Plenty to swallow at Sparrow
Published: Friday, September 14, 2012
Updated: Friday, September 14, 2012 03:09
Renowned local chef Monica Pope, whose prepackaged fare often fills a stall at the Rice University Farmer’s Market, has completely overhauled her restaurant t’afia, now reimagined in the same location as Sparrow Bar + Corkshop. Nestled in the same midtown bungalow bestrewn with rope-lights, Sparrow presents Pope’s commitment to locally sourced, seasonal flavors with a creatively exotic spin.
In walking distance from the METRORail, Sparrow’s environment mixes hip edginess with rustic romance. Alchemic touches, like water served out of Erlenmeyer flasks and salt stored in test tubes, lie atop dark, unfinished slab tables adorned with fresh wildflowers. Warm lighting emanates from glowing birdcage lanterns that hang from low ceiling beams and against exposed brick walls, and cushy red banquettes lend to an intimate homey environment. Roughly textured napkins give a tactile, rugged country feel. No detail goes overlooked; even the dessert menu arrived in a cute package, a note folded like something your third-grade crush might have handed you. The mellower sides of the Talking Heads and the Clash played softly over the din of forks, as well as some vaguely familiar acoustic Nirvana covers. It feels like Sparrow is trying to create some idealized home you never had.
The food menu changes nightly, but the the wine and cocktail menus are solidly in place. The wine options are extensive, but they tend to get a bit pricey. The bar’s main calling, besides the ultra-cool environment, are the $10 cocktails — nothing too creative or extraordinary, but sipped in a fancy cup in a cool place so close to the light rail, they are worth it.
The food also was a tad pricey, with entrees starting at around $15. The dishes billed as smaller plates are generally savory enough to be eaten alone as a hearty bar snack or combined for a full meal. One of the tragic exceptions to this truth, however, was the shiitake mushroom dumplings plate, which was covered in a creamy blue cheese, honey and mascarpone sauce. Four petite lumps sat in the soupy sauce, but despite their rather sad appearance, the salty, earthy mushrooms blended perfectly with the sweet, cheesy sauce. One of the best sides was the crunchy brussels sprouts with miso glaze, which truly was life-changing to a self-declared brussels sprouts hater. The sprouts were grilled until they were slightly burned, which seemed to cure them of their usually detestable bitterness and made them delectably tender. Covering them with the sweet and sticky miso sauce made them as easy to pop in your mouth as candy. The Mac n’ Cheese, which was served carbonara-style with peas and speck (juniper-flavored ham), was also especially rib-sticking, with a portion substantial enough to be an entire meal in itself. Perfectly al dente orecchiette pasta was the perfect medium for scooping up the salty egg and parmesan sauce in a classy, grown-up reinvention of the comfort-food classic.
For an energetic bar and creative homestyle snacking, Sparrow is your place. It is definitely not the best place near campus to get the most out of your dollar, but it is worth a visit if you have something to celebrate — or you are just looking for an excuse to dress up and blow a little cash.