A Taste of Montreal: Poutine Week, Vietnamese-Style

Le Red Tiger restaurant in Montreal served Vietnamese-style poutine during Poutine Week

Montreal’s Poutine Week is coming to an end and, this year, I only had the chance to hit up one of the participating restaurants. It was, however, a two-birds-with-one-stone kinda deal, as this was a resto I’d wanted to try for some time.

Firstly, for those who don’t know, poutine is a uniquely Canadian dish and especially revered in Quebec. Classic poutine is simple: French fries topped with cheese curds and slathered in gravy. But, as with pizza, there’re incalculable ways to dress up a poutine.

For example, throw some veggies and/or meats in with the cheese, make it with sweet potato fries, or add Bolognese sauce to the usual ingredients for “Italian” poutine. In a small ma-and-pa diner in rural Quebec, I even had “breakfast poutine” which traded the gravy for hollandaise sauce. It was damagingly delicious.

In essence, Montreal’s annual Poutine Week takes advantage of the dish’s versatility. For seven days, participating restaurants (there were over fifty this year) add an exclusive poutine to their menu. In some cases, as it is for Poutineville, a restaurant which specializes in—you guessed it—poutine, the Poutine Week item is a limited-time variation, while for other spots, spots which don’t normally serve gravy-laden fries, the very availability of poutine is the special.

This was (and still is, for, like, two more days, as of this posting) the case for Le Red Tiger.

Le Red Tiger is just blocks from my place and I walk by it nearly every day. In fact, in the four years I’ve lived in the area, the location has changed names and hands three times. I expect Le Red Tiger to be around awhile, though. Walking by, day after day, glancing in its front window, I noticed the place was always packed. It didn’t look like anything special, to be honest, just a few tables and a long counter, more diner than fine dining, but few seats were ever empty and patrons always seemed to be having a great time. I resolved to check it out as soon as I could.

And then I saw Le Red Tiger on the Poutine Week list of participating  restaurants and that was that: I called and made a reservation for one. I mean, shit, I’d get to try this new resto and try Vietnamese-style poutine in one trip? Sold.

So, Thursday, at 7:20, I left my apartment to make my 7:30 date with myself. I was not disappointed (and even went home with myself).

The place was packed, as expected, and noisy, also as expected. For me, this is often a turn off, but here, the noise level contributed to a casual energy that made itself part of the experience. They seated me at the counter, where I could see the chefs at work. The meals are small, meant to be enjoyed tapas-style, and prepared on grills and griddles, reminiscent of short-order cooking.

I ordered the poutine, of course, and a pair of shrimp spring rolls. Worth noting: the place features a full bar, so I also ordered a negroni.

Throughout the evening, one of the waiters and one of the bartenders stopped by regularly to chat. The waiter explained that I was lucky as I was getting one of the last poutines. The bartender and I had a quick conversation about the best way to prepare and serve a negroni. Given how ludicrously busy they were, it’s a testament to the staff that they’d take a few moments to engage with customers.

Thing is, though, I counted at least a dozen people working there, all of them in their twenties or early thirties. It’s definitely a place that caters to a younger crowd, one looking for a blend of trendy and unusual with simple and unpretentious. The meals are served in tin dishes or, in some cases, clear plastic bags. I checked for goldfish but saw none.

At one point, a bartender walked by with a drink that included a flaming lime.

After a few sips of my own drink, the spring rolls arrived. They were fresh, the veggies crisp, the dipping sauce subtle. Soon after, the poutine was placed before me. They’d mixed regular fries with sweet potato fries, which was a nice touch. As for toppings, the cheese curds were there, but added to the mix were slices of Vietnamese sausage, peas and corn, shredded carrots—y’know,the best way I can think of to describe it is to say that they’d topped it with the innards of a top-shelf banh mi sandwich, all of it doused in a sweet and sour sauce.

It was great. Will it supplant the classic poutine? No, of course not. But it was a creative and delicious take on the dish. East meets West at its best.

My waiter told me that Poutine Week had caused a slight spike in customers, but it had also led to more individuals making a reservation just to drop in, eat their poutine, and leave, meaning others who’d planned to have a full meal had to be turned away. I apologized, given that I decidedly belonged to the first group, but he laughed it off and I promised to come back—a promise I plan to keep, and quite likely repeat.

Find Le Red Tiger at 1201 de Mainsonneuve East, Montreal. Reservations are recommended.