It’s been almost five years since our original Thai Tom showdown, where Lauren and I methodically ran through a subjective set of face-offs across the 16-item menu. In the hopes of making the rotation more viable as an annual event, this year I’m only including the top eight seeds from that original tournament. Here are the 2011 match-ups, which I aim to complete in time for March Madness. For consistency, all of the dishes will be ordered with chicken and a spiciness of four stars.
I’ve been meaning to write about Poppy for a few years now. After taking shelter at home all day from the snowpocalypse we took a long walk down to Broadway and I committed to following up with a review tonight.
Poppy opened in Fall 2008, after Jerry Traunfeld left his 20 year post at the Herbfarm (and its $250/person dining tab) to open a more casual restaurant in Capitol Hill. It took us a few months to make our first visit, after listening to Gio rave about his perpetual (almost weekly) dinners there. Once we did though, I was hooked.
The food at Poppy centers around the concept of a thali. Contrary to the Indian curries + rice on aluminum tray (or banana leaf), Poppy’s thalis are a Pacific Northwest-inspired assortment. They usually include a soup, a few salads, a pickle, naan, and one or two larger “mains” (both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options). Lauren and I have found it best to split a thali, which leaves us some room for an appetizer and/or a dessert (both worthwhile).
The appetizer list has a few mainstays, including one of our favorites, eggplant fries with honey. Lauren normally hates honey, but cannot refuse these fries. Sometimes we recognize items we’ve make from the Herbal Kitchen (which Jerry will sign for you if purchased at Poppy).
For the thali, Poppy is very flexible about letting you mix and match between entrees, sides, etc. in order to fully customize your plate. If available, the scallops and black cod are both amazing, and they do a great job with yams and mushrooms. Here are some of what you might get if you are lucky:
Full (10 item) vegetarian thali (clockwise from top):
goat cheese blintzes with chestnut and chanterelles
triple celery salad (celery root, celery stalk, celery seeds)
persimmon, radicchio, and citron salad
local black truffle, leek, and sunchoke risotto
cauliflower, sesame and fennel soup
wild mushroom-marjoram bread pudding
center-left – brussels sprouts with crisp shallot
center-right – gingered burdock pickle
(hidden behind naan) – fingerlings with lavender and mint
A thali for chilly nights (Jan 2009, clockwise from top):
four-seed chickpea salad
carrot soup with start anise and cinnamon
black cod with beet-wasabi sauce and burdock
Yukon gold potatoes and cashews with clove and cardamom
yam and sesame fritter
Berkshire pork ribs with pear, parsnip, and sunchoke
spot shrimp, endive, and grapefruit salad
center-top – lemon fennel pickle
center – cauliflower gratin
(not pictured) – nigella naan
A thali for December sun (2008, clockwise from top):
mushroom marjoram bread pudding
quail from the tandoor with pomegranate walnut sauce
shaved cauliflower salad with Buddha hand
persimmon, fennel, and chervil salad
chestnut soup with cardamom, vanilla, and bay
spot shrimp and fingerlings in garlic almond sauce
center-left – satsuma mustard pickle
center-right – rosemary-ginger yams with spiced coconut, cranberry cigar
Tonight we had room for one last bite. Usually we opt for Poppy’s house-made ice cream, which is the best on the Hill (sorry Molly), but given the chill outside we opted for chocolate. The torte is petite in size, but quite rich and satisfying.
It’s great to have a restaurant of this caliber on the Hill. I’ve taken a number of guests there for the unique presentation, rotating menu, Northwest flair, and fun setting. We still haven’t managed to get there for happy hour, but I’ve heard rave reviews on that as well.
622 Broadway E (at Roy)
Seattle, WA 98102
Tu-Th, Sun: 5:30PM-10:00PM (Dinner)
Fri-Sat: 5:30PM-11:00PM (Dinner)
Bar menu for an extra hour each day
Le Fournil is a little French bakery and sandwich shop located under the I-5 bridge (and just south of the U-bridge). We’ve made a number of trips to U-Village since moving into our new house, and each time we passed Le Fournil we would wonder why we didn’t time the trip appropriately for a lunch stop. Today we avoided that mistake, and boy was it delicious.
My go to at Le Fournil is their “lunch special”, which includes a sandwich, drink (coffee or juice), and a pastry for just more than the price of a sandwich. The sandwiches are served on their house-baked baguettes, and are primarily classic French choices like camembert or ham and cheese. Today we had tuna (one of my favorites), made with some light herbs and spices.
The hardest decision at Le Fournil is which pastry to get (the only wrong answer here is to abstain). When we took our friend Shivani here, she found the mille-feuille orgasmic. The croissants are flaky and perfectly buttery, but today we were drawn to the fruit tart section of the case and chose the lemon tart. Perfect if you’re in the mood for the tartness of lemon, it was a sizable portion (though of course we finished it all).
As this special is available as early as 7AM, I’ve also been known to stop in on the way to work and enjoy freshly-squeezed orange juice and an almond croissant (with a sandwich for later). If you are craving a little taste of Paris, get yourself over to the Montlake cut and linger over a meal at Le Fournil, you won’t regret it!
