Jax, Redux?

La Paloma's Poppy Kitchen reminds our reviewer of a slightly blurry copy of the Northwest-side original

When the Metzger family announced in January that Jax Kitchen would be closing in February, they also announced that they would be opening Poppy Kitchen just a week after the closing of Jax, and that many of the same menu items would be available at the new location, in the former Janos and JBar building on the Westin La Paloma property. After two visits to Poppy Kitchen, my consensus is that it seems to be a larger, less-perfected version of Jax Kitchen.

I was admittedly an admirer of Jax Kitchen, the half-dozen times I visited, and I've generally had positive experiences at the Metzger's restaurants. However, the first visit we paid to Poppy Kitchen was wholly unimpressive. Poppy offers a brunch on Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with a separate brunch menu (regular menu not available until noon). We came at about 11 a.m. and found the restaurant completely empty, devoid of not only customers, but of staff as well. After waiting at the hostess stand for a few minutes, not seeing a soul, I walked all the way back into the bar area (also empty) and ended up getting a cook to flag down a hostess for us, who then disappeared for another five minutes to go set up a table before coming back to seat us.

We sat on the patio outside, which has beautiful views, and saw that there were actually two other tables seated on the patio. The brunch menu is not actually a brunch menu — it's a breakfast menu. Brunch implies that it's a combination of breakfast and lunch, and there wasn't one single thing on the menu that was "lunchy" — disappointing because since it was already after 11 a.m., I had already had my desired fill of egg dishes for the day and was hoping for something a little more on the lunch side of things (also, the brunch menu is not posted online). I opted for the only non-sweet dish without an egg in it — the house smoked salmon board ($14), and Ted ordered the steak and eggs ($15).

Service was friendly, but extraordinarily slow, though our server did have a trainee helping out for the day, which I can give a bit of a pass on, but water glasses and drinks shouldn't go empty for long periods of time, nor should finished plates sit on tables for 10-plus minutes. The kitchen seemed to be slow to get moving as well—our meals took quite some time to finally come out. The menu didn't specify whether the salmon was cold-smoked (lox) or hot-smoked, and given the presentation with capers, red onions, tomatoes, hardboiled egg, and garlic cream cheese, I was assuming it was a cold-smoked presentation. I was wrong. The board, which was beautifully presented, came out with a hunk of barely-warm, hot-smoked salmon. Which would have been fine, had it actually had any flavor to it. There wasn't even a hint of smoke flavor to it—in fact, it tasted like and had the texture of a piece of unseasoned, boiled fish. The only palatable things on the plate were the lovely, ripe heirloom tomatoes (of which there weren't nearly enough) and the super-garlicky cream cheese.

Ted's steak and eggs was a huge improvement over my entrée—he enjoyed the steak, which was tender, well-seasoned and cooked to the specified medium-rare, and the delicious sautéed spinach with fatty, crispy bacon lardons, even though it was missing the hollandaise sauce listed on the menu. His breakfast potatoes were over-crispy, to the point of near inedibility, though.

After a disappointing breakfast experience, I was hoping that dinner would be a marked improvement, and luckily, our experience was lovely albeit still imperfect. This time, there were plenty of other patrons, sitting both on the nicely-renovated interior as well as enjoying one of the final non-scorching early evenings on the patio. We were seated and served promptly, and our server was not only friendly, but also helpful and quick. We started off with steak tartare ($13, a Jax Kitchen holdover) and duck conserva ($11). It was not an impressive way to begin. The steak tartare was served too cold, and had very little flavor, though it was a nice-size portion. The duck conserva, served with toasted bread, a hard-boiled egg, pickled onion and 25-year balsamic vinegar, had a nice flavor, but was under-seasoned. The bread was rock-hard, and the egg added nothing to the dish.

Although dinner got off to a rocky start, the octopus salad ($11) and entrées were stellar, saving the experience. The octopus salad, served with watermelon, crispy onions, heirloom tomatoes and a soft white cheese (not listed on the menu), had great flavors and textures, though the greens seemed almost unnecessary, and the octopus was a touch dry, though not tough. My duck breast ($22, also a Jax Kitchen-inspired dish) was delightful—perfectly cooked and served with duck confit fried rice, a mound of sautéed spinach and an aromatic jus. Ted's steak ($29) was absolutely perfect—a beautifully marbled, tender ribeye, cooked to a juicy medium-rare and slathered in bone marrow butter, served with a cheesy-crispy purple potato gratin, and sweet glazed baby carrots.

We ended the meal with the panna cotta of the day ($8, espresso flavored), which was a bit too bitter. Dessert offerings rotate on a daily basis, but panna cotta and carrot cake are generally available. The drink offerings at Poppy Kitchen are basically the same as at The Abbey and Gio Taco—same draft cocktails, very few draft beers and a basic but well-chosen selection of reds and whites available by both glass and bottle.

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