Monday, August 19, 2013

A Little Bird Told Us to Eat at the Little Sparrow

Little Sparrow
300 North Main St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

We get some culture every once in awhile. Yes, it is true. We leave our DVR unattended for a night, I get out from behind my computer keyboard, and Katie gets a rare night off from household chores, (okay she does this on a regular basis, but I was trying to make her feel better). We had a friend of ours who was going to be in the play, Damn Yankees at the Mysterium Theater. As usual I was in charge of making dinner reservations. I was not aware that the theater had moved from Downtown Santa Ana to over by Foothill High School. The problem was I made reservations in DTSA, at a place that has been on our list of restaurants to try forever. We decided to chance being late to the play, in order to try the food at the Little Sparrow.

The Little Sparrow is located right on the corner of 3rd and Main. It is in the same place where the old Santa Ana Cafe was, but that was gone long ago, and this address sat vacant for the last fifteen years. The Little Sparrow has been opened for just three months now. In that time they have been reviewed by the tough OC Register critic Brad A. Johnson, and been called one of the ten best restaurants of the summer. Gustavo Arellano from OC Weekly called the breakfast here, "one of the better breakfasts of his year". High praise from a guy that I respect his opinion on food immensely. So now you see why we took the chance to miss the opening act of the play we were going to see, just to try the food here.

We got here at about 6PM on a recent Saturday night. The parking situation can always be a challenge in Santa Ana, but the Little Sparrow is very close to the public parking structure that we always seem to have good luck parking in. When we got here, they were not exactly busy. They had maybe eight customers in a restaurant that can easily seat fifty. As the night went on the place filled up, as it was almost all filled when we left. The dining room here is dominated by the color white, from the tiled floors to the white walls and white linens. I really liked the relaxed, bright look of the place. Katie called this a, "Pinterest restaurant". Not sure what that means, but she did seem pleased by the aesthetics here.

The menu at the Little Sparrow is not going to blow you away with its diversity. They offered eight starters, seven entrees, and four desserts on their menu, that appears to change monthly. They also have a few small plates on their bar menu as well. They do offer one each of the major proteins on their menu; beef, lamb, chicken, fish, and pasta are featured. I was ready to tackle this menu, so we made our dinner selections, and this is what came out for us.

We were not really feeling any of the starters off of the dinner menu, (okay I wanted to try the Bone Marrow, but I know Katie is not into it, and I could not eat it all by myself.), so we selected two things off of the bar menu, the first of which were these Onion Rings ($4). The onion rings are coated with a panko breading that was good, but was kind of boring. The breading also broke away from the onion way too easily, one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to onion rings. On the positive side, these lacked any sort of greasiness, they were crunchy, and the thick onion inside was full of flavor. These were served with a house ketchup that was a little on the sweet side, but went well with these. I have definitely had worse house ketchup's, which I generally do not like.

The other bar menu item we tried was the Lamb Merguez Meatballs with Harissa Pomme Puree ($7). While writing this review I learned that merguez is a spicy lamb, which is often featured in Northern African cuisine. Katie is a lot more sensitive to spices, so she noticed the spiciness a lot more than myself. The meatball was not smooth in texture, but rather kind of chunky, which I did not mind at all. It did have a nice bold flavor, and the brown sauce used here was very well made. The puree was very smooth, and added a nice accompaniment to the meatballs. I would definitely get this again, but I probably would not share it with anybody. Sorry Katie.

Now onto the entrees, and let's do the lady first. Katie got the Ricotta Agnolotti ($20). This pasta dish was topped with a roasted tomato sauce and an asparagus salad. This pasta dish was a contradiction for Katie, as she described it as both light, but with a hearty sauce. The homemade pasta was soft and well crafted. The sauce was sweet, but the garlic was very evident. The shaved asparagus used here was different, but it definitely worked for Katie, as she summed up this dinner as being, "excellent".

I really enjoyed photographing the food at the Little Sparrow. The food was very bright and came across that way in the pictures. This beautiful dish is the Grilled Heritage Pork Chop ($29). I was never really a fan of pork chops growing up, but this one makes two that I have had just recently that really knocked my socks off, (the other was at 370 Common). This good sized pork chop came with beluga lentils, rapini, and kumquat. I'm not usually a fan of orange, but the orange zest used on this chop really enhanced the flavor big time. This pork chop had just enough fat on it to provide even more flavor. The meat was juicy and tender, so I knew it was cooked perfectly. The hefty serving of lentils with this dish really helped to round out this entree. I could not help but pick up the bone and make sure that I got every speck of meat that could be gotten from it. I would not hesitate to get this on future visits here.

Even though we were pressed for time with the upcoming play, we still made time for dessert. Katie tried the Crepe Cake ($8). This cake was created by using lots of pastry sheets, then the top was caramelized like the top of a creme brulee and garnished with blackberries. Katie liked the muted sweetness of this dessert, and it let the very juicy blackberries steal the show. The caramelized top was a very nice touch.

It's probably no shock that I did not get a fruit dessert, but instead got the Chocolate Tart ($8). This tart was garnished with hazelnuts. This dessert was very rich, but still had a muted sweetness to it. The hazelnuts probably helped to soften the sweet blow, but I would liked to have had them incorporated inside the dessert. The crust was solid, but did not wow me when I tasted it on its own. This was a good sized dessert, and a nice finish to our meal.

After eating at the Little Sparrow, it is safe to say that they deserve all of the praise that has come their way in the short time that they have been open. A lot of people may not want to trek down to Santa Ana, but this restaurant is worth the trip. Even with the limited menu, if you just place your hands in the chef's, you are almost definitely guaranteed a great meal. The staff on the night we were here were all very helpful. Our waitress knew the restaurant very well, and aided us in making some decisions. The owners were also very visible, and were really excited to hear that we had enjoyed their restaurant so much. We had the play to catch, but I did have time to glimpse inside the backroom, where the cocktail lounge is located. This looks like a place that we will have to hit sometime in the future. The cocktail menu looks very promising as well. As for this trip, we payed our bill hastily and ran out the door, hoping not to miss a lot of the play as we made our way across town. Luckily, we made it just in time for the first number, and I still had the memory of a great meal dancing around in my head.

Out of five pirate ships, (because of Jack Sparrow of course), five being best to zero being worst, The Little Sparrow gets 3.5 pirate ships.

For more information on the Little Sparrow, click here to go to their website:

Little Sparrow on Urbanspoon

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