Dining in Seattle Part II – Dinner
September 14, 2011
This post is part 2 of our dining experience in Seattle – dinners! The first dinner we ate in Seattle was at Poppy, in Capitol Hill. I think this was my favorite meal of the entire trip. Poppy features ‘Seattle Thalis’. (Thali means ‘tray’, and thalis are a prominent feature of many Indian restaurants). The thalis at Poppy are not really Indian in most respects, but they are incredibly creative and tasty. Before we went, my husband happened upon a Yelp comment which commanded ‘get the eggplant fries’ (a starter on the menu). Fortunately, we followed that advice, and we were completely delighted. We usually try to avoid fried foods in anything but small quantities, but these were absolutely divine, and worth the splurge. Spears of eggplant lightly breaded and fried, and then sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with honey appeared at our table, and then quickly disappeared. Eggplant+frying+salt+honey=bliss.
We also got the 10-item vegetarian thali and the 7-item salmon thali, both of which featured an array of wonderful things. The vegetarian thali’s main dishes were the cauliflower agnolotti (a type of ravioli) with chanterelles, and the goat cheese-filled zucchini blossoms with a quinoa cake and tomato salad. The cauliflower agnolotti was wonderfully warm and rich tasting, and I was reluctant to part with it once my half was gone. I always enjoy zucchini blossoms, especially given their fleeting nature (I’ve been afraid to buy any myself at the markets for fear they would wilt before I could figure out what to do with them!). Also featured on this thali was a radish, purslane and grilled spring onion salad, golden beets with spice bread and mint, and sprouting broccoli with oregano. All of these salad-type dishes were outstanding, and the golden beets and spice bread were a particularly nice combination.
Both thalis featured a nice, sweet corn soup with lemon basil. They also had some common salad elements including a watermelon, cucumber, cinnamon basil and almond salad, a zucchini and basil gratin, cherry orange-thyme pickles, and a piece of nigella-poppy naan. (Nigella is also known as onion seed or black cumin). All of the salads were a nice refreshing contrast to the richer, saltier tastes of the ‘entree’ parts of the thalis. And most of them were very unique tastes, which made them a delight to sample. The zucchini basil gratin seemed the most familiar, but was great nonetheless. We particularly liked the cherry orange-thyme pickles, which had a nice sweet, sour and spicy taste.
The dishes which appeared only on the 7 item salmon thali were slow roasted salmon with chanterelles, bacon, and lemon-thyme sorrel sauce (how could that not be great tasting?), as well as local carrots with fennel blossom. It was quite fun looking at each other’s thalis to see what we had in common, and passing the unique items across the table so we could try half of everything. I would highly recommend Poppy to anyone – it was really enjoyable.
The next night we went to Wild Ginger in Downtown Seattle, which we visited on a previous trip. We ordered the Sichuan green beans, the prawns garam assam, and a nightly special with clams, tomatoes, onion, pepper, and sambal (a chili based sauce). [As an aside, we have a habit of ordering Sichuan green beans whenever we see them on a menu in an attempt to recapture the taste of a dish we got in San Francisco some years ago. We’re nearly certain the restaurant was called Betelgeuse, but it appears to have disappeared. I can’t even find any traces on the internet. (We’re pretty sure it existed, though). We have had several decent approximations, but nothing has ever achieved the wonderful spicy-sweet taste of the original. Oh well, we’ll keep trying.] The clam special at Wild Ginger however, was phenomenal. We got clams a few times while in Seattle, and I have to say they were probably my favorite of all the seafood we had during our vacation. Not a touch of the fishy taste that you get from seafood that is perhaps a bit ‘mature’, just fresh and flavorful. This special had outstanding dimension and just the right bite of heat. The garam assam prawns were more subtly spiced, but very good as well.
For our third dinner, we were hoping to get into Chez Shea in the Pike Place Market neighborhood, but waited too long to make a reservation, so we opted for Place Pigalle Restaurant & Bar, also in Pike Place Market. While the dinner was still fairly solid, this was probably the least stellar of the trip. The dining room had a nice feel to it, but the seafood didn’t seem quite as fresh or tasty as at other restaurants we visited. We opted for a roasted beet salad with arugula, walnuts, chevre, shallots and lemon-dijon vinaigrette and the warm bitter greens with white beans, garlic, chili flakes, lemon and grana padano to start. Both were pretty good. For our entree we got bouillabaisse Provencale and the BC savory clams with lavender-fennel sausage, potato, sweet onion, arugula and garlic broth. The dishes turned out to be too similar tasting, and both seemed a little muted compared to the flavor we normally encounter in bouillabaisse or other seafood stews. I expected more dimension in the lavender-fennel sausage, but it seemed a bit plain in actuality. For desert we got a pecan cherry torte, which was pecans and dried cherries in a thick crust.
For our last evening in Seattle, we had every intention of heading to Monsoon, a Vietnamese restaurant in Capitol Hill with a spectacular looking menu. But after several days of walking, as dinner time grew nearer we decided that we were just too tired and lazy to go that far (even in a cab – yes, really lazy). Earlier in the week we had walked past Cuoco, an Italian restaurant in South Lake Union, and just a few blocks from our hotel. We knew it was another of Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas’s restaurants, and we loved Serious Pie, so we made a last minute switch and went there instead. It was quite dark in the restaurant, so my pictures are not quite as enticing as I would have liked.
We started with a wonderful romaine salad with nectarines, huckleberries, pecans and huckleberry vinaigrette – very fresh with a nice fruity element. The braised fennel with pickled cherries seemed a bit too soft to me, but the taste was great even if the texture wasn’t quite ideal.
For our first main dish, we got the gnocchi with house-made goat cheese dumpling, sweet and sour eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, and pinenuts. We both found it had a very unique taste, but it wasn’t our favorite entree of the trip. I think the sweet and sour eggplant contrasted with the gnocchi and goat cheese was just a bit too odd for us. The Quinault coho salmon with chanterelles, summer corn, crispy chickpeas, and pickled peppers was absolutely outstanding. I’ve had crispy chickpeas in other dishes, and love the texture and taste. Everything in this dish of rather eclectic combinations worked perfectly together.
For dessert we had a chocolate semifreddo with huckleberries and crushed hazelnuts (at least I believe that was the kind of nut – I seem to have neglected to write that detail down). Semifreddo is Italian and means ‘half cold’. It’s sort of a hybrid of mousse and ice cream (or gelato, rather). This one was quite tasty.