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Photograph by Curtis Cartier
Surf and turf: Chef Bob Montague with Cafe Sparrow's salmon on polenta and Brie-melted filet mignon.

High-Flying Flavor

Cozy and delicious, Café Sparrow in downtown Aptos still soars.

By Christina Waters

IT'S POSSIBLE that the road of temptation is paved with caprese salads. Come late summer, who can resist the allure of sliced heirloom tomatoes joined by creamy mozzarella, the licoricy perfume of fresh basil and a dressing of olive oil and balsamic? Not us. And that was only the first siren song we answered on a recent dinner at Café Sparrow ($8.95). Another appetizer of seared ahi with a soy dipping sauce pleased us greatly ($9), as did a respectable house Caesar salad served with crisp mezzaluna croutons (part of the prix fixe special).

Mateo had his eye on the special of grass-fed filet medallions ($28). Pan-roasted with just the perfect sprinkling of blue cheese, two ample filets arrived atop sliced heirloom tomatoes in a port wine reduction. Perhaps a millimeter past medium rare, the beef was tender and delicious, served with a large party of accompaniments. Whipped yams, tiny red potatoes and a mound of diced beets seemed a bit wintry for the warm summer evening. But they were lovely along with a dainty trio of filet beans adding that crucial touch of green. The luxurious beef appeared a bit hemmed in by its side dishes and deserved a larger plate.

Francesca chose the evening prix fixe dinner of jumbo prawns and scallops ($19.95) sauced with pink peppercorn beurre blanc and vanilla orange balsamic reduction. Sounds busy, but it all worked nicely.

My special risotto with filet mignon tips ($22.95) was absolutely delicious. The arborio rice, creamy and yet authoritatively al dente, was embedded with the sensuous textures and flavors of mushrooms, smoked onions, sweet peppers, roasted garlic and marsala. A liberal dusting of Gruyère cheese added even more flavor depth. One could argue against the Gruyère--perhaps unnecessary, perhaps distracting. But it too was shamelessly delicious. Think French onion soup with an Italian accent. Flavor seems the whole point of this restaurant. Looking around Café Sparrow's teeming dining rooms, every smile seemed to reinforce this theory. A full-throated 2006 Adelaida, HMR Vineyard, Paso Robles Pinot Noir ($58) made the perfect companion for our entire suite of dishes.

Mateo found closure in crème caramel ($6.75), and Francesca and I decided on the Dessert Sampler ($13.50). Despite the visual clash of chocolate, lemon and cream pastries on a single plate, the individual impressions were appealing. Chocolate mousse cake that was intensely chocolate. Lemon pudding tart that was, well, tart and sauced with a fabulous blackberry purée. The profiteroles, which my companions loved, were just infant cream puffs to me. The crème caramel was indeed classic and satisfying, especially when joined by tiny pours of a honeyesque Alicats dessert chardonnay and a luscious late harvest primativo from Salamandre ($8 each).

About the only thing we could fault was the house insistence on placing a fan of unripe pear on each dessert plate. Not needed. All else at Sparrow was delightful.

Café Sparrow

Address: 8042 Soquel Dr., Aptos

Phone: 831.688.6238

Hours: Lunch 11:30am-2pm Mon-Sat
Brunch 9am-2pm Sun
Dinner nightly from 5:30pm

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