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[whitespace] Cafe Sparrow
George Sakkestad

No 'Chicken of the Sea': Server Lillie Kraft presents a Crab Cake Salad plate.

Under the culinary guidance of the Montagues, Cafe Sparrow offers a serene perch for fans of the fresh and the beautiful

By Christina Waters

THE EVER-POPULAR Yvette salad was exactly where I'd left it on the inviting Cafe Sparrow menu. For easily a decade I've been a big fan of Cafe Sparrow; the Yvette, with its greens, fruit and cheese, is just one paradigmatic idea in a fertile field of summery ideas.

Rosemary and I have enjoyed countless lunches here--and let's face it, this vintage fixture in the center of Aptos Village is very ladies-who-lunch. From the polished hardwood floors and dried floral appointments to the menus filled with pretty food, Sparrow appeals to the feminine side. At least at lunch.

A luscious chalkboard special of peppered lamb chops with scallion sauce ($11.95) called out to us, as did an entree of fresh sand dabs ($10.95). After deciding to split an order of the petite Yvette salad ($7.75), I grabbed a glass of tart black-currant iced tea while Rosemary indulged herself with a glass of oak-intensive Cinnabar Chardonnay 1997 ($7). And why not? Cafe Sparrow encourages long lunches with plenty of time to analyze life's fortunes and vagaries.

Fresh francese is wonderful, we both agreed, helping ourselves to more of the bread than was absolutely necessary.

At tables all around us, lunchtime guests were serving themselves from enormous salad bowls that are one of the reasons for Sparrow's popularity. The main dining room is still lined with dove-gray tapestry banquettes, and lots of Laura Ashley prints dance across tables and walls, most notably in the signature ceiling rosette of gathered print fabric that highlights the center of the main room. How wise of Bob and Julie Montague not to fix what is so obviously perfect.

Cafe Sparrow
George Sakkestad

The Yvette was pretty as always, though I was less than thrilled by the fact that not only was the wonderful vinaigrette warm, but the sliced pears had been cooked practically to the point of disintegration. The fresh spinach managed to retain some crispness nonetheless and went beautifully with a lavish garnish of walnuts, grilled chicken breast and ripe roquefort. Let's face it, the Yvette is an entire one-dish destination unto itself. Along with our salads we sampled the soup of the day, a light, beautifully made purée of cauliflower that reminded me of the kitchen's fine ways with comfort foods.

Rosemary's entree of fresh sand dabs was perfectly cooked--by owner Bob Montague himself, whose big frame was visible through the lacy curtain dividing dining room from tiny kitchen. Sand dabs are superbly creamy and delicate in flavor, a relative of that wonderful fish, plaice, that we've enjoyed in Europe. Crisp in a batter of grated bread crumbs, they'd been given the lightest possible sauteeing.

Like the sand dabs, my quartet of perfectly cooked lamp chops arrived with a side of Sparrow's celebrated rosemary roasted potatoes. The crimson lamb chops provided some feisty flavor surprises of their own. Fresh scallions had been transformed into a light, oniony pesto--such a pungent counterpoint to the sweet creaminess of the rare lamb.

Along with espressos, we went ahead and did what all ladies who lunch do--had dessert, of course. An ultra-creamy slab of fresh cherry cheesecake ($4.75) proved an enlightened updating of the perennial dessert favorite. Laced with tiny bits of fresh cherries and perfumed delicately with brandy, the cheesecake was one of those very moist, very homemade varieties that puts to shame the stiff, generic slices foisted on us by uncaring dining spots. Here was cheesecake that defied, nay mocked, the stereotype. But it was the crème caramel, a creamy flan-style custard draped with burnt caramel ($4.75), that took our breath away. Idyllic, classic, absolutely and positively flawless.

Cafe Sparrow
Address: 8042 Soquel Drive, Aptos
Phone: 688-6238
Hours: Dinner nightly, 5:30pm-9pm (9:30 on weekends); lunch Mon-Sat 11:30-2pm; brunch Sun 9am-2pm.
Ambiance: *** Smooth old-fashioned interior matched by sensitive springtime decor.
Service: ** Often forthcoming, occasionally overly casual, service is always warm.
Cuisine: ** 1/2 Many beautiful dishes sustain the menu, which is highlighted by huge, fresh salads.
Overall: Cafe Sparrow pleases its local crowd with fresh light meals and wonderful desserts.

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From the July 14-21, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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