OC Review: Little Sparrow, Santa Ana

Little Sparrow in downtown Santa Ana (Photos by Eugene Garcia and Brad A. Johnson)

I can’t stop thinking about the pastrami at Little Sparrow.

At lunchtime, Little Sparrow in downtown Santa Ana serves mostly sandwiches, no entrees, which sounds boring. But the sandwiches are actually exciting.

The tri-tip pastrami is cured in-house. Fork-tender, the meat is crudely sliced and piled 2 inches high, with Swiss cheese oozing over the top, cradled between thick slices of charred rye bread that coats my fingers with butter. As I bite, the meat fills my sinuses with joy.

But it’s not just the sandwich I keep thinking about. It’s Little Sparrow itself. This might be one of the more important openings of the past couple of years. I didn’t see this coming. That’s mainly because in the ramp-up to its debut, there was never any mention of the chef. There was simply a declaration that this would be a neighborhood restaurant with quality-driven food and drink, something in the vein of Prune in New York. Except Prune is a chef-owned, chef-driven restaurant…

IMG_3217Charcuterie at Little Sparrow (Photo by Brad A. Johnson)

The charcuterie plate is one of the few items available at lunch and dinner. Any chef can buy an expensive log of salame from Fra’Mani or Creminelli and slap it onto a serving board, and even the most discerning foodies will be happy. But only a handful of truly inspired chefs get their kicks by buying whole hog heads and extracting every last ounce of cheek fat and snout drippings, transforming the melted face into something more ethereally delicious. That’s what’s going on here, and I find it very, very sexy. It is an obvious labor of love that results in pungent, cloudlike chicken-liver mousse, as well as decadent pork rillettes, pork and duck terrine, and even a sort of head cheese…

This is obviously merely a synopsis. To read my full review and see the star rating, and to view an extensive slide show by photographer Eugene Garcia, check out this week’s OC Register. Note: Subscriptions are required for unlimited access the OC Register online. We don’t give it away for free at the newsstand, and we don’t give away for free online, either. Anyone can receive one week of complimentary access, but after that you’ll need to be a subscriber. Alternatively, you can always buy a single day pass — cheaper than a cup of coffee — for 24-hour access. 

I invite you to follow me and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. (My Instagram feed appears on Facebook.)

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