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Poppy

October 2, 2011 2 comments

[From Poppy’s website]

Wednesday night was the start of the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Normally, even the most minimally observant of Jews would go to synagogue for Rosh Hashanah. I suppose I qualify as minimally observant. But over a decade ago, we began a variant tradition. We had already begun to celebrate assorted Jewish holidays with our friends Cynthia, Andy, and their family. One year, we were having Rosh Hashanah dinner at their house, welcoming the new year, when it became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to both finish dinner and get to evening services. We went with finishing dinner. So began the tradition of eating dinner in lieu of services, then attending services the next morning.

We don’t adhere to this tradition every year, sometimes because travel intervenes. Last year, for instance, Rosh Hashanah came early (as part of the continuing back-and-forth drift between the lunar-based Jewish calendar and the solar-based calendar of our daily lives), so early that we were still on vacation in Nantucket. Gail and I attended the Rosh Hashanah evening services of Congregation Shirat Ha Yam, held in Nantucket’s historic Unitarian church, then grabbed a couple of slices of pizza for holiday dinner at Steamboat Pizza.

Which brings us to this year. The powers that be decided we would return to the tradition of building our Rosh Hashanah evening celebration around dinner. And rather than a traditional Jewish holiday dinner, we would open with ceremonial challah, apples, and honey at our house, then head to a restaurant.

So it was that we headed up to Poppy, where Gail had eaten before, but not the rest of us. What’s Poppy? According to its website,

jerry traunfeld’s capitol hill restaurant brings a new style of dining to the northwest. jerry’s inspiration comes from the “thali,” a platter served to each guest holding a variety of small dishes. poppy’s menu borrows the idea of the thali to present jerry’s own style of northwest cooking, highlighting seasonal ingredients, fresh herbs, and spices. it’s a modern northwest tasting menu served all at once.

Traunfeld is one of the northwest’s most famous chefs, thanks largely to his years at The Herbfarm. A visit to Poppy was long overdue.

I understood from studying the menu ahead of time that one chooses either a 7-item or 10-item thali. What I didn’t understand was how large each item was and whether diners were encouraged to share with others at the table or focus on their own thalis. Our server explained that we should each just choose our own thali. As for portion size, the 7-item thali has one primary dish, the 10-item two, and these are modest sized entrees, the other items serving as smaller complements.

The menu keeps changing. What you see online differs from what we had, though the current listing is close. There is also a selection under the heading to start. Each of us chose a starter from the list below:

spice crispies

eggplant fries with sea salt & honey

spiced fig, onion, blue cheese and sage tart

batata wada (potato fritters) with cilantro lime sauce

heirloom tomato, herb, feta and olive salad

little lobster roll fines herbes

lightly fried mussels with lovage

poached oysters with sorrel sauce and bacon

*half-shell kumomoto oysters with anise hyssop ice

lavender duck, radicchio, blackberry and hazelnut salad

washington farmstead cheeses with rye-thyme crackers

three spreads with naan

grilled monterey bay squid with arugula, walnut, peppers and orange

Namely, the eggplant fries, spiced fig tart, potato fritters, and lobster roll. We then shared a bit. I chose the potato fritters, anticipating that they might be like samosa, which they were, though much smaller, little balls. They were perfect. I had two of the four. And I had lots of eggplant fries, which were astonishingly good.

As for thalis, here are the current online choices.

10-item thali

king salmon with chanterelles, bacon and lemon-thyme sorrel sauce
grilled waygu beef with tomato, capers and fingerlings
red-pepper apricot soup
watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon basil and almond salad
radish, purslane and grilled spring onion salad
local roots carrots with fresh fennel seed
golden beets with spice bread and mint
corn basil spoonbread
peach, blueberry and anise hyssop pickle
nigella-poppy naan

10-item vegetarian thali
cauliflower agnolotti with lobster mushrooms
quinoa cakes with goat cheese, squash blossoms, fillet beans and tomato
tomato, sage and strawberry soup
watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon basil and almond salad
radish, purslane and grilled spring onion salad
golden beets with spice bread and mint
corn and basil spoonbread
sprouting broccoli with oregano
plum-shiso pickle
nigella-poppy naan

7-item thalis

king salmon with chantarelles, bacon and lemon-thyme sorrel sauce
tomato, sage and strawberry soup
watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon basil and almond salad
local roots carrots with fresh fennel seed
corn and basil spoonbread
plum-shiso pickle
nigella-poppy naan

tandoori poussin with fresh figs and huckleberries
tomato, sage and strawberry soup
radish, purslane and grilled spring onion salad
golden beets with spice bread and mint
corn and basil spoonbread
plum-shiso pickle
nigella-poppy naan

grilled wagyu beef with tomato, capers and fingerlings
red-pepper apricot soup
watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon basil and almond salad
sprouting broccoli with oregano
golden beets with spice bread and mint
peach, blueberry and anise hyssop pickle
nigella-poppy naan

The first two items in the 10-item thalis are the main dishes, the first one in the 7-item the lone main dish. Wednesday, the actual main dishes in the 10-item non-vegetarian thali were the salmon, as listed, and the poussin, shown above as a 7-item main dish. I wanted to try the beef, and wanted some of the 10-item accompaniments, so I was stuck until the server said we could swap the beef salmon or poussin. That made it easy. I had the 10-item. Gail had the 7-item with beef. Andy and Cynthia chose 7-items with salmon.

It turns out that a 10-item thali is a lot of food. I should have copied Gail and chosen the 7-item beef thali. I somehow missed that the beef doesn’t come alone. As you see on the menu, it has its own accompaniments, the tomato, capers, and fingerlings. It is a min-meal by itself. Similarly with the salmon.

