In the Chef’s Garden

So incredibly lucky to get a private tour by Seattle chef Jerry Traunfeld of his herb garden behind restaurant Poppy. There are some generous quantities of whole herbs, lots of it overflowing the garden walls, all of it camouflaging the ordinary views of a gas station and a public parking lot.

Inside is the amazing potential of herb-infused cuisine. At the top of the menu are the words “Today’s Thalis” which the millenials at my table instantly translated from their cell phones: “an Indian/Bengali/Nepalese meal made up of a selection of various foods…a round platter.” What a novel idea.

People come to taste things, he told me. “We’re not going to put a handful of green beans on the plate. Or summer sweet corn. People can do that at home.” No, this is a place where some culinary firepower is on parade.

So….first came a trio of wild mushrooms—chanterelle, lobster, and cauliflower—on leek toasts. The pick of the season. Then the lavender duck leg with plum fennel seed sauce on grilled escarole surrounded by a ring of tiny bowls: cucumber and lemon basil pickle; cherry tomato melon salad; black-eyes peas with corn and savory (I’m making that for Thanksgiving); creamy beet soup with duqqa (an Egyptian spice blend, thanks again to my millennial dinner companions and their cell phones).

And then…and then, the nigella-poppy naan, an original, never saw this in any Indian restaurant back in Chicago. A crusty flatbread puffed up with large pockets of air, then sprinkled with nigella poppy seeds, a spice used as a condiment in India and the Middle East on flatbreads.

If I reviewed restaurants, my closing one-liner would be this: Every so often, an unassuming restaurant achieves cult status for serving food so good folks travel miles upon miles to get their hands on it.

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