Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Poppy

622 Broadway Ave E
206-324-1108

Despite the waitress's adamant insistence to the contrary, Poppy serves INDIAN FOOD. It looks like Indian food. It smells like Indian food. Which isn't a bad thing because Indian food rules. Part of the fun is in the retarded names like "saag paneer," "galub jamun," or "rogan josh" (the latter is the funniest because it could ALMOST be a dude's name if the order of the words were reversed, like the way a guy named Josh Rogan's name would be printed on driver's license).

In fact it's almost too bad that Indian food is so good because the rest of that subcontinent sucks, and I've seen some pretty shitty subcontinents: it's disease ridden, it's poor, they actually enjoy eating rats, they DON'T enjoy eating cows, and they suck extra because the British ruled their asses for 182 years. Plus Indian chicks don't know how to fuck. It's such a letdown, and all because of the fucking Kama Sutra. You go into it thinking “All right! I heard they make the school kids MEMORIZE the Kama Sutra over there! Kama Sutra! Kama Sutra! The Kama Sutra is India's Constitution!” Well I've got news for you: it's nothing but a scam. Please tell me what page of the Kama Sutra they tell women how to retch, gag, and complain loudly when going down on a guy. I bet that move is called “the Spitting Cobra.”

But anyway: Poppy. The format is unusual. All the appetizers are $5 each. You pick a couple, then from there you're stuck because there's only one main course, a large platter of smaller plates called a thali. There's a vegetarian thali option, and a thali with a smaller number of items on it (cleverly called a “smalli.”). And the price is fixed: a thali is $32. A smalli is $22. But other than that you can't choose the dishes that come with a thali, so if you're not an adventurous eater, and if your idea of an exotic spice is black pepper, then you should probably fuck off in advance.

We started with the shoestring eggplant with honey and salt, and the curry leaf vadas. The tender eggplant slices were coated in a crispy flaky batter. These were pretty good but there didn't seem to be ANY honey on it, which is as blatant a case of false advertising as is India's claim to be some sort of endless erotic paradise garden. The best way to describe the curry leaf vadas is to call them donuts made of falafel. They were spiced with curry and cilantro and came with a dill yogurt dipping sauce. Very tasty, even though the vadas didn't need cilantro, otherwise known as THE WORLD'S MOST PLAYED OUT HERB.

After the appetizers came the thalis: a large platter upon which is a constellation of small plates. And by “small plates,” I mean REALLY SMALL: the largest plate we got was an oblong one about 4” long; the smallest was a soup bowl the size of a shot glass. I think we're at the logical conclusion of the “small plates” trend, unless some scientist comes up with microscopic plates made up of carbon atoms only a few angstroms in diameter, upon which is served a single meat or vegetable cell. They'll call this style of service “nano plates.” You'll carve the chicken to be served on a nano plate with an electron microscope, and one drumstick will be capable of serving over 2 million customers. If the restaurant charges only $1 per nano plate, the profit margins could be immense! Unfortunately for you losers the nano plate idea is mine. Patent pending, bitches.

Yet despite my scorn of small plates, the food served on these tiny plates was generally pretty good. A romano bean (which I personally couldn't distinguish from a regular old green bean), hazlenut, and fennel pollen salad featured crisply blanched beans, crunchy toasted hazlenuts, and absolutely no fennel flavor whatsoever. It's possible they forgot to add the pollen to my salad, or maybe pollen doesn't actually contribute that much flavor. Either way I must call bullshit on the current vogue of name- checking the most exotic possible ingredients, especially if they don't taste like anything. Why not blanch the beans in tritium? Or salt them with some of the salt inside a mummy that the Egyptians used to preserve the dead pharaoh's organs? At least then you'd have a good story to tell, about how you braved a mummy's curse to flavor the customer's meal.

One thing that didn't need any extra mummy salt was the carrot salad. It was a bowl a carrots shaved into long ribbons, scented with clove, and heavily HEAVILY salted. It was a shame, really, because without so much salt this could have been a GREAT dish. Clove and carrot together really tastes like Thanksgiving to me, and it could have been a cute culinary tip of the hat to the coming holiday season, but they blew it because I couldn't finish it because it was TOO GODDAMNED SALTY.

