How do they do it?

How can this Aptos landmark continue to enchant even the pickiest patrons? We weren’t the only ones who had decided to have wine with lunch on Martin Luther King Day. Cafe Sparrow’s long listing of wines by the glass tempted us, and we went with half glasses ($5.50) of Alfaro 2013 “A” Estate Chardonnay. Jack had never been to the Sparrow, a restaurant I’ve been visiting since even before the days of Bob and Julie Montague’s ownership. Ever appealing in its old-West-country-French way, the two dining rooms were lively when we took a spacious table for two in the sunny downstairs room. Jack approved of the lace-under-glass tablecloths, antiqued chairs and fresh flowers on every table. We both loved the long menus of special brunch entrees, Angus filet tip risotto, blackened Chinook salmon and luscious egg creations, but turned our attention to the house signature sandwiches and salads.

Always a draw for enlightened female diners, the Sparrow was well-stocked with men on the holiday afternoon of our visit, and everybody was clearly there to savor a long lunch.

Seared ahi on infant spinach leaves was Jack’s choice ($17.75), while I couldn’t resist the idea of a shrimp croissant ($13.75), especially since the grilled shrimp arrived in a creamy toss of dill-infused crème fraîche. Seriously, how could that not be fantastic? And it was! Our lunch began with fresh sourdough, presented in a thick white napkin along with unsalted butter. Accompanied with a tall glass of black currant iced tea—which tasted intensely of tangy black currants—Jack’s salad was huge yet beautiful. A thicket of thumbnail spinach leaves was threaded with thin ribbons of red bell pepper and a smartly spiced wasabi vinaigrette, then studded with long thin strips of crimson-seared ahi. On top was a central garnish of spun carrots and purple cabbage, everything dusted with white and black toasted sesame seeds. It was a salad made with care and expertise, presented to make the eyes as happy as the tastebuds.

Meanwhile, my shrimp croissant arrived with a side portion of spicy roasted red potatoes. The toasted croissant was arranged to reveal a nest of shrimp—perfectly cooked, still moist, yet toothsome—on a leaf of butter lettuce. A tiny pyramid of fresh fruit anchored the side of the pretty plate. This was another gorgeous dish that tasted even better than it looked. I adore the haunting sexiness of dill, and the combination of dill, tart crème fraîche and shrimp made a northern French (or perhaps southern Norwegian?) statement.

Our entire meal was delicious, very satisfying and refreshingly Old World (plus new California). How incredible that Cafe Sparrow continues to renew its reputation for country French cooking. I’ve never had anything but fine meals here in many decades of dining. Open nightly for dinner, Monday-Friday for lunch, and brunch on weekends. cafesparrow.com.

Award-Winning Spirits

Kudos to Sean Venus whose Venus Spirits Gin Blend No. 02 has won at this year’s Good Food Awards. From almost 2,000 entries, the citrusy, complex, and very unusual new gin was one of 176 winners in 13 categories. If, like me, you keep a bottle of Venus’ Gin No. 01 in your freezer, then this second creation will surprise you. Infused with botanicals such as orange and bay, this gin was aged in American oak. The color is caramel, the flavor is astonishing.

Wine of the Week

A light, charming, easy-sippin’ Dolcetto from Banfi. This high-value wine was made in cement tanks—no oak! Lots of pure strawberry fruit notes. A steal at $7 from the Shopper’s treasure trove of bargain wines.

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