Dinner that night in Capitol Hill was at Poppy.
Nope, not that poppy... this Poppy. (We saw the others earlier that afternoon.)
I came across Poppy in my Seattle research on Yelp. I think I was reading reviews of a different restaurant and someone mentioned Poppy being good. I looked at the restaurant website and menu, checked where it was on my Seattle map, and promptly decided that we wouldn't be going there. I hadn't planned on going that far north in Capitol Hill, and I had hoped to try Ethan Stowell's main restaurant, Union, downtown for dinner that night. Then, when I went to OpenTable in late May to check reservations for Union, I couldn't actually find any open tables for the time we'd be in town. I proceeded to the Ethan Stowell family of restaurants website and found a message about Union's closure after a long and successful run... about two weeks before we'd be in Seattle. So no Union for us.
That meant that we needn't walk back downtown for dinner that night; I might as well check our options for dinner in Capitol Hill. Those options included Lark, Anchovies & Olives, Spinasse, and Poppy. Lark came highly recommended, but it didn't really have a reservation system. Anchovies & Olives was one of the Ethan Stowell restaurants that I had looked at, but the menu there didn't appeal to me as much as his Queen Anne outpost, How to Cook a Wolf. Spinasse looked good, but it was never quite high enough on my list to convince me.
Also, by this time, Steve and I had watched season 2 of Top Chef Masters and seen Jerry Traunfeld, chef/owner of Poppy, compete. He didn't get very far in the competition, but the feature was enough to convince me to take another look at the restaurant and its concept. Unlike most traditional restaurants, Poppy takes inspiration from the Indian thali format—a meal composed of several smaller dishes served together and designed to complement one another. It sounded interesting, so we decided to give it a try.
One of the first things I noticed when we arrived at Poppy that Friday night was the decor. Even just having spent one day in Seattle, I could see some trends: lots of exposed brick and big windows everywhere. (Or maybe I sought out those types of places for their photogenicness...) Poppy had both, but the industrial look was contrasted with modern furniture and light fixtures—somewhat Scandinavian in design, but more refined than the typical IKEA stuff. And of course, Poppy was all about the bright colors.
The menu was divided into various thalis—a 10-item one, a 10-item vegetarian version, and several smaller 7-item ones. They also had a more traditional style menu of appetizers, but we had more than enough to eat without ordering starters. We wanted to try as many different things as possible, so we ended up getting the two 10-item thalis. There were a few of the smaller, supporting dishes that were the same on both platters, but a few were different, as were the two larger dishes (the proteins) on each. Steve went for the standard thali, and I got the vegetarian one. We probably could have gotten a 10-item platter and a 7-item one, but the 7-item platters only had one main dish each. And both main events in the larger groupings looked good.
The downside of getting a large platter of little dishes? It's difficult to photograph. I had to take a picture from the front and another from the back to get everything, and the depth of focus made it such that the stuff in the back is hard to see in the pictures.
-See Flickr for the description of which dish is where in each picture-
Steve's thali had a different soup (green garlic), one different salad (turnips with cider and lovage), and two, more traditional, proteins (salmon with herb sauce and lavender duck leg). I had a bite—or sip—of each of these. The green garlic soup was one of my favorite things. The salmon was also nice and perfectly cooked. The duck leg was interesting; the lavender was subtle and in no way soap-like. The turnip salad wasn't particularly memorable, but it was a supporting dish and not a lead one.
Both of our platters had the onion-poppy naan (Indian bread), which was browned and buttery. We also both received the sea bean salad, the fingerling salad, the cauliflower, the black-eyed pea gratin, and the rhubarb pickle. All were good, but the gratin and the sea bean salad (the two on the right in the above photo) were probably the ones I ate most of.
My vegetarian thali had two main dishes that I was excited to try: goat cheese flan and a stinging nettle risotto. The magic words were, of course, "goat cheese" and "risotto." The goat cheese flan (on the back left above) was served with morels. Luckily, Steve and I had conducted an experiment the week before and determined that I'm not allergic to mushrooms after all. I still let Steve have a few of my morels, since he loves them so, but I happily ate the rest with the flan.
The risotto (in the foreground above) had stinging nettles and lovage in it. I'm not really familiar with either of those flavors, aside from seeing stinging nettles on several menus lately, so it was interesting to try. I'm still not sure I have a good idea what they taste like, though. It was a good risotto, but not my favorite ever.
The last components of my thali that differed from Steve's were the beet salad and the asparagus-sage soup. Of those, I preferred the soup. Like Steve's green garlic soup, the asparagus and sage was creamy and flavorful.
Then it was time to look at the dessert menu. We had managed to get through the main part of the meal without allergy conflicts, but we weren't so lucky with dessert. The hot date cake and the chocolate malt ice cream sundae—the two things that appealed to me most—both had nuts in them. And the sweet thali for two had nutter-butter squares. Since the salted caramel truffle was the only other thing that appealed to me in the dessert thali, we just decided to order two normal desserts.
The first was the chamomile creme brulee. I'm kind of over the old creme brulee dessert option, but Steve was curious about the chamomile. Like the lavender in other dishes, the chamomile was just a subtle floral flavor that worked well with the rest. It was good, but I wasn't overly excited about it.
And to go with the goat cheese flan I had earlier, we got the goat cheese pudding for dessert. It was served with grapefruit, mint, and candied grapefruit peel (I think?). The grapefruit was teetering a little close to the edge of too bitter, especially those diced bits that I thought might have been candied peel. The actual grapefruit was pretty intense as well, but the pudding balanced it for the most part with the creaminess and the slight tang from the goat cheese.
At the end of the meal, the check came in a pocket protector. Cool.
Overall, we quite enjoyed our meal at Poppy. Someone on Yelp was complaining about the tiny dishes, because they liked to "tuck into" a good dish. Unlike that person, I tend to get tired of things easily. I'd rather try lots of things and eat less of each, so I loved Poppy's thali strategy. I wasn't over the moon about every single dish, but the quality was high across the board. It's easy to see why Poppy appears on so many lists of best Seattle restaurants.
After dinner, we walked back to our hotel to rest our weary feet.
Total miles walked that day: approximately 7.1