Yikes, the parking lot at the Anaheim Packing House is sheer bedlam. I can see the gabled glass roof that signals Poppy & Seed, but parking the car is a cruel game of Tetris. The prize is a garden table at sunset, immersed in the calming alfresco embrace of one of this year’s most promising new independent restaurants.
Cooling cocktails bearing flowers and bubbles supply welcome relief. Until our paper straws collapse. As we wait, and wait some more for replacements, we take in the garden-like setting. The fully fenced, near-rustic area somehow overcomes the earshot proximity to restless Anaheim Boulevard. Racks of thriving herbs and greens dot the gravelly courtyard, facing west to best absorb the setting sun.
We dither over options on the compact menu of hyper-seasonal fare, many of which are share-plate size. Everything sounds so inviting and of the moment. Sensing our indecision, the waiter suggests building dinner from four or five items ordered as we go. We start with two—a sourdough tartine and the grilled lamb meatballs. Laden with fresh peaches, prosciutto, burrata, marcona almonds, and pineapple mint, the busy tartine tastes of summer, but I push aside toppings to better taste the superb peaches. Four skewered meatballs are tender and bite size, glistening with a sweet-sour glaze and a sprinkling of fennel pollen. They taste better than any meatball I’ve had all year. When I look for them on a subsequent visit, they’re dressed in a fennel-spiked tomato sauce and garlicky yogurt. Chef-owner Michael Reed is a quick-change artist. Constantly swapping and revamping dishes makes his concise menu seem larger. It can’t remain static because he’s so tightly tuned to the seasons and their subseasons.
New to O.C., Michael and Kwini Reed also own 7-year-old Poppy + Rose, a popular daytime cafe in downtown Los Angeles. The two were on-site in O.C. during every one of my three visits, clearly giving the newest Poppy their full attention.
Most dishes are versatile, working well as a light, snacky meal or in a blowout grazing dinner. Vegetable dishes often shine—rather appropriate given that the weekly farmers market convenes mere steps away. Roasted beets and ripe strawberries married with basil, yogurt, and pistachios come together in fetching fashion, highlighting the sweet-ripe berries so often served for color rather than flavor. Wild mushrooms with crisp edges play nicely with dainty English peas, barely grilled ramps (tender wild onions), bright mint, and egg yolk, all nudged by a grating of assertive pecorino. Like the aforementioned peaches and berries, ramps and peas are fleeting and long gone by now. Memo yourself and don’t miss them next time around. Ever-popular Brussels sprouts hang around all year, and here they’re fried, seasoned à la Caesar, showered in Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Seemingly basic spaghetti is elegant in its simplicity, al dente strands twirled in a loose, light sauce of luscious heirloom tomatoes, fresh garlic, and fragrant basil. Satisfying spinach cavatelli with a crumbly pork ragù and pungent pecorino vanishes like that, despite arriving not hot.
Proteins shine as the changing array includes pork ribs, poultry, beef, and select seafood. House-cured okra and serrano chile light up the jerk duck leg, prepared as a confit for extra richness. Reed’s affinity for duck pays off again with a smoked breast fused with plum, tart onions, and chile heat. Texas wagyu beef from acclaimed Rosewood Ranches appears often. Alas, I missed the tomahawk and hanger steak, but lucked out with the skirt steak. Reed flatters the savory cut with high-volume notes of fresh sorrel, mint, and dribbles of precious aged balsamic. A la carte meats call for sides, so consider duck fat fingerling potatoes or heirloom carrots with crème fraîche frills. Those wild mushrooms are also a great call for any steak.
Weekend brunch is a familiar roster of sweet and savory items plus boozy beverages. Fried chicken thighs, delicate buttermilk biscuits, and the Nutella waffle are standouts. Egg dishes are well executed, if conventional. Daylight dining is especially suited to these alfresco surroundings. Know that the striking glass structure with dramatic black mullions doesn’t house diners—they’re lounging on the sprawling garden patio. All other operations take place indoors—you could say the whole house is the back of the house here.
Considering Poppy & Seed opened mid-pandemic, it’s hard to fault raggedy service. All restaurants are battling a labor shortage. Some friction points are easier to smooth. Requiring a credit card with strings attached for reservations is a big ask in these parts. And that 4 percent charge for “health”? Just fold it into menu prices, please. Here’s hoping the hospitality soon measures up to the compelling performance of the kitchen. Once that happens, this beguiling newcomer will rank among the best new acts of this wacky year.
350 S. Anaheim Blvd.
5 BEST DISHES
Grilled lamb meatballs
Crispy wild mushrooms
Farmers market carrot
Wagyu skirt steak
Share plates $10 to $23
Mains $25 to $125
A chef’s table and tasting meals are slated for later this year.