Saturday, November 15, 2008

birthday accomplished

We began our evening with a pilgrimage to Jerry Traunfeld's new restaurant, Poppy. I didn't have reservations, but we were early enough to grab one of the 3 tables in the bar. The bar area actually has quite a bit of seating and they serve full menus there. The rest of the restaurant was booked until 10PM, so I'd say that Jerry is doing well in his post-Herb Farm incarnation. On our way in, we walked past the herb garden Jerry has set up for the restaurant. Four large beds filled with all sorts of herbs, gated to keep people out in off hours and secluded near the back entrance of the restaurant.

The interior is rather roomy. Brick walls remain on the outer shell. Nice wood beams throughout. Jerry took his inspiration for the place from an Indian manner of dining. To match it he has orange and yellow (poppy colored) color scheme. The bar and chairs have a natural wood color to them. The kitchen is rather large and it has a viewing window positioned so that staff can keep an eye on their customers.

We ordered drinks. The co-signer got a Bourbon Sour (and it lived up to the Sour part!). I got "The Elite" which was a cocktail made with Finlandia vodka, St Germain liqueur, Clear Creek Distillery's Framboise (a dry raspberry liqueur unlike the sweet stuff so often found), and a dash of lemon. My drink was perfectly balanced and refreshing, so I had another. ;-)

To start, we ordered some eggplant fries. These really are julienned eggplant strips that are deep fried in oil, then topped with blackberry honey and a touch of salt. And, man oh man are they good. It's a small plate that we split. The honey lightens the flavor of the eggplant and the salt adds another savory layer. The food blogger for the Seattle Times said that these were not to be missed and she was right.

We then moved on to the main meal. Poppy is designed around the Indian concept of Thalis. Basically, you get little samples or small portions of a lot of items. With Jerry managing the menu it's a bit like getting a small version of an Herbfarm meal that doesn't take 4.5 hours to consume (typical time for The Herbfarm), doesn't come with wines, and comes at a fraction of the cost. It's a prix fix experience, however there are options. So, the main set of Thalis costs $32 per plate. There is an option to by one Thali which comes with a few side dishes and that runs $22 per plate. There's also the bar menu to munch from which has things like the eggplant fries, but also offers up tandori chicken with slaw and naan for $12 or spiced berkshire pork ribs with smashed chickpeas for $16. Nothing is cheap, but compared to the Herbfarm, which is charging $150 per person for the 4.5 hour 8 course meal with wines, it's a big savings. Plus, the last time we were at the Herbfarm, with Jerry in charge, I think things were slipping. Jerry's meal was fabulous, but the wine pairings were not nearly as sophisticated. So, we were here for the full Thali experience.

We order the Thali flight of wines to have with the meal. Each glass came with 2 ounces of wine. There were 3 wines: a white Bordeaux, A to Z Pinot Noir from Oregon, and a Malbec from Chile. All were excellent choices that paired well with a variety of foods from the Thalis. We began the meal with the carrot coriander soup. God, is this good, warming stuff for a fall evening. The nice thing about the THali concept is you get just enough to feel you've had a real taste and enjoyed some of it, but there's still room for more. Next up was a salad of persimmon, fresh huckleberries, and shaved fennel. It was divine and I mean amazingly so. The sweet huckleberries were tempered by the fennel which also added some crunch and allowed the persimmon to shine through. This was followed by a spiced beet-yogurt salad (delish and so homey).

The co-signer next had the spice rubbed duck with red cabbage and Pomegranate. Baked in the Tandori oven, the duck had a slightly charred skin, but was moist on the inside. The cabbage was done, but crisp and the co-signer said that the whole thing worked really well (and paired nicely with the Malbec). There were 2 areas on the Thali menu where you could substitute what was being served. I chose to opt out of the duck, but I kept the scallops. In other words, you could make it a vegetarian outing if you wanted to do so. Instead of duck I had chanterelle and borlotti bean gratin. This was covered with fresh toasted and seasoned bread crumbs. The mushrooms were a very nice pairing with the beans and the earthy flavors melded well with the Pinot Noir.

Our next course was butternut squash puree made with ginger and rosemary and topped with a surprisingly spicy toasted coconut. The rosemary is a subtle addition, but once you find it in the dish you really appreciate it in the background. It's one of those sublime dishes that demonstrate how Jerry has mastered the art of cooking with herbs. Next was a dry chutney of roasted cauliflower, apple, dill and celery. Nicely done and tasty, but it didn't jump out at me. Then we got to the B.C. scallops with celery root cider sauce and shallots. The celery root cider sauce added a nice fall feel to this preparation. The shallots were fried crisp. Take a bite of scallop, swirl it in the celery root cider puree, get a shallot on there and munch down for a very satisfying moment, then wash it down with that white Bordeaux. That's good eating! Now, I could have opted out of the scallop and ordered the chestnut, leek, and porcini blintz, but I wanted that small sample of seafood.

Also served with the meal was a small piece of fresh naan, saffron rice, and a chutney made with fennel, lemon, and black mustard seed (sweet and delish).

The wait staff gave us a moment to come up for air (terrific staff, by the way...very relaxed and friendly...everyone wearing jeans and black shirts with aprons). We each took a turn in the bathroom. When I came back (I went first) I said to
the co-signer, "And they've got the coolest hand dryers in the entire world. In fact, paper was not an option. Wave your hands in this thing and it warms them, dries them, and collects the water blown off of them. It's motion controlled, too.

After a few moments of consideration, I settled on a dessert. It's my birthday weekend and I get to choose. One of the options was a pear clafouti made with maple syrup and rosemary. Jerry has that in The Herbfarm Cookbook and I've made it several times. It's a favorite, but sticking to my rule that it needs to be something I can't or won't make at home, I decided against it. So, I got the dark chocolate terrine with roasted pistachios, creme anglaise, toasted sesame seeds, and candied ginger strips. It sounds like a lot (and after all of the Thalis, it is), but the portion is quite small - perfect for 2 after the large meal. I got a 10 year old tawny port to pair with it and they went very well together.

The bill? With drinks and tax the whole thing came to $134 plus change and tip. We ate there for less than half what it would have cost us to eat at The Herbfarm. It's not some place that we would stop into every day, but it was perfect for a special occasion. If I lived in Seattle proper, I wouldn't hesitate going to the bar once in a while and munching on appetizers and exploring their drink list.

After the meal we picked up
the co-signer's car in Bellevue, then drove to Woodinville for the new Bond film. We were there an hour before show time, so it allowed us the opportunity to get a coffee nearby and hang out. The theater was packed before the movie. It was a good film. Not in the top 5 of Bond movies, but I like the new style a lot. The film is a character study. The plot is very vague. Daniel Craig makes a very good Bond. The director and/or the writers do the audience a favor and treat them intelligently. For instance, we learn that a main character saw her house burned down with her inside when she was a child. We later see her having a traumatic reaction to a building that is burning with her in it. No dialogue was necessary to convey that reaction and observant viewers picked up on it. Nor did we need to have explained to us the scars on her back which came from that original house fire. That's good film making and I like to see it rather than having everything pointed out for me. But not to get bogged down in that stuff. It is a Bond film, after all, and it's filled with car, boat, and plane action scenes as well as torture and rape. There's also Judy Dench as M and she's wonderful. Her scenes with Craig are amongst the meatiest in the movie. Definitely worthwhile to see this film on the big screen.

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