It was my Mom’s birthday last night, so I’d like to begin with a little shout-out to her. She’s one of my biggest cooking influences, as mothers tend to be.
Everyone in my immediate family is a pretty big food nerd. For her birthday, Mom decided that we go to Poppy on Capitol Hill. This restaurant was a great choice for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s right down the street from my parents’ house. Secondly, it specializes in plates called thalis — an Indian and Nepalese individual serving style consisting of many different small dishes put together on one plate. For us, this is ideal; we’re all notorious tasters and plate-poachers, so we each ordered a completely different thali and just picked at each other’s individual components. The results were delicious and fascinating.
There’s little point in tracking which one was on each thali, and some were repeated, but here’s a list of the individual items served to the four of us (deep breath):
black cod with carrot sauce and cucumber shiso salad
butternut, kumquat and fennel soup
grilled radicchio, leek and lentil salad
delicata squash and black-eyed peas with berbere
cauliflower with toasted garlic, horseradish and currants
fennel, orange and sichuan pepper pickle
lavender-rubbed duck leg with tart cherries, sage and parsnip
roasted beet, black olive and feta salad
corona beans with house-cured bacon
braised beef cheek and sauerkraut with pickled mustard seed
mushroom bisque with chestnuts
grits spoonbread with ricotta and sun dried tomato
mushroom-crusted paneer with spiced nettles, chard and apple
yams with scallions and coconut crisp
So yeah, each of these were individually plated and impressively arranged on the thalis for each of us. Add in the fig, onion, blue cheese and sage tart and the fried mussels with celery-seed aioli that we had as an appetizer, and it made for a pretty incredible meal.
Dessert was another amazing experience altogether. Again, this was served as a thali — a chocolate truffle torte with caramel, buckwheat crumbs and lime frozen yogurt (my favorite) and a chocolate malt sundae were featured, and were accompanied by mango-lime marshmallows, “nutter-butter” squares, grape and rosemary pate, and orange chocolate “crunch” (basically a swanky, orange-flavored krackle bar).
The atmosphere in the dining room was modern, yet comfortable. We also had an amazing server, even if I can’t recall her name — She was friendly, knew the menu and wine list very well, and loved talking about food. The entire meal was an experience, from the welcoming environment to the eclectic fusion cuisine. This is an especially great place if you like sharing your food.
speaking of “eclectic fusion cuisine,” to use the foodie bullshit vernacular — the menu here was a very interesting and refreshing mix. The plating and presentation were decidedly Indian, while the food was a very broad Indian-Asian-European fusion. However, it never felt messy – every sphere of influence felt defined and respected. Beef cheek with sauerkraut, black cod with shiso, duck with cherries and parsnips, and all the smaller dishes in between — none of these seem to come from any one culture, but the flavors still worked together in harmony without seeming like an awkward mash-up, even when combined with the other small components on the thali.
This is where fusion really shines — when the different cultures are visible and self-spoken, yet they come together to create something completely new, delicious and even thought-provoking. This is not something you see every day, and I thought Poppy accomplished it beautifully. I’d definitely go here again — funds permitting, of course.