Sunday, July 17, 2011


I worked under Chef Jerry Traunfeld when he was at the Herbfarm, so I've been wanting to check out Poppy ever since it opened a couple years ago. When I was at the Herbfarm, it was during Jerry's final years there and I could tell he was suffering burn out. He used to talk about how much he hated the excessive decor of the Herbfarm and he dreamed of the day when he would have is own restaurant with simple minimalist decor. I strolled by Poppy right after it had opened. As soon as I saw the bold 4-color scheme (red, yellow, black, and white), bare walls, and simple tables - I knew this restaurant was everything Jerry had been wanting to do, but wasn't able to as long as he worked for someone else. This revelation is quite exciting, knowing what a phenomenal chef Jerry is. I could only imagine what culinary magic he would create when given complete and total freedom.

The way I understand it, the story goes like this: Jerry Traunfeld worked at the Herbfarm for 17 years and then left to go travel around India for a year or so. When he returned from India, he created Poppy following the inspiration he had gained from India. Naturally, at the Herbfarm, Jerry was all about herbs, herbs, herbs. The food at poppy is a meditation on spices with a foundation of herbs and simple, delicious food.

The method by which food is served is unlike any other fine-dining experience I've had. There are appetizers and then there are thali's. The waiter warned us the thali's take a while, so we ordered some appetizers to start.

Fried Eggplant with Honey (and cardamom?!) and Goat Cheese Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Borage and Nasturtium flowers. The fried eggplant blew Alex and I away. The eggplant flesh melted into silky smooth mush within it's crispy fried outer shell. Despite the fact that everything was fried, that fresh-picked from the garden flavor and texture still came through. Almost as if the frying was merely to add a crunchy outer shell and nothing more.

Next we dove into the thali's. A thali is a selection of several dishes served at once on a large round platter - each dish is only a few bites and contained in it's own little bowl. The long time trend in fine dining has been to serve small plates, one at a time, and in a particular order. Essentially, the fine dining restaurant dictates what you will eat when. However, with a thali, you receive everything all at once and you get to decide how to go about eating it. I feel like the original purpose of Poppy was for Jerry to have a place where he could publicly play with spices. But by serving the main attraction as a thali, he welcomes the public to play and explore spice and flavor as well. Alex and I had a lot of fun eating each dish on the thali in different orders and experiencing the way flavors influence each other. Here are our thali's, apologies for the awful pictures, my camera was not happy about the lighting situation and I'm not one to use flash in public.

Each platter contains 10 small dishes. In the foreground is my platter which had the following:

morel mushroom, english pea, and sage risotto
gothberg goat cheese agnolotti with fresh porcini and favas
carrot and black cardamom soup
cucumber raita with caraway and almond
radish, and grilled spring onion salad
beets with spice bread and mint
zucchini and basil gratin
local roots broccoli with oregano
bing cherry pickle
nigella-poppy naan

Alex's platter is on the opposite side of the table:

quillayute king salmon with pinot noir sauce, sea beans and bacon
tails and trotters pork loin with green sauce and corona beans
chilled fennel yogurt soup
cucumber raita with caraway and almond
radish, and grilled spring onion salad
snap peas with lemon thyme
beets with spice bread and mint
zucchini and basil gratin
mango, strawberry and peppermint pickle
nigella-poppy naan

Each dish was only a few bites, but it was still a LOT of food! Without realizing it, we spent nearly 3 hours trying to finish eating everything and we were on the verge of being painfully full by the end of it. As we were eating, we tried to put the experience into words, and final ended up drawing a graph. Complexity is on the x-axis, and Number of Dimensions is on the y-axis. If you plot each dish on this graph, I believe you would come up with a distribution that has it's mean at a very low level of complexity, but high number of dimensions. Like this:

This is the magic of Jerry Traunfeld. He takes the simplest things, like broccoli, and creates a multi-dimensional masterpiece. Broccoli might be my favorite vegetable, and Jerry coaxed out the very essence of broccoli, while partnering it, and not over powering it, with salty, smokey, spicy flavors that dance around your mouth in concert with freshest most beautiful broccoli flavor and then finishes with a peppery warmth in the back of your mouth. The simplicity of Jerry's food gives it a distinctly not snobby feel. It seems like he just found the best broccoli (or any ingredient), barely cooked it to perfection and sprinkled some spices on it. It's all about the details though, and that is where Jerry's talent is. It's not just Jerry though, it's all the chef's in his kitchen at Poppy that create this incredible food night after night. Mmmmm, Poppy!

P.S. I almost forgot the icing on the cake: at the end of the meal, the check was delivered in a POCKET PROTECTOR!! So hilariously random, I'm speechless.

1 comment:

  1. I'm dying!!! Your plot of dimensions and complexity is genius.