Last night, we went to a “friends and family” trial run dinner run at Poppy. The place is the new home for acclaimed chef Jerry Traunfeld, who decided to strike out on his own after 17 years at the The Herbfarm restaurant. I’ve known Jerry for about a decade, going back to my days of reviewing restaurants for Sidewalk.com (In a disclosure moment, I should note that he gave me a glowing review or “blurb” on my book.)
So, it was a bit of a weird moment when we realized that he was behind the mysterious new restaurant taking shape on north Broadway here on Capitol Hill – about 150 feet from our house. We can almost see the back door of the place from our house.
Poppy is nestled into a funky, older building on Broadway that once housed one of Seattle’s oldest gay bars, the Elite Tavern, the Vietnamese restaurant Da Lat and a small convenience store. Since mid-February, Mike and I have watched the progress as the Poppy team transformed the place. They took it all down to the studs, knocked out all the walls to create one main room, exposed the brick walls and changed out all the windows.
The final result is cool, elegant urban, with sleek Danish-style blond wood furniture, golden-mustard colored walls to warmly contrast to the red bricks and a high, exposed wood beam ceiling. They’ve selected nice details, from the sort of industrial pendant lights to the aluminum chopsticks on the table. The kitchen is a semi-open affair, sort of a big box in one corner, where a strip of windows provides an aquarium style view inside.
The menu at Poppy is inspired by a trip Jerry took to India. He was intrigued by the culinary tradition there that uses a “thali,” a platter served to each guest holding a variety of small dishes. Jerry’s take on this is a combination of Indian-inspired dishes with a Northwest twist, continuing his trademark, the creative use of fresh herbs and spices that he honed at The Herbfarm. (He even has an herb garden behind the restaurant.)
We started with three appetizers. Our server described the curry leaf vadas as small savory doughnuts with a yogurt-based dipping sauce. “You had me at doughnut,” I told her. Though first, they were among my favorites of the night, reminding me of a hush puppy studded with turmeric and other pungent spices. We rounded it out with shoestring eggplant with salt and honey, a nicely balanced dish of salty sweetness, and tender, perfectly cooked pan-fried mussels with lovage.
Then, came the thali, a tray with 10 separate elements. Arguably the best dish was the sublime melon, tomato and mint soup, a soft meld of flavors. But honestly, everything was terrific, from the small scoop of spiced chickpea salad had a bit of a kick to the inspired watermelon lime pickle. We talked, drank wine, tore at our nigella flatbread and sopped up the extras sauce from the basil chicken with chanterelles with the softly savory haiga rice. Personally, I like set menus. I’m always the last to order, and often find myself with entrée envy. With the thali, the conversation about the food is open and communal, as everyone has the same thing.
We rounded the meal out with fabulous handmade banana mace ice cream along with a peach anise-hyssop shortcake served with a generous dollap of herb-scented cream.
Our neighbors have been speculating on just how high-end Poppy’s price list will go. The full meal thali cost $32. Starters were $5 to $7 each, desserts are about the same. Yes, you can go across the street and have an entrée at the Deluxe from $9 to $14. But Poppy isn’t competing with that. There are plenty of cheap eats around here. What Mike has always said is that what Broadway needs is a mall manager, someone to manage the mix. There’s a shift on Broadway, welcome or not, in part from the new Brix Development on the corner. What Poppy is trying to create isn’t just a simple meal out but an experience, with the dinner as a destination in itself.
I do worry about one thing, though. We really dug Poppy’s bar. And it’s literally stumbling distance. Note: Poppy is accepting reservations for September 20th and beyond. If you park on the street, please don’t block my driveway.