When the server brought our thalis, she explained that we should rotate among the dishes, using the pickle item as a palate cleanser. As listed above, I had peach, blueberry and anise hyssop pickle as my cleanser, but I only occasionally followed instructions. I did rotate. I only occasionally went to the pickle as an intermediary.

So many delicious items. The soup. The corn and basil spoon bread. The beets, and I don’t even like beets. The carrots. The naan. Everything was so good. I can’t wait to return.

And then there’s the garden, which is just outside the back door, between the building and a parking lot. Below is one image of it. See the website for more.

If I had gotten this post written more quickly (but, you know, it was Rosh Hashanah, and also I had a new book to read), you might be thinking, let’s see, Wednesday night, Wednesday night … wasn’t that the night when all those amazing baseball games were played, the night that will go down in history? You mean to say you were sitting in a restaurant instead of watching them all?

Yes, that’s right. The only consolation is that if we weren’t out to dinner, I would have been at services. Then again, we might instead have been eating dinner at one of our homes, in which case we surely would have switched over to watching the games in time for their dramatic ends.

Andy and I did get to check the scores on our phones. We did have some idea of the flow of the games. But we didn’t realize that Papelbon had two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth, or that Dan Johnson hit his game-tying home run in Tampa with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the ninth. We didn’t really understand the extraordinary events unfolding while we were eating our thalis.

Fortunately, a half hour or so after we got home, I got on the treadmill and turned on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight just as they started a recap of the four crucial games. At least I got summaries and understood what we had missed. And it was my holiday. One must have priorities.

But Andy, I’m sorry. You sacrificed too much. There’s no way to make it up. Thank you for choosing Rosh Hashanah dinner over baseball.

Categories: Baseball, Restaurants

Black Diamond

October 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I wrote in mid-September about my discovery of the Bruno crime novels, written by Martin Walker. Marilyn Stasio reviewed the latest one in her Sunday NYT roundup of mysteries that appeared four weeks ago. We were at the start of our New York/Nantucket trip that weekend. When I finished Tripwire (part of my program of remedial reading of old Jack Reacher thrillers) on Nantucket a few days later, tempted as I was to read the third and newest Bruno novel, I turned instead to the first one, Bruno, Chief of Police. This is, of course, one of the benefits of e-books. All I had to do was look up the title, and a minute later I was reading it.

Bruno is not just chief, he is the entire police force in the small village of St. Denis. St. Denis lies in the Dordogne region, home of cave paintings, wines, truffles, and so much else that makes France France. He is also a man with a past, a veteran of the UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. And he’s good company, both for the townsfolk and us readers.

No sooner did I finish Bruno, Chief of Police than I started in on The Dark Vineyard, the second of the series. I finished it two Wednesdays ago and was eager to start in on the latest one, Black Diamond, the one Stasio had reviewed a month ago. But I restrained myself, both because I had other things that needed doing and because the newest Jack Reacher thriller, The Affair, would be available the following Tuesday. Maybe it would make more sense to take a break from Bruno and read that first.

Which I did. As I reported here and here, I couldn’t put it down, finishing it last night. At which point I wasted no time downloading Black Diamond. After a night’s sleep, I started in on it this morning.

Black diamonds, it turns out, are truffles. Bruno has a keen interest in them, not only as a consumer, but also as a grower, and after just a couple of chapters of the new book, as an investigator of the local truffle market. I won’t say more about the plot. I don’t want to spoil anything.

The transition from Bruno to Reacher and back is not a smooth one. They do share many traits, most notably their mysterious pasts, their sharp intelligence, and the tendency of others to underestimate them. But Reacher is always drifting on, while Bruno has settled into life in St. Denis and become a part of the community. He takes time for some of the basics, like conversations with neighbors, cooking the most extraordinary meals, long lunches with wine. Not that there’s anything wrong with Reacher’s preference for diners and basic food. I just wouldn’t describe Reacher as good company. I’d be honored to know him. But I don’t see us hanging out much. Bruno — maybe we’d hang a bit.

Categories: Books

The Affair, II

October 2, 2011 Leave a comment

I agonized Tuesday night about whether to start Lee Child’s latest Jack Reacher thriller, The Affair. I knew that once I did start, I wouldn’t want to stop. But I had far too many other things to do and couldn’t afford to let Reacher consume my life.

Well, I sort of handled it, for a while. I did start the book, reading just a little Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and a little more Thursday night, getting me about 1/5th through. I looked forward to reading a larger chunk Friday, but when I finally did turn to it, I fell asleep after a few pages, what with rising early and having a long day. It was just a nap. After awaking, I read another fifth.

That brought me to yesterday, a day in principle of chores, social events, and possibly blog writing. And more of the same today. I was calculating that I’d read maybe additional fifths each day and finish tomorrow night.

Reacher had other ideas. Like some of the book’s characters, I found him grabbing me by the throat and not letting go. I read some in the morning, went on some errands with Gail, read a lot more in the afternoon, and then we had to go out for a previously arranged dinner and museum event. I considered asking Gail if she thought I could bring the book to dinner, but I knew the answer.

Fortunately, Reacher relaxed his grip just long enough for our outing. On our return, I didn’t give him a chance to do any further damage. I dutifully read the book to its conclusion.

What a puzzle! I can’t figure out how Lee Child is so good at drawing the reader in. There’s the suspense, of course. There’s also something about getting to listen in on Reacher’s thought processes, watching as he struggles to make sense of the data and as he takes in clues you would surely have missed. How he developed unsurpassed skill in both logic and brawl continues to be a mystery, even in this 16th edition of the series, in which we learn at last about the end of Reacher’s military career and the start of the path we have followed him on for years since.

At least I have my life back. But I won’t complain when Jack grabs me again.

Categories: Books