finally made it to poppy.
with no reservations, we took our chances at the walk-in eating bar, a fairly generous area including three tables. despite the size, we still waited nearly an hour to sit, and there is no system for waiting – it basically consists of lurking behind anyone with dessert or a bill in front of them, waiting to pounce upon the seats before anyone else does. it was a friday, though, and i had expected the wait, just not the vulture part.
it’s not the number of tables or actual area that makes the room appear large, but rather the soaring ceilings and expansive windows. there are no soft edges, as everything from furniture to water glasses have a noodle-bar/ikea look to them (lots of light wood, orange accents, square corners). the space is tempered when mobbed with people (as it has been for every moment of it’s openness). a narrow window of sound-proof glass offers a fishbowl look at the kitchen, a decent sized room with a large number of chefs (all of whom seemed to be wearing orange or blue – i couldn’t decide if this was intentional).
it’s a bit cozier when you’re finally sitting, however, the twinkling lights of broadway winking in at you. the menu is about as simple as it can be, something i appreciate. one large thali is offered ($32), with two vegetarian substitutions available if needed. a thali is a traditional way of serving an indian meal – essentially a variety of small dishes, sauces, rice, and naan are served in little compartments or dishes on a larger thal (platter).
the thalis arrived quickly (i guess more spooning and ladeling was required than anything else) and were a straightforward, enjoyable meal. there was a mini cauliflower soup, lusciously creamy and made interesting by touches of clove and caraway. there was a bulgur, cantaloupe, and cucumber salad, just a bit tart, lightly and deftly seasoned. there were lemon-thyme beets, remarkably simple but delicious because beets are just delicious. there was a mini romano bean salad, dusted with fennel pollen and dappled with hazelnuts. the beans were just a bit crunch and delicately dressed.
the scallop with carrot sauce and burdock was a standout, rich and clean tasting, with plenty of extra sauce to spice up the bowl of rice in the middle of the thali. a watermelon lime pickle relish was appropriately tart, but i wasn’t quite sure what to do with it as everything else on the platter was well seasoned already. i was actually a bit confused all around…was everything supposed to go on the rice? or be folded up into the piece of (flaky and crisp) sesame flatbread? i love the idea of being able to combine components in my own way, but couldn’t tell what was supposed to hold them all together in this case.
our server probably could have helped, but only if we’d had her cell phone number. i’m not a terribly service-oriented diner, but our wine arrived well after our food, and our water showed up with dessert. we’d asked for a single substitution in order to try the lobster mushrooms – it came substituted on both thalis and for the wrong item. our ice cream came out as banana instead of cinnamon basil (and pot?), and when we alerted our server she gasped, “they sent you the wrong one? i can’t believe they did that!” blaming it all on the kitchen…the server in me shook her head.
i know it’s a new restaurant, but it’s about the most straightforward serving gig in town. i also know how many people wanted to work here – i can only assume that those who got hired had some serving on their resume. maybe ridiculous buzz isn’t what a new restaurant needs, at least not until a couple weeks in, when systems have been tried and tested.
i did, however, love to see that chef/owner jerry traunfeld himself was running food and chatting with guests.
i felt a twinge of disappointment as i signed my (not insignificant) credit card receipt…the blame certainly lay with my for letting the hype bloat my expectations, but the money i was signing over was real. in a couple of months, i’ll go back. i’ll sit at the bar, order a couple of a la carte snacks, and see if i can’t find something more to love.