I’ve been longing to eat at Little Sparrow after hearing all the hype surrounding this place, a new eatery in downtown Santa Ana. We finally made a reservation and came to see what the fuss was all about.
Chef Eric Samaniego, formerly of David Myers’ Comma Ça on Melrose in West Hollywood, heads the kitchen….
…. but before we settled in for dinner, we began our journey at the adjoining bar, where we went through the cocktail menu, each picking out ones to try.
Some of the guys started off with Lyon Street Buck ($9) a highball with whiskey, lemon, ginger, house bitters and fizz.
The Hemingway Special ($10) had a ton of crushed ice in the glass with rum, lime, grapefruit and maraschino poured over it. We didn’t detect any maraschino in this drink at all.
When Trinidad Sour ($10) arrived we all ooo-ed and ahh-ed. How pretty its color was! Angostura made up the bulk of this drink with lemon, simple syrup and egg.
The namesake cocktail here, Little Sparrow ($12), is a mix of French whiskey, Suze, Amargo Vallet, demarara sugar and lemon. They guy who ordered it loved it….. me, not so much!
If you’re a bourbon fan, then Gold Rush ($10 on the right) is your choice. Honey syrup and lemon complete this. Or, my absolute favorite, the Penicillin #2 ($11) a mezcal, ginger, honey and lemon libation with a spritz of Fernet Vallet mist. Smokey, sweet, tart — fantastic!
After about 30 minutes at the bar, we moved into the dining room and sat ourselves down for dinner. The restaurant was already half full with many more to flow in later for a packed house.
After we perused the menu and placed our immensely large order, plates of complimentary Amuse Bouche arrive with campagna paté topped with mustard seeds, golden raisins, fig and a sprinkling of chives. The paté was sublime and texturally spot-on. What a perfect way to start this meal!
Therefore, I was so glad we chose Housemade Charcuterie ($17) because judging from the campagna paté, I knew it was going to be a winner and I was right. The headcheese, the terrine with chorizo, all seasoned to perfection and stunningly delicious.
Everyone at the table is a fan of burrata so Heirloom Tomato Salad ($14) was a must seeing it is paired with burrata cheese and a drizzle of basil oil, I didn’t care for the burrata as much as I thought I would due to its extremely strong milky aftertaste which I’d never encountered with burrata before.
My obsession with octopus is satiated with Grilled Octopus ($15), but left me wanting more of the namesake rather than the cranberry beans accoutrement dotted with red mustard greens. The dish was perfectly savory and very addicting, I couldn’t stop eating it.
Steamed Mussels ($16) with sour beer, piquillo peppers and roasted fennel was better on paper. I wasn’t able to detect much sourness in the beer broth, or the fragrance of the fennel. The piquillo pepper was the only saving grace as the broth needed more salt to bring out the umami of the mussels.
Our next dish, Corn Risotto ($16) was something we all agreed to. Who wouldn’t with Dungeness crab salad as part of the item description? The crab was exquisite and completed the dish when eaten with the risotto. Unfortunately, the risotto on its own was under-seasoned and on the bland side.
I’ve been noticing sweetbreads appear on various menus lately, some well executed, others, not so much. No one can accuse Chef Samaniego’s Crispy Sweetbreads ($14) of being anything short of delicious. An English pea puree, bacon and onions accompany.
I am generally not a fan of pork and wouldn’t ordinarily order it, however, someone at the table did. Grilled Heritage Pork Chop ($29) was juicy, tender and really really GOOD. I was pleasantly surprised at how the flavors were deep into the thick chop providing great piquancy throughout. The beluga lentils were my favorite and the sofrito, a well thought out addition. Overall a solid plate!
Housemade Tagliatelle ($23) is definitely a must! Braised lamb neck, poached garlic, fennel and oranges were tossed together with some of the best thick noodles ever. No one should ever not order pasta made in-house, it’s just unheard of because well-executed house-made pasta generally is to-die-for. This is one of them!
For those wanting a vegetarian option Ricotta Agnolotti ($20) is another pasta dish not to be missed. Roasted tomato sauce topped with a thinly shaved asparagus salad and shards of frisee.
My first experience with Little Sparrow was a good one. Considering how many dishes we ordered the misses were minimal and I look forward to returning again soon for round two of some delicious cocktails and bites to accompany them with.
300 N Main Street
Santa Ana, CA 92701