3230 Eastlake Ave E (just south of the University Bridge)
Seattle, WA 98102
Tue-Sat 7:00AM-6:00PM, Sunday 8:00AM-3:00PM
There aren’t many dining options near our office. On the days that we don’t bring our own lunch we have our choice of the cafeteria (located in the atmospheric parking garage), overpriced delivery, or two restaurants within walking distance. Nanjing is one of those two restaurants, a Chinese place located inside of a motel about 2 blocks away.
Our first meal at Nanjing was quite memorable. We ordered ma po tofu, and “chicken with red and green chilies.” The waitress warned us that the chicken was “very spicy”, but we insisted that we like spicy food. She gave us a skeptical look and went ahead with the order. We relaxed on our balcony table, and enjoyed complimentary salted peanuts with our tea.
When the main course arrived, the ma po tofu was somewhat spicy, with a sauce that resembled a thick hot and sour soup. The chicken with chilies looked like a plate of stir fried green chilies. There were no red chilies to be found, and only a handful of green onions and chicken among the mass of spiciness. We were indeed warned, but nothing could quite prepare me for the experience of uninhibited chili-ness. We made a small dent in the chilies over lunch, and proceeded to make spicy omelets and stir-fries with the leftovers for the rest of the week.
Our second trip to Nanjing was a bit of a letdown. We had a forgettable chicken and peppers dish that was chewy and way too salty, and a hot and sour fish that was only ok (and also fairly salty). The staff were still nice, but the combination of high prices and mediocre food put a damper on the experience. Lauren and I decided that if we were to return, we would stick to our original lucky choices, and make sure to bring the camera for the chilies (which we unfortunately forgot during our first trip).
We didn’t actually manage such a return trip until yesterday’s team lunch. we re-ordered the dishes that had made an impression on us during our original visit, and our co-workers added an assortment of favorites from chicken with black bean sauce, to kung pao chicken. This time the chicken with chilies indeed had both red and green chilies (and a higher chicken-to-chili ratio), making it slightly less spicy but also more photogenic. A few of our co-workers enjoyed the ma po tofu, but only one was brave enough to try the chicken and chilies. His assessment: “I’ll let you know when my tongue stops burning”…and that was after a conscious decision to have a chicken-only bite!
Overall Nanjing has decent Chinese food with a few stand-outs, friendly wait-staff, and occasional misfires. While I wouldn’t recommend traveling across Kampala for Nanjing, it’s a relaxing place for a leisurely meal if you are in the neighborhood.
Plot 15, Impala Avenue
Kololo, Kampala, Uganda
+256 (0)414 340 928
While we ate quite well in Stone Town, most of our meals on Zanzibar’s beaches were somewhat mediocre. The one major exception was a beachfront restaurant in Kendwa, at the White Sands Beach Hotel. The atmosphere at the restaurant is pretty basic, but the location is excellent, with nice views of the Indian Ocean from the outermost tables (where we were sitting).
On the waitress’s recommendation we ordered the prawn coconut curry, which was stupendous. The prawns were by far the largest we had in Zanzibar, and the tomato-based coconut curry was spicy and reminiscent of south India.
We also had the catch of the day, red snapper, which was seasoned with local spices and grilled. The fish was tender (not overcooked like much of the fish we had this week), and served with rice and tomato chutney.
If you’re on Kendwa beach (or at nearby Nungwi and sick of the same-old, same-old), definitely stop by the White Sands Beach Hotel and sample the coconut curry. Your tummy will thank you.
White Sands Beach Hotel
Kendwa, Zanzibar, Tanzania
To celebrate Vid’s birthday last night, we had dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town – The Cave. The restaurant is set inside two chambers of a natural coral cave that is open to the sky. While mildly gimmicky, the setting is really interesting, and the tasteful lighting added to the romantic atmosphere.
We started off with some of the house red, which was a surprisingly good cabernet-shiraz. We tried to order a few things that we thought Vid would order if she were with us in person rather than just in spirit. For appetizers we had the soup of the day (cucumber-mint), and a goat cheese tart. The soup turned out to be hot, which was unexpected, but it was enjoyable with primary flavors of chicken broth and cucumber (I couldn’t detect the mint). The goat cheese tart tasted like a frozen quiche from Trader Joe’s. I like TJ’s, but at Seattle-level prices I was expecting (at least a smidge) better.
On to the main course, with higher prices and greater disappointments. Little Vid’s mushroom crepes tasted much better than their caterpillar-like presentation. They were very cheesy, with lots of mushrooms inside. While it reminded me of upscale diner food, it was still satisfying. Our “pan-seared catch of the day drizzled with homemade pesto” was a breaded and fried tasteless brick that was doused in green lines of goo. We couldn’t bring ourselves to finish it. Given the mediocre results for dinner, we passed on dessert, but fortunately we had already satisfied our sweet tooth with a pre-dinner scoop of mango-coconut ice cream at Kenyaways (as Vid would have done).
