It's tough to resist one of the inventive ten-item dinner thalis at Poppy in Seattle, but be sure to save space for the Sweet Thali for Two ($16) for dessert. Both the savory and the sweet thalis use fresh, seasonal ingredients and are spiced—sometimes ever-so-subtly—with a wide array of fresh herbs. This is not surprising, as chef Jerry Traunfeld received high acclaim as former chef of The Herbfarm, and he maintains an impressive herb garden right on the Poppy property. (You can even dine in the garden during nice weather.)
The centerpiece of the thali is your choice of one of the always-changing ice cream flavors. Apricot chamomile frozen yogurt and pandan lime sorbet were tempting, but I couldn't resist a green apple sorbet. It was terrifically tart with strips of shiso contributing minty earthiness. You also get to pick a major item from the main dessert section of the menu. After agonizing over choices like chocolate truffle torte with apricot, jasmine, and sesame, as well as fresh raspberry brûlée with lemon-verbena sabayon, I tapped into my love of licorice-like notes and went with anise hyssop panna cotta. It was a bowl of silken comfort, with big-as-they-come local blackberries.
The thali comes with four other small sweet plates. Starting clockwise from the panna cotta, this night's thali included a couple of pimentón caramels, whose sweetness melted away to a slight back-of-the-mouth spiciness. Next were two nutter-butter squares, with deep flavors and a surprising feuilletine bottom that made me think of an adult Butterfinger candy bar. A pair of peach and red shiso pâtes de fruit lightened things up with a bit with an herbal, jellied bite, and then cocoa-nib anise shortbread finished the dessert tray with a return to licorice notes and crumbly buttered comfort. A thoughtful collection of sweets, the Thali for Two is a guilty feast of gluttonous pleasure that you'll be happy to split in half.
About the author: Jay Friedman is a Seattle-based freelance food writer who happens to travel extensively as a sex educator. An avid fan of noodles (some call him "The Mein Man"), he sees sensuality in all foods, and blogs about it at his Gastrolust website. You can follow him on Twitter @jayfriedman.