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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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September 29, 2008 1:46 PM

Why is this man smiling?

Posted by Nancy Leson

Because Poppy -- his Capitol Hill restaurant and bar -- finally opened. Because it looks gorgeous. And Seattle has been showing up at Broadway and Roy in droves to check out the much-anticipated restaurant and its Indian-inspired thali concept: lots of small plates, served on a tray for you and you alone.

So, what's on that $32 thali? On my opening night visit, I ate melon, tomato and mint gazpacho; watermelon lime pickle; albacore with green tomato, peppers and fennel; fingerling potatoes with ajwain; spiced pork belly on savoy cabbage; carrots with clove and lemon thyme; romano bean, hazelnut and fennel pollen salad; and spiced chickpea salad arrayed around haija rice and nigella flatbread hot from the Wood Stone tandoor oven. The lemon thyme came from Jerry's kitchen herb garden, just outside Poppy's rear entrance.

My favorite bites among the many were the pork belly and the watermelon lime pickle. And yes, I ordered appetizers (don't miss the shoestring eggplant with salt and honey). I also had dessert, not because I needed it but because I wanted to compare the cinnamon-basil ice cream at Poppy to the version I make at home using Jerry's recipe from the "Herbfarm Cookbook." For the record: I like mine better, but only because I get to eat it fresh and creamy -- straight from the rotating ice cream-maker canister.

Apparently, I wasn't the only paying guest who couldn't wait to see what was going on at Poppy. The place filled up fast with curious locals (who'd perhaps read Sara Dickerman's fabulous feature, "Poppy Love," in the September issue of Seattle Magazine) and a full complement of industry professionals (among them chefs Matt Dillon, Sue McCown and Seth Caswell).

When I went back on Saturday night to sit in the dining bar in the lounge and eat some serious noshes (mini deviled eggs, fried mussels with lovage, tandoori chicken, enjoyed with a flight of wines) I had a chance to talk with a nice couple from South Dakota seated to my right -- whom I convinced to order the eggplant fries. And with a Capitol Hill architect and his wife seated on my left (vegans who weren't as crazy with the modern decor as I was, but were thrilled to find plenty to eat on the menu nonetheless). Too bad I couldn't show them this photo of Jerry holding a birthday gift from his niece -- who'd "inherited" that dotted fabric from Jerry's mom, "Poppy" before passing it along to her uncle in honor of his restaurant's debut:

Poppy and Jerry's sister Sue hand-carried it across the country this month. It's the fabric that hung above the sofa in the Traunfeld family's livingroom when Jerry was growing up. That design element is gently echoed at Poppy where, I ran into Tom Douglas and his wife and business partner Jackie Cross an hour after Tom signed-off from his radio show. They had to wait for a table -- just like you would had you shown up without reservations at 8pm on a Saturday. Oh well. That gave them time to schmooze with friends and aquaintances, including wine merchant Jay Schiering and Jerry's pet betta, Sashimi -- a gift from Bon Appetit's 2008 "Restaurateur of the Year" himself. (What did you think Tom was going send Jerry in celebration of Poppy's opening -- a case of Rub with Love seasonings?)

Anybody else been to Poppy? What say you?

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Listen to Nancy at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. during Morning Edition, at 4:40 p.m. during All Things Considered and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. during Weekend Edition on KPLU 88.5.

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