Jan. 10 2014 06:30 PM

Change is often good, but sometimes it's just unnecessary

spoon photo
The chorizo-and-clam paella
Photo by Mina Riazi

    Poutine is one of Canada's cheesiest exports—second only to Justin Bieber. Hot gravy gets ladled over thick-cut fries and cheese curds, softening the fries and melting the cheese. Classic poutine relies on these three basic ingredients, but the dish's recent surge in popularity has birthed an ever-growing gang of imposters. You might come across a poutine wannabe while ordering a plateful of pork-belly sliders from your favorite food truck. Or maybe you'll spy a phony as you're leaving your neighborhood gastropub. Caramelized onions and grilled peppers and ribbons of beef are all suddenly part of the "poutine" picture, too—among a slew of other ingredients. 

    Although far from the Quebec original, the poutine served at 100 Wines (1027 University Ave. in Hillcrest) is delicious. Duck confit and salty cubes of pancetta meet on a heap of matchstick fries, and a nutty Parmesan reduction replaces the gooey clump of cheese curds. Then, the distance between the 100 Wines appetizer and the three-piece classic grows even more—thanks to a dusting of fresh herbs. But, really, it doesn't matter whether there's green in your poutine—the 100 Wines spin-off is so delightful that you won't care. Thin and crisp, the matchstick fries surprisingly complement the meaty toppings. The dish can do without the pancetta's pungent saltiness, but the duck is tender and flavorful.

    A member of the Cohn Restaurant Group, 100 Wines struggles to find footing in other areas. With its dim lighting, bare bulbs and Mason-jar cocktail glasses, the place channels a sleek-but-crafty vibe. It's an aesthetic that swirls together the low-key with the upscale, and it seems to be trending in the restaurant world right now. 

    The 100 Wines ambience might be packed with personality, but, at times, the menu falls short. The paella, though good, lacks the layers of texture that the dish usually flaunts: There's no sign of socarrat, or toasted, bottom-of-the-pan rice, and crisped Arborio could have saved my paella from its uniform, nearly rice-pudding-like consistency. Even more confusing is the paella's one-line menu description, which begins with the words "saffron risotto." Although they're both often prepared with Arborio rice, paella and risotto are distinctively different, so I don't understand why their identities are being fused as if they're one and the same. 

    On the other hand, a cast of harmonizing ingredients forms the fig-and-bacon pizza. Sweet dried figs offset the salty bacon, and oven-roasted tomatoes—an unexpected player—cut the richness with their acidity. A mild smoked gouda forms the base, and altogether it's a sturdy choice for pizza. 

    The salads—specifically the kale Caesar and autumn panzanella—are both toothsome options. Croutons are swapped out for a single Parmesan crostino in the Caesar while kale stands in for romaine. It's like Caesar salad grew up and got a mortgage. 100 Wines' take on the Tuscan panzanellais equally delectable. 

    There's no question about it—100 Wines likes remixing classics. In the case of the poutine and the salads, it works. The paella-risotto hybrid, though, needs some rethinking. 

    Write to minar@sdcitybeat.com 


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