POP Kitchen + Bar Is All Right (and a Bag of Chips)

pop_logoI’ve already spent more days at the Seattle Center this summer than in my previous twelve years of living in the Emerald City. The new Chihuly Garden and Glass is well worth a visit, the Experience Music Project remains entertaining, and there’s always the Space Needle.

It’s fascinating to feel the tourist vibe at Seattle Center. And as a food writer, I’m forever watching how people make their meal choices in an unfamiliar area. Fortunately, the Seattle Center offers many new options. I’ve really enjoyed the food at Collections Café (at Chihuly Garden and Glass, but museum entry is not required), and the food court quality at the Armory is better than ever, particularly with the presence of Skillet Counter.

Recently, I paid a visit to POP Kitchen + Bar at the Experience Music Project. Again, no museum entry is required, though you’ll feel part of the museum as you watch videos by the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam on the multiple screens visible from the restaurant seating.

Pricing is a bit high, perhaps a byproduct of being a museum restaurant. And protocol is initially confusing, especially if you enter from the museum entrance instead of the café’s door by the outside seating area. It’s not clear that you order at the counter and then take your number to whatever table you’d like, with food brought out to you. There’s also bar seating available for those of age.

POP serves up a fairly safe menu of sandwiches, salads, and assorted snacks. There’s a fresh sheet with a few options beyond what’s on the regular menu, as well as a happy hour menu. Some items from my recent visit:

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The menu features three salads: a House Salad (with arugula, radicchio, and endive), an Apple Spinach Salad, and this Chinese Chicken Salad ($12). It comes with mixed greens, pickled ginger, cilantro, candied cashews, wontons, and offers a decent portion for a protein-enriched salad.

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Here is the House Burger ($15) with applewood-smoked bacon, cheddar, balsamic onion jam, lettuce, tomato, aioli, and fries. The patty itself isn’t bad, its meatiness boosted by the thick slab of bacon. In a head-to-head comparison, I prefer The Burger at Skillet Counter which also comes with fries (or salad) for a few dollars less, though POP’s potato bun (from Macrina) is a much better choice for a burger. (Frankly, I’m not a fan of the brioche buns that many restaurants use for their upscale burgers.)

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This is half of the Grilled Chicken Sandwich ($14 for a full sandwich served with potato chips) on ciabatta with avocado, Monterey jack cheese, piquillo peppers, and chipotle aioli. Filled with bright southwestern flavors, this was okay, but again not nearly as good as Skillet Counter’s Fried Chicken Sammy that, with fries (or salad) comes in at a more modest ten dollars.

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These Ranch Chips were on the happy hour menu for $4 during my recent visit, but seem to have now slipped off the menu. Made fresh each morning from russet potatoes that are cut on the slightly thick side, they’re the same chips that accompany the sandwiches, but came with some basil aioli that were a nice option for occasional dipping. The richness of the golden brown color show that they’re cooked just a little more than I like, but the chip crunchiness was quite pleasing, with the ranch flavor mild.

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Sitting in a music museum, I simply had to try the “Purple Haze,” made with Veev acai liqueur. Like “that girl,” it “put a spell on me.”

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