Friday, September 4, 2009
Local Love Fridays: A Splendid Feast at Sparrow Market
For over a year, Dave and I have been intrigued by the flyers that went up around the fourth week of the month at Sparrow Market - various "feasts" were to be had on third Sundays. Often they were Italian; always, they reflected the season.
As so often happens in this busy-ness that can be Ann Arbor life, we never made it. When our staycation came up, we were delighted to see that it corresponded with the August "feast" and that the menu was one that made our mouths water in anticipation.
So Dave and I attended the August 23rd South American Market Feast. We walked in to a transformation of the market space performed by head server Sydney Liepshutz and her crew; tables were set up where the vegetable and cheese cases usually are, and Sweetwaters had also been taken over with tablecloths and lovely settings. A variety of eclectic favorites was being rocked by the father/son duo of Douglas and Andrew Brown, and while the music was a bit loud, it just added to the festive atmosphere. We settled in at a table four six, joining another couple and later having a third couple join our group. There are some four-seat tables in the Sweetwaters area, but most of the seating is family-style. We quickly found common ground with our table mates and shared a wonderful Voignier made by John Schafer, one of our tablemates. (All Sparrow Feasts are strictly BYOB affairs).
Soon the food began flowing, and I use that term because the plates seemed to magically appear and disappear as the courses wore on. This is a five-course meal, and while the portions are perfect - large enough to be satisfying but small enough so that you don't feel you have to stagger out at the evening's end, the dinner has to have a certain rhythm or we would have been there for hours. The friendly servers were efficient and helpful - and most were familiar faces from the Kerrytown market businesses.
Chef Ricco Decola and his sous chef Casey Pennisi put together a simply fabulous menu. Our first course was a "baby greens salad with hearts of palm, mango, and a citrus vinaigrette". The salad was light and refreshing - a perfect palate teaser for the rest of the meal. I loved the balance of the mangoes and the hearts of palm.
The second course was one of my favorites - "a selection of fresh, cured and smoked chorizos accompanied by fresh pears and berries". Again, the balance was what made this work - each chorizo had a very different mouth feel and flavor, and the berries and pear were perfect counterparts. I especially loved the fresh chorizo, it was subtle and had a simply fabulous texture.
The third course tied as my favorite - a "lime marinaded Chilean shrimp over calasparra rice". The shrimp was succulent and flavorful, no easy feat when served simultaneously to a large group. The rice was perfect - a saffron-infused dish that was reminiscent of paella rice. My tablemate, Liz Salley, who wasn't a newbie, left some of her rice, knowing that more good things were to come. I didn't leave any, because it was so delicious, but I regretted it later, just because... she was right. While I said the portions were perfect, they were, but five courses is five courses.
The fourth course was an "Argentinean chimichurri beef over spiced squash puree," slices of superb Sparrow Market beef, cooked medium, with a really bright, flavorful chimichurri sauce and a sweet counterpart of spiced squash. I wondered how this would fare when I read the description, but again, Chef Decola struck just the right note. My only quibble with the entire dinner is that I would have preferred the beef to be served more authentically rare, but again, for this kind of family-style setting and delivery, a compromise (as well as consideration of food safety issues) was probably necessary.
The dinner was topped off by "fresh (sic) prepared rice pudding and plantains with hot rum sauce." Again, this was superbly delicious - the rice pudding was creamy and light (a necessity after all of the earlier courses) and the plantains seemed to be caramelized and were rich and sweet. The rum sauce was amazing - I was in serious danger of wanting to lick the plate.
One of the couples at our table were pescatarian; they'd let this be known ahead of time, and they had fish sausage for the chorizo course and vegetarian options for the beef. They were also supremely happy with their choices.
Dave and I are saving our restaurant budget for another trip to Sparrow's on Sunday, September 20th, where we'll enjoy a Summer's End Italian Feast consisting of an asparagus, sweet peppers and baby greens salad with lemon vinaigrette; a selection of Italian salamis; penne with tuna, capers and basil in marinara; rosemary chicken over a wild mushroom risotto and fresh cannolis. We can't wait!
For reservations and information, please call 761-8175.
Photos: Chimichurri beef with spiced squash puree, diners anticipating the start of the feast, baby greens salad with mangoes and hearts of palm, chorizos with berries and pears, rice pudding with plantains and rum sauce. All photos by Jennifer Shikes Haines
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