Jane and Michael Stern are my road food heros. Understandably, considering they wrote the book Road Food, as well as many others, including Two for the Road, a book full of hilarious tales from their times on the road that Michael and I read out loud to each other in the fall of 2008 on our own California road trip.
So, when I heard the couple was coming to town for a talk at Benaroya, I convinced Michael we should go; hilarious as they are in writing, I was sure it could only be better in person.
I was right. We spent almost an hour and a half laughing along with crazy anecdotes and learning about how their food and writing experience evolved. The only problem was, not quite an hour and a half was not quite enough. We could tell Jane and Michael had more to say, and there was little time time to answer questions from the audience before they were whisked off the stage. Boo.
Afterwards, Michael (my own Michael) and I were in the mood for food, but I admit our choice was hardly a Road Food kind of destination. The dessert menu at Poppy on Capitol Hill was calling; I'd been longing to try a dessert thali there for a long time, and this was the perfect excuse. On a Tuesday night just after nine, it was easy to find a parking spot and a spot to sit in the bar. The happy hour offerings led us to each pick a fancy schmancy cocktail, but I was really here for the food. The food held up its end of the bargain; it was really there for me, too.
The concept of the dessert thali is a great one: for $15, choose one dessert off the menu and one ice cream. You'll receive your choices on a small platter accompanied by five other mini desserts, perfectly paired for two to share. Mmmm...
The highlight was our main dessert, the "herbed apple deep dish with bay leaf ice cream". Amazing. Underneath a cracklingly crsip pastry crust studded with turbinado sugar crystals were squares of perfectly cooked apple, soft cubes with just enough bite and nary a mushy piece to be found. We twirled the small sccop of bay leaf ice cream over the crust, letting it melt against the hot pastry, making each bite a combination of hot and cool, the faint herby quality of the cold ice cream providing balancing out the sweet, hot apples. Heavenly.
Not that the rest was anything to complain of. Passion fruit gelees were flavorful, semi-sweet and semi-sour, the taste of the fruit shining through. Nutter butter squares combined a creamy peanut butter frosting with a crunchy, nutty bar. Best of all the small bites, though, were the salted chocolate caramel truffles. Nothing more than a thin slice of chocolate dusted with cocoa, these packed big flavor. The chocolate melted elegantly on the tounge, a perfect balance of dark chocolate, deep caramel, and a hint of salt.
It may not be as exciting as getting rear-ended by a truck with a couple dozen jars of homemade barbeque sauce in the back of your Suburban (yes, this happened to ther Sterns, not us), but our night out was still an experience.