Today’s indie operators don’t dare open a place like The Catch anymore. It’s just plain safer to carve a niche, think small, and ditch the white tablecloths. Yet the Anaheim restaurant takes all comers in a massive 300-seat venue with a giant kitchen to manage an American megamenu.
Now three years into its slick new digs, The Catch is grooving with seasoned confidence that comes from growing into
its own skin. Dauntless owner Joe Manzella has a solid crew in place with Nelson Barillas replacing inaugural chef Chris Hutten, and sharp GM Kevin Anderson running the room. The happy results are generating fresh traffic and the vibrant energy of a winning team.
As always, the menu of modern and classic eats is unapologetically immense. The Catch casts a wide net, luring business execs, sports industry types, municipal officials, game-day fans, concertgoers, and special-occasion parties. Classic burgers to aged steaks, profuse salads to fresh seafood, bulging sandwiches to flaming desserts—if nothing tempts you here, you simply can’t be tempted.
Seafood is usually the main event, and shell and fin fish take star turns in many categories. Pretty on the plate, but even lovelier on the palate, ahi tartare of cleanly cubed sashimi-grade tuna tastes lighter than most. A kick from chili sauce cuts through the creamy avocado, and the fresh lettuce cups are cool tender wrappers. A trio of fried calamari, each with a different sauce or dip—fritti with lemon and cocktail sauce, quiles with crispy tortilla strips and salsa verde, and Provençal with spicy tomato butter—also is an excellent share plate.
Stay on the seafood track with a timeless Louie salad heavy with Dungeness lump crab and firm bay shrimp, crunchy iceberg, egg slices, and house-made dressing. Split it or make it a sizeable lunch. If anchovies count, my seafood salad vote goes to the grand, old-school Caesar prepped tableside. It’s easily one of O.C.’s best, and though it’s billed “for two,” it certainly serves four as a starter.
Seafood avoiders will be tickled with hand-rolled, long-simmered meatballs. They’re Mama Manzella’s recipe, and come bubbly hot under a stretchy roof of provolone. Soup is a good measuring stick of any kitchen, and the tomato and lobster bisques are both top-notch.
One night, the kitchen delights a fellow diner who has special dietary requests. Our cordial waiter welcomes explicit directions and the precisely cooked fresh salmon arrives unadorned on a bed of al dente asparagus spears. Opting for opulence also yields delightful results. Chilean sea bass over fried basmati rice and ginger carrot puree, a signature dish, is a beauty. High in natural oil, the moist fillet is buttery, flaky, and with a seared surface set off by a top knot of sesame-tinged fresh tomato relish. Meaty Pacific swordfish crusted with black-and-white sesame seeds makes me wonder why this flavorful fish seems out of fashion these days; its fried baby bananas and Thai butter sauce are dynamic allies.
Two words for beef fans: short ribs. Yes, they are a menu cliché of late, but this version braised in chocolate-kissed porter retains its texture and gets a layer of kick from ancho chilies. Paired with roasted poblano and corn mashed potatoes, it’s a sleeper choice when seafood doesn’t tempt. Or, keep it simple with the well-trimmed top sirloin, a robust steak of impressive intensity. No matter the protein, this kitchen gets the cooked texture right, and that’s quite a feat with such an enterprising menu.
Service shows more polish now, and dedication and diligence are palpable. When the fresh-baked peach crostasta falls short one night, our waitress gladly offers to replace it with another dessert that doesn’t require the 25-minute oven time. It’s the kind of obliging hospitality that practically ensures diners leave The Catch happy.
No review can quite do justice to all The Catch offers. This would require moving in for a couple weeks. But if your appetite and preferences fall in the gung-ho category, this ambitious restaurant is big enough to grant your wishes.
Ahi tartare, calamari three ways, Caesar salad, Maine lobster bisque, seafood Louie salad, Mama Manzella’s meatballs, Chilean sea bass, top sirloin, braised beef short ribs, peach crostata, chocolate decadence.
Starters, $11 to $30; soups and salads, $7 to $24; entreés, $20 to $70.
Raised booth No. 401 for a view of the room and kitchen.
Valet as you enter from the signal at Stadium Crossing—$4 at lunch, $6 at dinner, and $10 to $20 on game night—or three-hour validated parking in the garage beneath the building.
2100 E. Katella Ave. Anaheim, 714-935-0101, catchanaheim.com
Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue.