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Two Seattle spots made Conde Nast Traveler’s 2009 list of “the world’s most exciting new restaurants.” Poppy and Spur were on the “hot list” of 50 restaurants in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. I was glad to see the selections were made, in true critic style, “traveling anonymously and paying for every last bite of foie gras.” 

Spur got marks for being “playful and ambitious,” Poppy for the “lilliputian creations” on its thalis and for inventive cocktails. Coincidentally, I’ve been meaning to mention Poppy for the last few days. I had visited months ago, the first week it was open, gloating that I no longer had to follow the critic’s rules of letting a new restaurant work out its inevitable kinks before testing it out.

I had liked that first bite, but not in a way that inspired me to quickly return, until I stopped by last week. That’s when I remembered that the critic rules were there for a reason, because my birthday dinner at Poppy was on a plane apart. I’ve talked every day since then about the loveliness and inventiveness of our food, and all the memorable tastes. One of the humblest dishes has stayed with me the most, a salad of albacore tuna, roasted beets, and green olives, with bursts of flavor from leaves of lemon basil. I can’t think of a lunchtime since when I haven’t craved  the same salad — all thanks to that basil, so surprising and fitting.  

Bonus: Poppy has just opened a tiny backyard patio, with a few small tables outdoors by the pretty and practical kitchen garden of flowering sage and borage and young stems of lovage. On a summer night, with a hibiscus flower floating in a starter cocktail, it’s an oasis.

I’ve been thinking hard about this, and I still can’t come up with another restaurant where the food is so perfectly matched to the talents of the chef. I’ll be back before the Conde Nast travelers have a chance to snag my seat.

The whole “Hot List” of restaurants for 2009 is online here.

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