Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fall Rumblings #2: Poppy

We're happy to say that we didn't have the Wizard of Oz result and fall asleep due to Poppy - or poppies.  Instead, we had happy and full tummies and were awash in a happy opiate-like stupor after dinner.

I'm sometimes wary of Eastern-inspired restaurants; they tend to be expensive, small-portioned versions of their authentic counterparts with weird fusion ideas that lack the soul and spice that makes ethnic food wonderful.  For example, I'm not a fan of the overpriced Wild Ginger.  Fancy Asian food made upscale by being served on a square plate?  I'd rather go to the local international district, spend $10 bucks and have an amazing meal.

I was surprised and delighted that Jerry Traunfeld's Cap Hill restaurant was not directly Indian inspired but rather was inspired by the "thali" which is a platter served to diners holding a bunch of small dishes that comprise of a main entrée. It reminded me of when you go to a Korean restaurant and get a bunch of small bowls and plates with delicious sides to go with your main dish. Traunfeld is a Top Chef Master alum, James Beard award winner of "Best American Chef: Northwest and Hawaii"  and former exec chef at the Herbfarm so we knew he had pedigree but more importantly, would know how to embrace seasonal and local ingredients.

Apparently we had a bit of a reservation time snafoo and more time means cocktail time!  We started out with unique cocktails; the ladies had a shiso-cucumber-gin cocktail that was refreshing and crisp while the men had tasty, classic Boston sours - frothed egg whites included.  Kudos to the bartender!


How can you choose with all of these options?
Poppy has one of the more ambitious restaurant week menus, offering plenty of choices for our dining group of 6. All of the appetizers sounded wonderful and delicate so we asked our server for some advice.  I had the batada wada, which were round, spiced potato fritters with an aromatic and light dipping sauce.  They were delicious, delicate and echoing of Indian; crisp on the outside, spiced and creamy on the inside with that hint of cumin.  I wanted more than just the three small pieces.  Nick had the blue cheese, cherry and sage tart which was almost too delicate to be a tart and seemed more like a cocktail party appetizer than a first course.  Steve had the poached oysters which he gobbled up quickly while everyone else had the fritters.

The cod thalis
The scallop and pork belly thali
There were so many thali options, we were staring at the bright red menus for a very long time.  We adored the lovely presentation of the thalis when they came - they were on these heavy round platters with an overwhelming abundance of small dishes  some of which were: picked burdock root, either a pumpkin soup or a tomato cinnamon soup, celery walnut salad, a gratin, roasted fingerling potatoes , roasted brussel sprouts,  radicchio and pumpkin seed salad and a small piece of flaky buttery naan for all.  Sara and Angela weren't fans of the radicchio salad or the burdock root but my palate is probably a little more used to pickled things and I thought that burdock root was crisp and delicious.  Nick loved his roasted brussel sprouts.  The pumpkin soup was silky instead of a chunky bisque and was flavorful and delicious - especially when you dunked a piece of naan bread into it.  Onto to main entrée now...

The risotto thali
I had the black cod with beet-wasabi vinaigrette which was visually stunning; white fish against a contrast of bright fuchsia liquid.  It was a feast for the eye as well as the palate; the cod was perfectly cooked so each layer of fish was silky and soft.  It was lightly seasoned and the vinaigrette added subtle flavor - not overwhelming.  Nick had an autumn risotto which was a little too watery and slightly undercooked and under-seasoned for his taste. Steve opted for scallops and pork belly; the scallops had a nice sear and texture.


Again, the menu options were a bit overwhelming. I asked the server for his favorite dessert and my compadres joked that he recited whatever desserts were selling poorly rather than his favorites; he exclaimed that the goat cheese pudding was unusual but was his favorite and that he also loved the licorice chip ice cream which had herbal, anise notes instead of licorice candy.  Most of the dinner party opted for a malted chocolate sundae while Steve had a chocolate terrine and I took the server's suggestion and had the goat cheese pudding.   The sundae was pretty and served in a martini glass but wasn't anything extraordinary. Steve's chocolate terrine however was a knockout; it was small but featured rich layers of chocolate and served with candied ginger to add some spice.  While the presentation of my goat cheese pudding with mint and figs was a little boring (see photo), the flavors were really good. The texture of the pudding was creamy and rich with a hint of honey; the figs and mint added some zest and texture that worked well with the creaminess of the pudding.   It was different and I enjoyed it immensely.

 Poppy surprised me! All of the servers were extremely knowledgeable and the flavors of the food were fresh, seasonal and spiced.  We didn't travel to Oz or the exotic spice markets of India; we had some great autumnal food and wonderful company in our own backyard.

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