Seattle Courant

Poppy: So Delicious, but Don't Make Me Sit in There

Poppy on Broadway and Roy Capitol Hill. Photo by Keith Vance
By Jason McBride
February 22, 2009 03:02PM

When I asked the waitress to explain what shiso – a leaf used in the apple shiso cooler – was, she promptly launched into a dissertation that involved the word “herbaceous.” There was no going back to ask someone in the kitchen. She knew her stuff.

The menu at Poppy is dominated by thalis. A thali, which our waitress said means “tray” in Hindi, is a platter stocked with various dishes in tasting-size servings. Each day, Poppy offers a vegetarian and non-vegetarian option. I chose the latter, the centerpiece of which was the Anderson Ranch Lamb Osso Buco with Orange and Coriander.

Dinner made me feel guilty for letting the music and post-hippy décor get to me. Chef-owner Jerry Traunfeld, formerly of Woodinville’s Herbfarm, was doing right in the kitchen.

Here’s my thali rundown, starting with the better concoctions.

The velvet Nettle Dill Soup equally soothed and confused me. It was blended and green like wheatgrass juice, but warm and earthy like mushrooms. It came in a cup, so I drank it.

The Celery-Root Remoulade with Hazelnut was creamy like coleslaw but didn’t leave behind a watery white pool. Whole nuts and toothsome strands of celery root made this tiny dish seem generous.

The Spot Prawns with Cashews, Cardamon and Clove amazed me on two fronts. First, the springy, rope-like prawns tasted of grilled steak. Second, the curried cashews retained their form but could be pierced by a fork. I was reminded of ancient texts that turn to dust when exposed to air or human touch.

The Braised Red Cabbage with Pomegranate seemed redundant after the remoulade. But the sweet pomegranate seeds were very, very welcome.

In a similar vein, there was the Blood Orange, Taggia Olive and Endive Salad. Salty black olives and crunchy, half collars of bitter endives, sure. But throw in a couple of wedges of blood orange, and you get balance. Sweet and salty. Yes.

I call the lamb osso buco a centerpiece because it’s meat, and it’s probably the biggest, but it wasn’t the most interesting. It was tender and juicy in its brown, braised reduction. Orange accents ribboned a pleasant, mild gaminess. This little lamb seemed more like a carnivorous prerequisite, however, compared to the more innovative dishes on my tray.

Here are the weaker offerings:

I did not care for the Saffron Risotto Fritter. It was cold and mushy by the time I got to it. Such is the occasional fate of fried foods. Also, saffron reminds me of melted plastic.

The Chard-Escarole Gratin was beautifully homey and trashy but overly salted. Chard, with its slightly bitter, rooty flavor, doesn’t need much help. The little salt vessel and spoon at table should have been left to that task.

The Zaatar Naan, baked with a Middle Eastern blend of savory herbs, was airy and light compared to the naan I usually enjoy. Poppy’s naan stood rigid, almost cracker-like, when held at one end. There was no flopping. I like flopping.

I conclude the “less than amazing thali components” with the Carrot Ribbon Pickle, whose barely present, translucent shreds were probably meant as a palate cleanser. Its meager quantity should have arrived as a surprise bonus rather than taking up one of the ten slots on the thali menu.

For dessert, I chose the Honey Semifreddo with Caramelized Pears, Cherries and Pine Nut. No, wait. The waitress chose for me. I had abused my hemming and hawing allowance. The Dark Chocolate Terrine with Ginger, Cumin Cashews and Sesame was fighting for my attention. She said – in a nice way – “Get the semifreddo,” and headed for the kitchen.

The semifreddo turned out to be a less goopy, more disciplined relative of ice cream. It came in a bowl of the promised fruits and non-syrupy fruit sauce. It was one of those warm-apple-pie-and-ice-cream type things: good, but not unusual. The toasted pine nuts on top were surprisingly weightless.

If only Poppy could feel more like an eating establishment. Bistro, café, white tablecloth restaurant, diner, anything besides a Sodo art gallery sharing space with a yoga studio. All that excellent food and service going to waste.