I was really excited about this place when I first heard of it. Not only is it owned by the former chef at the Herbfarm (a place we’ve never scraped together enough moolah to go) but the central conceit of the place revolves around a daily tasting menu served all at once, called a thali. It sounded really cool, a very gourmet take on Indian food, like Vij’s in Vancouver. That’s not really what it was like, though.
Just to get them out of the way, I’ll tell you the three things I didn’t like about Poppy. I felt rushed, my drink wasn’t very good, and I didn’t think the different items on the thali went together very well. There, I said it. Most of the food was very good and the service was attentive, but I just didn’t have the dining experience I was hoping for. I admit, though, my expectations were pretty high.
We started by ordering cocktails, then an appetizer. The appetizer arrived first, which was unusual. We got the fried mussels, which were ever so pretty, served on the half shell with a dollop of dill sauce on top. Sadly, they were a bit too firm and a bit too fishy, suggesting they were a mite overcooked. We ate them anyway, because, you know, fried stuff is good. I would’ve loved to try the eggplant fries, but past experience with tasting menus has made me terrified of getting too much food. The guys at the table next to ours got them, though, and they looked great.
The cocktails were interesting. Jon got the “rum curry” which was chock full of muddled curry leaves. I thought it would be terrible, but he actually quite liked it. I got a bourbon sour, which normally I love, but this one was served in a wine glass (whatever), and seemed very weak. Furthermore, it had egg white in it – something I’ve never had in a cocktail before, but I was willing to try it – and I really hated the smell of the raw white coming off the top of the drink. Yuck. I drank part of it and sent the rest away.
On to the thali. This evening’s theme was “apples and honey” – whatever that meant. Jon got the regular, and I got the small, which is just like the regular with a couple of things missing off of it. I did substitute the meat dish for a serving of ricotta dumplings, so we could taste more things. Our thalis arrived very quickly after we had finished the mussels, and before we had a chance to finish our cocktails (or order something different). I had intended to order a bottle of wine, but apparently there wasn’t going to be time to drink it. I started to get a little grumpy.
The regular thali consisted of a bowl of polenta, a naan sprinkled with sumac and sesame, chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce, sweet green tomato chutney (which tasted exactly like the pickled crab apples my mother used to make), pumpkin soup with black olive praline, hashed Brussels sprouts with apples, celery salad with Asian pears and hazelnuts, chicory-quince salad, albacore with mashed chickpeas, and fingerling potatoes with seeds. Whew! If it sounds eclectic, it was. Most of it was delicious, but we had to figure out which tastes worked together. The absolute best thing was the albacore, and it was perhaps the best tuna I’ve ever tasted – and of course, it wasn’t included with the small thali, so I had to settle for a few bites of Jon’s.
So really, the food was good. It wasn’t Poppy’s fault that the tiny bit of hazelnut in the celery salad made my mouth itch, and it was my own fault that I didn’t send the bourbon sour back and order some wine instead. Things just didn’t flow the way I’d expected – I’d intended to spend a couple of hours there, taking my time over food and wine, and instead we were spat out so quickly you’d think we had early bird show tickets. Efficiency is nice, but good pacing is even better.