Saturday, May 2, 2009


I have a new favorite restaurant.

Finally, having anticipated a visit since, quite literally, months before the place opened, I made it to Poppy. Now, those who have been to my house in the past year or so may notice that I seem to have a bit of a fascination with the brilliant red blooms, so perhaps it is only to be expected that Poppy, the restaurant, would be, as Anne of Green Gables would put it, a "kindred spirit".

Now, Poppy has gotten its fair share of mixed, or even downright hostile, reviews. Most of these reviews, I noticed, seemed to have been written during the first few months of its inception. Any new restaurant needs time to get its groove going, but in the case of Poppy, the expectations were pressure-cooker tense. Jerry Traunfeld, former executive chef of the Herbfarm, where dinner costs a cool $200 per person and is a four hour event, was finally going to open his own restaurant. And it is not the Herbfarm. Really, did you expect a $32 dinner ever could be?

Avid restaurant review reader that I am, I'd heard it all: the decor was cheap, service was bad, food was mediocre, concept didn't work. But everyone I knew who'd actually been to the place raved about it. When Michael and I finally made on Thursday (conveniently, and unexpectedly, timed to coincide with the Dine Out for Life AIDS fundraiser), Lewissa joined us, having been once before and loved it, and was so excited she could not stop dancing in her seat.

And now that I've been, I can't wait to go back. The concept is simple, but unique (at least for Seattle): order a thali, a platter of ten individual dishes inspired by the Indian tradition, for $32. The menu is set and changes at least weekly, following seasonal ingredients, which is where you really see the Herbfarm influence. For many couple, splitting one thali makes a perfectly filling meal when joined with an appetizer and dessert or two. Also on offer are "smallies": thalis with only seven dishes, ranging in price from $20 to $24. For many, one smallie would make a good meal, but it's hard to resist the full option.

And really, where can you get such variety with such quality ingredients for $32? It's like an entire tasting menu, but all served at once. Tasting menus, however, tend to cost upward of $50 per person, so to me this was a deal. Others may disagree, but that's the beauty of being able to make up your own mind, don't you think?

So on to the actual food: it was delicious, fun, inventive, and unlike anything I've had anywhere else. Michael was a little skeptical at first after reading the menu, but soon he could be heard saying, "I wish I had a big bowl of the rhubarb pickle so I could just eat and eat it." The eggplant fries appetizer was also a hit - so light and crisp, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with sea salt, that no one seems to be able to resist them, even those who profess an intense dislike of eggplant. Other highlights included an incredibly tender halibut in herb sauce, risotto with nettle and lovage that was as green as spinach from the spring herbs, a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth leek and green garlic fritter, and a salad of cress, pea shoots, and radishes. As Michael commented at the end of the meal, we felt so satisfied, yet still as though we'd eaten a pretty healthful meal.

Sadly, we were all too full for any desserts, which I hear are fabulous. And even more good news for those who would like to experience Poppy without spending what is, for most of us, still a significant outlay of cash: they have a happy hour! Two, to be precise. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, the early happy hour lasts from 5 to 7 in the bar, and includes $5 five item thalis, of both the savory and dessert kind, as well as drink specials. Then, in the evening, happy hour resumes at 9 in the bar, this time with $6 naan-wiches and more drink specials on offer. Seriously? How can you beat that? I'm sure you'll find me at the bar during one of these times before too long.

And, by the way, I love the decor. And our servers were great. No complaints here. Anyone want to join me for a thali?

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