Dinner & a Movie: "The A-Team" and The Thali Team"/>
The Dinner: Thali and beer at Poppy (622 Broadway E.).
Doug Curran/20th Century Fox Yes, Jessica Biel always wears her gun and bulletproof vest for dinner.
The Screenplate: The A-Team was nobody's idea of great TV during its primetime run (1983-87), but it was profitable, fun, dumb mayhem for NBC and producer Stephen J. Cannell, who also has a hand in this new adaptation. For anyone born after the show was canceled--and that's the prime moviegoing demographic--the only grafted cultural memory is Mr. T. (Just try explaining to your kids who George Peppard was. Try.) So like the recent MacGyver-into-MacGruber phenomenon, this is a case of '80s kitsch being recycled purely for the cash. TV legend Cannell already has lots of money, several Emmy Awards, and the lasting honor of having created The Rockford Files, so you can imagine him laughing while they disinterred this old corpse of a show. Desecration? Hardly. It probably paid for a new private jet and several hundred more acres at his Jackson Hole ranch. And if Cannell ever came to visit Seattle, we know just where we'd invite him to dinner (then stick him with the bill)...The Broadway commercial strip has been hit hard over the last two years. Condo projects have stalled; the retail space glut continues; beloved institutions like Bailey/Coy Books have failed; and the Sound Transit light rail station gapes like an open wound near John Street. Farther north at Roy Street, however, there are some promising signs of life. As our John Kauffman wrote last year, Poppy opened with some rather daring principles. First, the Hindi-named "thali" plates present you with every course at once, in small portions, served on a platter; and prices are not cheap ($22-$32, with up to 10 items). Chef Jerry Traunfeld, formerly of the Herbfarm, has his servers warn patrons at the outset that each thali takes about a half-hour to prepare, which means apps are mandatory during the hungry wait. Further, with drinks, a couple can easily spend $100 tab on a date night. And the thali offerings change frequently. If a friend recommends one platter, it may be gone by the time you visit. So much variety and mutability do not, at first glance, seem that inviting.
Nor does The A-Team's thali platter seem promising. In four roles that some may dimly remember as George Peppard, Mr. T., guy without hat, and guy with hat, we have Liam Neeson, former UFC fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Bradley Cooper (The Hangover), and South African Sharlto Copley (District 9). And while nobody remembers any women from the original A-Team, a hot chick (Jessica Biel) has been added to help spice up the platter. Here, too, the thali contains disparate ingredients: Neeson's all about planning; Jackson is a man of violence who suddenly embraces the credo of Gandhi; Cooper is the self-satisfied charmer with a past romantic history with Biel; and Copley is basically left to do whatever he wants (e.g., riff on Braveheart and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). The plate beneath them is shared service in the Army Rangers. First they're unfairly expelled from the military; then they redeem themselves and go on secret missions; then the process repeats itself with many explosions and inane male banter. (Joe Carnahan, Narc, directs and helped write the script.)
Would you be surprised to learn that Poppy's wide-ranging menu works much better? Tasty starters include the eggplant fries with a light sea salt/honey sauce ($6); one has to trust they're healthier than the usual deep-fried spuds, but I'd gladly substitute them for the McDonalds variety. The salt cod fritters ($8) are small, served with glob of paprika-based sauce: excellent, but too few. Fried mussels ($9) on the half-shell are more abundant; I suggest doubling-down on that order.
The array of thali includes lamb, salmon, asparagus risotto, flan, morel mushrooms, garlic soup, turnips, and more... but in too many configurations to list. Each portion comes in a little crockery vessel; so if you don't like your first taste, just transfer it to someone else's platter on the table. It's like eating Chinese at a family-style restaurant, only without benefit of a lazy Susan spinning in the middle. Poppy's brick-walled, high-ceilinged space is apparently an old donut shop built in the '30s. It's loud, though without music loud enough to cut into the conversational din. (Unlike the movie, where explosions and gunshots make it impossible to hear half the dialogue--not that it matters.) Poppy's orange walls and picture windows fronting Broadway make it feel more public than intimate. Service is brisk, but the wait staff never make you feel rushed to turn the tables.
The A-Team is in nothing but a rush, even though it clocks in at a lethargic 117 minutes. The four characters must be (re)introduced, the old black GMC van referenced and destroyed, and our heroes double-crossed a few dozen times by their nefarious CIA and Army superiors (plus Blackwater surrogate "Black Forest"). Neeson, looking oddly younger than he did a decade ago, zip-lines onto a moving truck. Cooper, buff when shirtless, rolls down a hill in a stack of flaming tires. Missiles are fired, planes explode, skyscrapers are riddled with machine-gun fire, and none of it is terribly exciting or violent (the movie's rated PG-13). "Overkill is underrated," Neeson growls, a tepid inoculation against the movie's frivolous guiding spirit. With only one smooch, and scant sexual tension between Cooper and Biel's characters, male bonding is all you get in The A-Team. Jocular jollity is the predominant mood; it's like everyone is high on testosterone in the movie, which makes Michael Bay look like Michelangelo.
The only hope, really, for The A-Team would've been to cast it, like Tarantino's Fox Force Five in Pulp Fiction, with four deadly, babely actresses. Thus, for instance, Sigourney Weaver could be the Peppard-esque leader, with Biel, Jennifer Garner, Jessica Alba, and Scarlett Johansson under her command. That's a thali we'd like to sample. (Also, in a nice turnabout, Cooper could then be the passive, pretty, waiting-to-be-kissed figure Biel must play here. Pucker up, fella.)
In the meantime, until that movie gets made, Poppy offers more of an adventure than The A-Team. It's too expensive for everyday dining, but you can always drop into the bar and order the eggplant fries. And if you should order the cranberry-brandy cocktail called the Dandy ($10), raise a glass to George Peppard (1929-1994). His old boss, Stephen J. Cannell, would surely approve.