developed a pretty clear understanding of what im looking for in a french fry. Crisp outside, fluffy inside, flavourful, and a bit meatier than thin fries. On reputation alone, Pommes Frites in New York is often mentioned as one of the best.

I used to wander by this tiny storefront in the East Village all the time. It’s square on my walking path from Ippudo, to Katz’s Deli and Russ and Daughters. With Caracas around the corner, there wasn’t a hope that i’d ever have the room left in my stomach to try it. Then i heard it was really good, so i figured before Arepas, after Pastrami, Akamaru Modern, and some Lox, i’d share some fries with a friend.

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Georgio’s Cafe & Pizzeria – Burnaby, BC

Georgio’s Cafe & Pizzeria
5236 Rumble Street
Burnaby, BC
(604) 568-6061

Situated practically across the street from Burnaby South Secondary School means a couple of things for places to eat in the area, of which there are a handful.  The lunch hour can be a mad hectic time for non-students to try and get in for a bite to eat.  As well, the eateries seem to make the wise decision of having special menu items which are priced and portioned accordingly for this hungry younger market.  Thankfully, they aren’t limited to the kids and us adults can indulge in these quick, cheap eats too.  One of these places is called Georgio’s Cafe & Pizzeria.

Despite the rather convoluted smattering of text and listing of offerings in their windows that seem rather mundane, a quick glance at the makeshift sign was what drew me in.  “Filipino style BBQ”?  What’s that I thought.  Sitting inside was a pair of teenage girls apparently killing time on a break between classes perhaps.  A man was behind the counter and I could hear some others in the back kitchen.  As I was scanning the photo-included menu board, I quickly spotted the pork and chicken skewered barbecue items, thus answering my call to action.

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Chicken Delight – Burnaby, BC

Chicken Delight
7624 6th Street
Burnaby, BC
(604) 521-2121

Another completely random, TOFTT kind of outing.  As I dug up the Urban Spoon reference for the address to be included in this posting, I was amused to see that someone had beaten me to this place – er, make that rather bewildered that somebody had actually decided on their own to have a meal here before my impromptu visit.  Surprise, surprise, it was none other than the adventurous author of I’m Only Here for the Food!

Chicken Delight only stood out as I drove by looking for a quick daytime bite to eat because of its gaudy, outdated colorful signage.  You know the kind, complete with windows plastered over in uncoordinated posters trumpeting various deals, combos and specials you can get inside.  A funny thing though, after I stepped inside (and became the only customer) I learned that one of the items on their posters wasn’t even available.  False advertising at its finest.  Its you can’t order it, take it down please.

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The Hot Dog Corner (Crossroads Market) – Calgary, AB

The Hot Dog Corner
c/o Crossroads Market
1235 26 Avenue Southeast
Calgary, AB

Potato slices.
Fried crisp and golden, salted
Tantalizing taste

Potato chips. The under appreciated younger sibling of the french fry. Thinly sliced, crisp, lightly salted, with a satisfying crunch. Surprisingly enough, they are not all that difficult to make at home. A good oil thermometer and a mandolin pretty much do the trick. Yet, unlike the french fry, they are difficult to find fresh. My favorite in Calgary may have been L’Epicerie, though sadly, Dominique no longer makes them. I was ecstatic to find out that they do serve them at the Hot Dog Corner in the Crossroads Market.

Right in the middle of the food court in Crossroads market, I’ve never seen much of a lineup at The Hot Dog Corner. Loaded with odds and ends, they definitely try to offer a lot of different things that might be missing at other vendors. However, they do serve fresh chips. Fresh being a relative term. To be honest, they are pretty hit and miss – depending on how long ago they were fried. They sit under heat lamps after frying. A few hours doesnt seem to affect the outcome too badly. When they’ve been sitting out all day, or as i’ve suspected in the past when they are pre-boxed, maybe multiple days, they really suffer. However, when they are good, they are quite good. A little inconsistent on the seasoning, but crunchy, not too oily, crisp bites of potato goodness.

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New Brighton Pool Concession – Vancouver, BC

New Brighton Pool
North Windermere Street
Vancouver, BC
Tel: (604) 298-0222


(This is a bit of a “drive-by” post, but I think it is worthy.) We are now in the midst of our summer here in Vancouver, and to me, that means it is time for some fries at the public pool.

The concession stand here at New Brighton Pool in East Vancouver serves my favourite concession fries in the Lower Mainland. Crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside with just a tinge of delectable greasiness. Most concession stands at Vancouver parks serve up atrocious fries – very greasy and tasting of old, unfiltered fryer oil. Not here….it tastes fresh every time.