Poppy's poor showing on the carrot salad was redeemed, however, by the meat dishes. The pork belly was magnificently succulent, and nestled opulently in a bed of sauteed cabbage. The belly was tender throughout, crisp on the outside, and perfectly seasoned. Seared albacore slices served with peppers and fennel were equally well- executed. Unlike the romano bean salad, this time you could actually taste the fennel, and in my book being able to taste ingredients is a plus, unless the ingredient in question is excessive salt, like in the fucking carrots.

The melon pickles were tart and sweet, but again were polluted with too much cilantro. However, the melon gaspacho (which came in the shot glass- sized bowl) was FUCKING DELICIOUS! It's a pity there wasn't more of it, because it was sweet and creamy, and as an added bonus had a couple ripe, bright red cherry tomatoes swimming in it. A small bowl of garbanzo beans in yogurt sauce was okay, but like an afterthought: smooth, creamy, and over all inoffensive.

Roast fingerling potatoes were fancifully dusted in an herb called ajwain, which I'd never heard of. When asked about this mystery spice, the waitress was nice enough to bring out a bowl of it for us to smell and taste in the raw. It's a little like thyme and a lot like black caraway seeds, but it has a fresh woody flavor. I can't quite put my finger on it but ajwain smells like what it would smell like if you put a sprig of mint through a pencil sharpener and then smelled the pencil sharpener. Needless to say, this strange herb made plain roast potatoes much more interesting.

A mound of steamed rice in the center of the platter rounded things out. The rice was light, fluffy, and just sticky enough. The rice bowl was topped with a perfect plank of naan which was crusty, sooty (in the good way), studded with caraway seeds, and chewy inside.

After all of these mini plates it was time for dessert. Like the appetizers, all of the desserts cost $5. I was surprisingly full by this point, so we went with the plum tart. It was fine. The pastry was flaky but maybe a little too crisp. And the plum flavor didn't really catch my attention, but by this point I hardly cared because I was really fucking stuffed.

One thing you'll notice when dining at Poppy is that the portions are deceptive: it doesn't seem like you're getting very much, but it really is a lot of food. Some of the dishes suck but the place did, after all, open YESTERDAY. Overall I'd call their unique idea a(qualified) success. The food is good. The prices are reasonable. The service is really friendly, and they do in fact take reservations. Still, I'd wait a while before going there for them to work out all the bugs. If there's a take home message to all this it's that Poppy, unlike all of those Indian women who allegedly know all there is to know about the Kama Sutra, never fails to satisfy.

Rating: 7 Dalits out of 10

Poppy on Urbanspoon

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fennel pollen and fennel have two different tastes. Also, many of the items on the dish are Indian inspired, but not Indian. I don't think croquettes, dumplings, many of the appetizers, and any of the desserts are Indian. They also don't serve Saag Paneer, or anything like it. I would say that the spices are similar and that they have naan as well. And I think you missed the point of the thali. You're supposed to have small dishes.

Surly Gourmand said...

Fair call on the fennel pollen. I've never actually tasted it, so I just assumed it would taste at least a little like fennel. So now I STILL don't actually know what fennel pollen tastes like because I wasn't watching for it.

As for Poppy's continued denial about serving Indian food, let me rebutt you thusly (and ha, ha! I said "Rebutt."):

1. You admit that the spices Poppy commonly utilizes are similar to those used in Indian cuisine. Well, I would argue that the traditional set of spices are what define a cuisine, along with preparation methods and manner of presentation. After all, a slow cooked Indian chicken curry, with onions, peppers, and potatoes is different from a similar dish served in Provence only in the spices used. Whereas the Indian cook would use curry, probably some tumeric, and cumin, the French chef would use a satchel of herbs de Provence. Otherwise, the two dishes are virtually identical.

2. The manner of presentation defines the dish. For example, Pizza is a common manner of presentation. Even if the pizza in question is so far removed from actual neopolitan pizza, with bullshit toppings like peanuts or barbequed chicken or broccoli, it's still at least superficially Italian in origin. Poppy serves thalis, which are definitely Indian in origin. Ergo, Poppy is an Indian restaurant.

Plus I had a vested interest in my thesis that Poppy serves Indian food: I really wanted to shoehorn the Kama Sutra in there somewhere. Journalistic integrity be damned. When I'm getting paid for this, THEN I'll be Bob fucking Woodward.

Sincerely,

Your Friend the Surly Motherfucking Gourmand

Anonymous said...

