It’s true, that thing about a rising tide lifting all boats: The restaurant revolution in the tourism corridor has brought some great dining to areas outside of it. We’re in the middle of the latest wave of Strip veterans establishing neighborhood beachheads, and one of the latest is Sparrow + Wolf from Brian Howard, whose credits include Comme Ca at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
Instead of decamping to Henderson or the western valley, Howard has settled in Chinatown. His spot, a little west of most of the action, has a neighborhood feel. Unlike the more familiar fare you might find at a neighborhood restaurant, Howard’s offerings continue to surprise.
The menu has no categories (appetizers, entrees, etc.) and doesn’t arrive with a server tutorial, refreshing on both counts. Beef cheek and bone marrow dumplings ($14) may have been less exotic than they sounded but had a luxe feeling, the meat tender and the marrow buttery. A green-onion emulsion added color to the plate and interrupted the soporific tendency of all that richness.
Plump oak-grilled sea scallops ($28) had been thoroughly caramelized for texture as well as flavor. The “Brentwood” label on a pile of crunchy-tender corn may forever evoke images of O.J., but actually referred to a prime growing region in the East Bay that’s prized for its ears of corn and is as near to “local” as desert-dwellers are likely to get. Bacon was meaty but not extremely smoky; that niche was filled by the more remote smokiness of miso butter.
Beef chunks threaded onto skewers ($19) were bold in flavor and tender in nature, and Howard showed his creativity in the accompaniments. The Vadouvan crepe pieces that brought Indian cuisine to the party by way of seasoning were deftly complemented by a sweet-and-sour chickpea relish. Howard put to good use what we used to consider byproducts, with a trace of smoked tallow butter.
Paying for bread is a subject of great debate in some circles, but in an era when many of us are trying to eat less, and an increasing number of restaurants don’t serve it, $5 seems a small price to pay for a loaf that’s exceptional — and this one was. Hearth-baked, it had a firm crust with a gratifying crunch and an interior with a large, stretchy crumb. The artistically piped squiggle of salted butter was precisely the right consistency.
Service was good overall, but what impressed most was that the fairly casual Sparrow + Wolf doesn’t skimp on the finer points, such as fresh flatware between courses. Dish-towel napkins may be trendy but they’re always effective, and a server crumbing a hard-surface table was a considerate touch. Decor is mostly in keeping with the towels, a sort of rustic/industrial mashup that’s quasi-both, but most of all, just comfortable. Cocktails are creative and chef-driven.
Asked about the restaurant’s name, Howard said it reflects his energy and search for balance, the humble forager and more ferocious predator. That’s certainly more difficult to digest than Howard’s food, but it does come through in this cozy nest with most ambitious food and beverages.
If you go
■ Sparrow + Wolf, 4480 Spring Mountain Road; 702-790-2147
■The essence: Creative, Strip-quality cuisine continues neighborhood dance.
Las Vegas Review-Journal restaurant reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at Hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.