Adding to that gastronomic experience is the view that is quintessential East Van – the industrial port in the near distance, bounded by train tracks and the Horse Stables at the Track by the PNE to the south. Summer in the city.

Where is your favourite concession chip stand?

Smoke’s Poutinerie – Toronto, ON

Smoke’s Poutinerie
218 Adelaide St. W
Toronto, ON
(416) 599-CURD (2873)

Ah poutine… a traditional comfort food right up there with pizza or Mac & Cheese. Now I know what many of you are thinking: a specialty restaurant for a side dish of fries with cheese and gravy on top? Why? Bear with me on this one…

Most people have had poutine at a school cafeteria or local greasy spoon and not really given it a second thought (aside from dealing with the heartburn afterwards). Or perhaps like myself, at some all-night diner after a night of bacchanalian activities — just to round out the bodily abuse. But don’t let the fact that cafeterias and diners across Canada simply put some shredded mozzarella cheese and generic gravy on fries convince you that there’s nothing more to know about poutine.

Having grown up in western Canada, I have to admit that I’m hardly an expert on the finer points of this Québécois-native comfort food. In fact, I don’t think I had even tried it until I was in university. However, having made a number of road trips to Mont Tremblant and Montréal over the years ever since moving to Toronto, I’ve definitely put away some fine plates of poutine. And while I wouldn’t say I’m a full-fledged poutine aficionado, I can definitely differentiate an authentic plate from the standard diner fare.

Unfortunately, outside of the province of Quebec, it seems hard to find restaurants with the same sense of tradition and dedication to the dish. So I was pretty excited to hear about the grand opening of Smoke’s Poutinerie here in Toronto, and their plan to import real cheddar cheese curds from Quebec for their poutine. Not surprisingly of course, their first choice of location was in the heart of the club district.

Smoke's Location

Located directly above Burrito Boyz (another fine comfort food establishment) on Adelaide, it’s a fairly unassuming location. The interior could be mistaken for any fast food chain aside from the chalkboard for the post-club crowd to add their wisdom and insight to (“I love you Stephen Harper” was the word from the street when I went) and Smoke’s distinctive logo/face plastered on the walls in a kind of punk-rock caricature way. It was also not-so-subtly guerrilla-branded around town in preparation for the grand opening.

Smoke's Brand Image

It’s a pretty small place designed for people who want grab a quick bite on the go. Bar stools line the windowed areas, and a few small tables in the remaining space. I’d say the location seats about 40 people max, but I’d imagine that most customers take their poutine to eat on the go.

But let’s get to the heart of the matter — the poutine. Now Smoke’s has a number of interesting takes on the dish: Bacon Poutine, Curry Chicken Poutine, Nacho Grande Poutine. However, I felt that for my first visit, the traditional style would be the best way to judge the quality and authenticity of Smoke’s.

The Poutine

So there it is in all it’s greaseful glory. For $5.95, you get a serving which should be hefty enough to soak up the last couple of drinks you shouldn’t have had, or to satisfy the munchies. I wouldn’t plan on needing anything else to eat afterwards, so it’s definitely good value for those on a budget (and eating healthy is secondary).

The verdict? The cheese curds were perfect — fresh, squeaky when you bite into them, mild flavored (unlike the orange cheddar which is used on many poutines around Toronto) so that they combine well with the gravy. The fries were also superb — made in house fresh daily using Yukon Gold potatoes and double blanched in sunflower oil. The size of the fries was just right for me. Slightly larger than McDonalds’ fries so that they can hold up to the gravy, but not so large that you end up with a bland potato center.

The one downside was the gravy. While it was good, it seemed to be lacking in flavor slightly and tended to disappear in the dish. I’ve discussed this with others and we can’t quite put our finger on what exactly it’s missing. Seasoning? Or perhaps it hadn’t been reduced enough (like it didn’t have enough time to stew)? Regardless, it didn’t seem to measure up to some of the other poutine gravies I’ve had. My wife also said that it had a bit too much cinnamon flavor for her.

Nitpicking aside, I can say that it’s the best poutine I’ve had outside of Quebec. I’m not sure how big a compliment that is given that I really haven’t found many restaurants around Toronto (or otherwise) in which it’s more than a sidenote. However, it certainly fares well even among the ones I’ve had in Quebec.

So if you have a craving for the real deal, want to find out what all the fuss is about, or are just looking for the comfort of three types of grease in one meal, Smoke’s should live up to expectations.

Smoke's Poutinerie on Urbanspoon

Moderne Burger – Vancouver, BC

Preface: I am not familiar with the previous editions of this business. Nor have I ever eaten at this establishment before their latest setback/closure. This visit was conducted approximately two months after their re-opening in late-June 2008.