I'm pissed you got there before me, but glad to hear it was worth trying. And I am very happy to have reservations to do so.
If there is anything about the food similar to Vij's in Vancouver, I will be thrilled!

Anonymous said...

Your mom never fails to satisfy.

Surly Gourmand said...

You're right! My mom never fails to satisfy. That's because she is a giver.

Anonymous said...

Great diction! You most be the lonliest mo-fo on the planet you dweeb!

Surly Gourmand said...

Yeah. I "most" be.

m said...

um yep
fennel pollen = full frontal umami
yeah
definate

Surly Gourmand said...

I didn't realize fennel pollen was so popular. Now I'm going to have to snort a gram of it off a stripper's ass, just to get the taste.

Michael Natkin said...

I've got a jar of fennel pollen in front of me. It has a very strong fennel aroma and flavor. It isn't too different from fennel seed, but like the essence thereunto. I love it and would marry it if I weren't already married. Oh wait, you do the jokes around here.

Surly Gourmand said...

Michael Natkin,

I'm guessing that the advantage of fennel pollen over fennel seed is that you get the fennel flavor without having all of the seeds in there. Am I off base on this? Because otherwise if you just wanted fennel flavor, just use the seeds.

Great joke, by the way. I usually follow up on a "marrying inanimate objects" joke by adding that I hope someday Canada or Massachussets will legalize "human- whatever inanimate object we're discussing" marriages. See my entry about Hunt Club for more info.

Sincerely,

Your Friend the Surly Motherfucking Gourmand

Surly Gourmand said...

Michael Natkin,

one more thing: your Fremont lunch review is EXHAUSTIVE. Damn, dude! What a thorough fucking report. Kudos.

Sincerely,

Your Friend the Surly Motherfucking Gourmand

Michael Natkin said...

Re the fennel pollen - yeah, that's true, it def. gives you a different texture than the seeds, but the flavor & especially aroma are also intensified (though still in the same family). A little rubbed between your fingers and sprinkled over say polenta is awesome.

Re the Fremont lunch reviews, thanks! I just added this one about Costa Opa, which you'll probably appreciate :)

How did you find the service at Spring Hill? I loved the food but felt they kind of rushed us.

Surly Gourmand said...

Michael Natkin,

I've had generally good service at Spring Hill. The bemulleted waitress we had the first time I went was pretty quick, pretty nice. The burly tattooed rugby player- looking dude we had on a subsequent visit was very knowledgeable about the food and offered good recommendations.

But the asian chick who greets you at the door seems sketch, I bet she has a crystal meth lab in the trunk of her car.

Sincerely,

Your Friend the Surly Motherfucking Gourmand

Naomi said...

7 dalits out of 10? Fucking hilarious.

Hey, next time you get drunk on your bell pepper margarita how about going off on a racist rant about a black person's barbeque joint. Only to their face. I dont think your thin veneer of urban sophistication will be as much help then

Surly Gourmand said...

Naomi,

I've never tried a bell pepper margarita. Personally I prefer to stick to classic cocktails like the Manhattan or the Sazerac, and leave the exotic mixes of alcohol and crap that doesn't belong in alcohol (like chocolate or bell peppers) to the sorority girls.

You seem to be implying that I'm racist. That's simply not true, considering that I've made fun of PLENTY of WHITE people: the French (Cremant), the Italians (Neopolitan Pizza), the British (Olivar), the Spanish (also Olivar), the people of Minnesota (Zayda Buddy's), and of course your mom.

I find it funny that you ALSO imply that if I went to a BBQ restaurant owned by an African- American proprietor and began a racist rant, that something bad would happen to me. What do you THINK would happen? Would he pull his "gat" and "pop a cap" in my "cracker ass?"

Answer: no. What would ACTUALLY happen would be that the owner would ask me to leave then call the police. If I'M the racist, how come YOU are implying that black people are lawless hooligans who take the law into their own hands?

Since you're obviously under the impression that black people are somehow less civilized than other members of our society, let me clue you in to something which may shock and astonish you: the President of the United States is black. And I not only voted for him, I caucused for him.

I'm not racist; I hate all you motherfuckers in the entire universe equally. Including those aliens who anally probe people and then didn't call me the next day.

Sincerely,

Your Friend the Surly Motherfucking Gourmand