Angelo Sosa, the young, movie-star-handsome chef at the new Poppy Den in Summerlin, is a protégé of Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Like his mentor, Sosa is a world traveler; as I write this, he is consulting on a project in Korea. The result of his wanderings is a menu filled with whimsy, imagination and bold flavors.
But it’s reductive to call Poppy Den an Asian gastropub. The chef has the chops to inject his own personality into his food, so that almost every dish here has an eccentric, individual spin. Where many chefs serve tuna tartare, Sosa’s take is done in a glass jar, with a sort of rémoulade sauce. His signature burger gets sriracha and a fried egg. His tomato soup comes in three tiny cups, swirled with curry cream. Does it work? You bet.
Things have changed at Tivoli Village since this space was a Greek tragedy called Petra. Bottles & Burgers has quietly closed. An interesting place called View Wine Bar has opened. And a second Mexican joint, Chinita Mexican Bar & Grill, has recently opened to give Tivoli’s other Mexican restaurant, Cantina Laredo, a run for its money.
To make Poppy Den, the former Petra space has been completely redone. The cozy upstairs is now an art deco lounge open Thursday through Saturday. The main dining room—a long, narrow space with cramped booths and tables done in black, polished to a mirrorlike sheen—has what I’d describe as an early-tearoom décor. Even the flowery crockery, which owner Kelley Jones acquired at various flea markets, is rustic and unusual.
Enter through a bar, where a number of creative cocktails, such as the Poppy Sling—a combination of Pusser’s rum, Heering cherry liqueur, pomegranate juice and fresh pineapple—are served. That’s an outdoor patio beyond the windows. (It’s not being used during the cold months, but it will turn into a private seating area when the weather warms.) I’d say they’ll need it. The bar has already turned into a popular scene during the evening.
I love Amma’s Homemade Tomato Soup. The curry cream reduces the acidity that plagues so many tomato soups, and I like the idea of sipping soup from a demitasse cup. Sosa’s Caesar salad uses smoked whitefish instead of the expected anchovy, and has a hint of wasabi in a yuzu (a Japanese citrus) based dressing. Veddy innn-teresting.
This is not to say that everything works. I didn’t much care for the unwieldy The General’s chicken wings ($9). They were nicely spiced, but had too much cornstarch in their crusts, and the Jurassic-size wings lacked any visual appeal. More conventional Asian bites fare better, such as Korean barbecue short ribs (tasty, but light on the sesame oil and garlic), or an interesting, Korean-influenced take on seared-pork dumplings,
As to entrées, miso salmon with shishito peppers is the best, with something called Steak & Potatoes ($24) coming in a close second. I’m not sure how Sosa achieves these potatoes—spice-crusted golden-brown medallions. If you like home fries, though, these potatoes are about 10 times better. I also loved the Poppy Burger, although it’s not for purists.
If you’ve saved room for dessert, Sosa’s take on the conventional strawberry shortcake will dazzle you. Instead of that dry biscuit, he uses what looks and tastes like tres leches cake without the gooey frosting. But by dessert, nothing this Dominican-Italian chef does will surprise you.