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A Sparrow's Song

Classy Cafe Sparrow eases Monday moodiness with its rustic ambience, delicate cuisine and wine specials

By Selene Latigo

Alas, the infinite drag of Monday after a long, lazy and hot weekend. Since the days have lengthened and the weather has warmed, the last thing Dave or I feel like doing on Mondays is making dinner, so last week we decided to have a date night. Tired, hungry, but ready for romance, we headed over to Aptos and the quaint Cafe Sparrow.

Upon entering, I felt the day's tensions ebb. Soothing pastel colors, hardwood floors and multilevel dining areas create a welcoming mood and spaciousness. Soft touches of lace and fresh flowers are paired with rustic French countryside details, a classy yet comfortable setting.

We chose a corner table by the back window and were given our own specials chalkboard along with the wine list and regular menu. My mood lifted upon realizing that Monday at Cafe Sparrow means half-off all wines. From primarily local selections, we chose the 2000 Cooper-Garrod Cabernet Franc ($44), feeling like thieves for getting such a great wine for $22. Layered with flavors of tobacco, leather, sage, cassis and nasturtium, the Cab Franc proved to be an excellent choice.

We started with the "Coco" appetizer of breaded, pan-fried Pacific oysters with lemon crème fraîche ($7.95). The four large golden oysters were not greasy at all and cooked skillfully to preserve their tenderness. (The crème fraîche was so good I rescued the remains from our plate and dipped everything into it throughout the meal.)

The restaurant was starting to fill up, with two large parties. Dave caught the eye of our proficient busser and asked for bread, owing to the rush our server was feeling. (Apparently the cheap wine secret is out, as well as Sparrow's nightly $15.95 special which includes soup or salad, a specified entree and bread pudding. Another great value is the small plate dinner option, in which any appetizer can be accompanied by a starch and vegetable of the evening for $3.95 extra.) After a weekend abundant with excesses, I was delighted by the lighter small plate idea and chose the goat cheese salad ($8.50). The warmed and lightly breaded button of peppery herbed goat cheese arrived perched atop delicately dressed mixed greens with chilled chunks of roasted tomatoes and croutons on the side. On a second plate, the buttery square of polenta had a crunchy exterior and supple interior, full of Parmesan and pepper. Not one but three types of vegetables blessed my "small" plate: crisp and bright green beans, sweet red beets and puréed squash, all of which tasted unadulterated and pure.

Dave decided on the petite serving of filet mignon ($16.95, regular serving is $26.95) with a choice of béarnaise butter, Dijon mustard cream or mushroom red wine sauce. He went with the latter and also ordered a small Caesar for $3.95 extra (with entree). The salad was a bit overdressed and heavy on the anchovies but with a touch more lemon achieved balance. His filet was complemented perfectly with the simple reduced red wine sauce and the complex cabernet franc.

Dave also received the same beautifully presented vegetables, minus the polenta. This "petite" portion was definitely ample, revealing yet another way to save at Cafe Sparrow. Perhaps I will introduce a new rating system here--how clean was Dave's plate? His personal seal of approval is a gleaming plate wiped spotless, and on this night, the candle created a glare on his plate.

By now all of our Monday moodiness had disappeared and we were thoroughly reveling in the food, the wine and each other. No date can end without a decadent dessert, so we selected the sampler plate ($12.95), featuring three small portions of Sparrow's sweet specialties. Of the silky chocolate mousse cake, lemon pudding and profiteroles, our favorite was the pudding; tart and pungent, this lemon dessert was refreshing and not cloying.

Despite the complete absence of crema on Dave's espresso, the flavor was smooth and distinct and caused more of a quizzical confusion than any dissatisfaction. We gazed at each other and sighed, feeling deeply satisfied and remedied of any workday blues. Cafe Sparrow provides beautiful and delicious food with several options for saving money, maintaining sophistication and a warm ambience. And we had a wonderful date with some help from a Sparrow.

Cafe Sparrow, 8042 Soquel Drive, Aptos; lunch 11:30am-2pm and dinner from 5:30pm Mon-Sat; brunch 9:30am-2pm Sun; 831.688.6238.

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From the June 29-July 6, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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