Overall, The Cave has nice atmosphere, and the bar area would be a lovely place to have a glass of wine. However you should plan on going elsewhere for dinner, as the food is forgettable and very expensive.
Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant (a.k.a. The Cave)
In Malleswaram there are a large number of sagar shops where you can get quick, delicious south Indian fare. One of our favorites is Adiga’s, located just around the corner from Sean and Archana’s place.
The main floor is typical of a sagar shop (or “hotel”), if a bit larger than most. You order near the entrance from the cashier, pay, and receive a number of receipts. Each receipt needs to be taken to the appropriate station (e.g. dosa, meals, idly, roti), where a worker will magically turn your receipt into the dishes listed. At both stages, it’s important to know how to deal with an IndiaQueue. Once you’ve obtained your meal, you grab a section of long, shared countertops and dig in while standing.
On this trip, Archana introduced us to the upstairs “restaurant” part of Adiga’s, which I didn’t even know existed. The upstairs experience is less busy – you are seated at your own table, given a menu, and served by a waiter. The choices are similar, though some smaller items such as roti curry are replaced with larger variations such as dal fry. Prices are higher since portions are bigger and you are getting table service, but it’s a nicer environment to linger in. I enjoyed the experience, though my favorite part of Adiga’s is still the ground floor with its communal feel.
Overall, Adiga’s is a great stop for a quick meal of south Indian favorites. In particular, their roti curry, rava idly, and special dosai are my favorites. I also like stealing a few bites of Sean’s ever-present channa batura.
Sampige Road at 15th Cross (+ other branches in the Bangalore area)
Bangalore, India 560003
+91 80 4153 5991
Daily: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
The last time Lauren and I visited Boston, Julie took us on a tour of Boston’s ice cream parlors. Over the span of two days, we tasted the flavors on offer at J.P. Licks, Christina’s, and Herrell’s, but we were unable to fit in a trip to Toscanini’s, Boston’s most famous ice cream shoppe.
This afternoon, Lauren, Vidya and I went on a mission to Central Square to see what all of the hype was about. It was a beautiful 75 degree day, and arrived in Central Square ready for a cool treat.
Toscanini’s ice cream factory, visible through street-side floor to ceiling windows, is adjacent to their cafe. It was fun to watch the large machinery, but we did not linger as there was an assortment of 30 flavors beckoning. The staff at Tosci’s are very friendly and are happy to let you try a number of flavors. So try we did, delighting in a variety of flavors that all shared a perfectly balanced, creamy texture.
Our plan was to get one scoop from the chocolate family, and one lighter flavor. Aztec Chocolate was a mix of chilies and dark chocolate, with a delicious start, but a surprisingly intense aftertaste that would likely have overwhelmed a companion scoop. Orange Chocolate was also yummy, but it was when we tried Black Bottom that we were sold. Black Bottom, based on a Southern pie, is a mix of dark chocolate rum ice cream and ginger snap cookies. We paired it with a scoop of B^3 (Brownie, Brown Sugar, Brown Butter). I liked B^3, but our consensus after we polished off the cup was that it would be better if they dropped the brownies and turned it into B^2 (or perhaps made the brownies less dense).
Overall, Tosci’s has their base ice cream formula down pat. It’s clear that they know their trade, and the result is the best ice cream I’ve had in the USA east of Mission-Dolores.
899 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
When visiting New York City, we have a few regular pit-stops. One is Ess-a Bagel, a long-time haunt of my family that serves hefty, chewy, delicious bagels and sandwiches. Conveniently enough, the India Visa office is located around the corner from Ess-a Bagel’s 3rd Ave location, so it was very easy to pass the hour wait for our appointment with bagel sandwiches. We also fought jet lag with a “regular” sized black coffee that I could swim in.
Usually we get to squeeze in one visit to Ess-a Bagel, or two if we’re lucky. This time we had a week-long stay, so we had three times to make our way through the list of bagels with a variety of family members. For the record, my favorite sandwich is a whole wheat everything bagel with either egg or tuna salad depending on the time of day. Their cream cheese is also delicious, especially on a pumpernickel or sesame bagel. Yum!
831 3rd Avenue
New York, NY 10022
This morning we took a leisurely walk from Tribeca to Cousin David’s office in SoHo. We took care of a few errands along the way, and I was already getting a little munchy, though it was barely 11AM. As luck would have it, the next block we stumbled upon a taco truck setting up for the lunch run. I’m always a sucker for mobile food preparation, and the menu looked good, so we queued up in the line that was already starting to form.
I found out later that we had stumbled upon one of the more famous street vendors in NYC. At the time though, all I knew was that Calexico Cart dispensed delicious carne asada and black bean tacos. The hearty portion of steak was well-marinated, tender and juicy. The black bean taco was also addictively flavorful, assisted by their chipotle “crack” sauce and avocado crema.
Since we were meeting Cousin David for lunch, we held back from trying the burritos, but it wasn’t easy (they looked amazing).
Mobile Location in SoHo
New York, NY