Café Sparrow, Santa Cruz - Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review: Café Sparrow, Santa Cruz

The Stranger: Beer... and a bottle.
Lutie Naylor: Ain't much good, but it's all there is.
[brings drinks] Lutie Naylor: You want anything else?
The Stranger: Just a peaceful hour to drink it in.
          -An example of service in the Old West, from High Plains Drifter

When most people think of Northern California, they think of Silicon Valley or San Francisco. They don’t tend to think of the Old West, but that’s a big part of the history here, and it’s still around, particularly in the buildings. You walk up to one of these, and you can practically see the ghosts of ranchers sitting out front with their boots on the railings.

You know what I mean. Anyone who’s ever seen an old Clint Eastwood movie knows the type. The buildings are basically big wooden shacks, with wide porches out front and big facades to make the building look bigger than it actually is. For reference, take a look at the town of Lago in High Plains Drifter. Which, incidentally, is the greatest Western ever made by anyone ever.

Anyway, there are some of these old buildings still around. They tend to be in small towns in remoter areas of Northern California. A couple of examples are the Pioneer Hotel in Woodside, Apple Jack’s in La Honda, or Bosco’s, in Sunol. These establishments usually wind up up being Old West-themed bars. Except in Aptos, at the Café Sparrow, where a classic Old West building has been turned into, God bless America, a really charming, really nice French restaurant.

The building’s Old West credentials are impeccable. As I said, big façade, wide porch, and best of all, a plaque on the front informing visitors that the building was constructed in 1899, that it was originally the Aptos post office and general store, and that it was financed by a gold mine. Fantastic.

But then you step inside, and you’re instantly transported into a Provence farmhouse where the mistress of the house is an extremely talented French chef. It’s amazing. And wonderful. And a great place for dinner.

Café Sparrow Food

The food is terrific, and classic French cuisine. For starters, we ordered a fondue, to be shared by both of us. What appeared was a really pretty arrangement of sliced fruit, vegetables, croutons and potatoes to be dipped in the fondue. The fondue itself was a terrific combination of white wine, cheese (I suspect Gruyere) and herbs. This was fondue for adults, and it was really good – the sauce had a little bit of a bite, and it had a really nice contrast with the richness of the sauce.

One of our dinner entrees was the Yvette dinner salad – Sparrow likes to give dishes French women’s names (the fondue, for example, was “Gigi”). This was a classic chicken-based walnut and pear salad, and was composed of grilled & sliced chicken, pears, toasted walnuts, crumbled blue cheese and spinach served with a vinaigrette. An old stalwart, this, the blue plate special of French dinners, and in this case, perfectly executed. Absolutely flawless. Everything was fresh, the balance and proportions were perfect, and the result was a textbook salad.

The other entrée was a special – grilled New Zealand venison, peppered and served in a raspberry-flavored demi-glace. Venison is tricky because it’s very lean, and can dry out in seconds. The sauces is important, and this was an interesting and very nice approach to it. A basic, rich demi-glace, with pepper on the venison, but a complementary fruit as well, which brings out the gaminess of the venison. It worked well, and was nicely paired with string beans and a little bit of squash. A winner.

And dessert? French restaurant. Cheesecake. I don’t really need to say more. Terrific.

Café Sparrow Ambiance

Pure French country. The actual space at Sparrow is pretty small – just two rooms, one of which is largely occupied by the kitchen – but the décor is wooden tables, decorative plates on the walls and so on. However, modify “French country” with “elegant.” It’s also fairly quiet, and very restrained. At dinner on a Sunday night, most of the diners were well-to-do families, older couple, and one couple who Beth decided had obviously met online.

The Location

Sparrow is on Soquel Drive, in Aptos. There is zero parking on the street, and Sparrow doesn’t have a lot, but right across the street (and the train tracks) is the large parking lot for Booka, and several other places. The tracks are easy to cross, and although it probably is against some kind of rule, if you handle it this way, parking isn’t a problem.

Address: 8042 Soquel Drive, Aptos, California

Phone: (831) 688-6238

The Price

Not bad -- $114 before tip, including drinks and dessert.

The Hours

Dinner nightly from 17:30; Lunch Monday -- Friday 11:30 – 14:00, Saturday 11:00 to 14:00; Sunday Brunch 9:00 to 14:00

The bottom line is that in a setting that looks like something out of the Wild West, you instead get an extremely civilized, top-notch meal from a different part of the West – France – in a beautiful setting. And, hey, Clint Eastwood still lives right down the road in Carmel.

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Café Sparrow, Santa Cruz
Author Rating
Published On: Tuesday, December 24th, 2013