It appears that Moderne Burger‘s traditional popularity with Vancouverites has not abated at all, as seen by the plethora of people visible inside as well as in lineups stretching outside their front entrance on West Broadway. A as a first timer to this place, it sure seemed to me that this is a tribute to the loyalty of their fans, forgiving nature and hungry desire to have their favorite burger joint back up and running after what I understand has been a long period of downtime. I wanted to figure out for myself if I’d enjoy the product offering as much as these diehards, and this review is based on a recent takeout order that I had.

The place was packed aside from two empty stools around 1pm. Approaching the cashier, placing my order was easy enough, although the young woman still seemed a little lost with the cash machine and at one point was obviously scanning around for some experienced help. I guess it has been about two months since the re-opening, but it did seem like they were still working out a few things, including staff training and customer attention. I did find it interesting while waiting for my order and observing the scene, that eat-in diners had to go to the same till after their meals and pay – no bills were brought to tables by their servers.

The simple decor was pretty much as I expected, though with more subdued colors (teals, grays, silver) and tones than what I am used to seeing in similar ’50s style diners in the States. The assortment of period trinkets and pieces such as some model cars, telephones, etc. in the showcases that made up the counter space near the cash register were eye-catching, as was the ever-present jukebox. There was no music playing however, which made the atmosphere less joyous, again perhaps just a stereotype image in my head of what these places are usually like. Customers sitting down in the booths or along the counter bars didn’t seem greatly affected as it looked like everyone was having a good time, engrossed in conversations – all in all, it seemed that people found it a good place to have conversation as well as the food. After about a twenty-minute wait, my order was good to go, and I took it home and opened my package.

Knowing that the drive time might have a detrimental effect on my burger and fries, I did my best to open up the bag and shoot these images as soon as possible (about ten minutes after I left Moderne Burger). The top bun was remarkably not soggy, which was my biggest fear as I unwrapped it from the foil wrapper and plated it. The fries (handcut, skin on) held up very well too, even more surprising since they weren’t overcooked or overly crispy to begin with. Actually, it was a tremendous volume of French fries, well salted and nice and soft inside, and apparently fried in a canola/oil oil blend. My order was the Moderne Steak (100% beef) burger – juicy and just the right thickness for me so as not to feel the patty was too skimpy, nor too overwhelming to bite through. Moderne Burger says on their menu that they are handmade fresh daily, and this was clear to me as it was not that hard and overly dry consistency you find in frozen and/or pre-made product. Moderne Burger also takes pride in not using any fillers and preservatives in their patties, and I was pleased, as you can definitely taste the difference. Some might say it lacks seasoning, which is probably a valid point, but for me it didn’t bother me as I was getting more than enough salt from the chips.

Other than the beef patty, they offered up choices such as turkey, salmon fillet and vegetarian. Standard toppings were lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mayo and a special BBQ sauce. Where is the rest, you ask? Well, that’s where Moderne Burger is weak, well in the eyes of those more fiscally responsible burger lovers, as extras like cheese (cheddar, Swiss), bacon, grilled onions, and mushrooms all came with a $1.25/each price tag. They even had a dipping sauce, but I am not sure how that works with a burger. I did end up choosing some cheddar, bacon and mushrooms just to ensure I had a more complete representation, though seeing the bill, it did make me think this was getting kind of expensive for “just a hamburger”, or just seemed like it was since you are building up from a “base” and working upwards. $10.95 for the burger/fries combo plus the extras, and tax – you add it up.

overcooked and messy Vera's doubleburger

overcooked and messy Vera's doubleburger

Overall, I’d say I much prefer Moderne Burger’s patty compared to say Vera’s Burger Shack, which is just too crumbly, brittle and overdone/burnt on every occasion that I’ve had it – despite all that “works” toppings that they try to cover it up with, which also just makes the total combination a drippy, wet mess.

Those critical of Moderne Burger’s offering will no doubt raise points such as the reduced salt/pepper/seasoning in the patty, and the price tag that rises with the extras. For something that is standard fare in my mind, a hamburger, I guess you can go either way. If you want to get your fast food variety, a more pricey option, one that’s more subtly flavored or over the top – its really up to you to decide. As I don’t have burgers very often, I think I’ll make my choice Moderne Burger as it suits my tastes the best (so far in my Vancouver burger prowling).

Moderne Burger
2507 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC
Tel: 604-739-0005
Hours: Tue to Sun, 12pm to 7:45pm

Moderne Burger on Urbanspoon