Your reaction to Sparrow + Wolf will depend on a number of things, first and foremost being where you rate yourself on the foodie continuum. Gastro-nomads who wander the earth searching for oases of ingenious edibles have already pitched their tents here.
The menu seems simple enough, and begins in the most basic way: with house-baked bread and butter. If you’re the sort who reflexively grabs the bread and starts munching away, you’ll have nothing to complain about. But if you’re the thoughtful type, you will notice the yeasty release of aromas, butter at the correct (soft) temperature, and just the right amount of bite to your slice. Clearly, someone in the kitchen is doing more than just tossing some dinner rolls on the table.
The charcuterie is not yet made in-house, but Chef Brian Howard sources top-quality items, and seasonal pickles are fabulous. Just as good are his oysters (one type, kumais, when we had them) topped three different ways — with pineapple mignonette, cucumber granité, and a yuzu pearl. The Chinatown Clams Casino — baked with uni hollandaise — is so rich it ought to come with its own calorie count, but it’s also fusion food at its finest. Like we said, nothing is simple — roasted beets come under a tangle of endive, pea shoots, shaved fennel, sheep’s milk blue cheese and “bird seed” (black sesame seeds), whew! — but everything has its place. Butcher Wings with burnt tomato and ’nduja (think spreadable salami) vinaigrette are a hot item, but the heat escaped the order I was given. That was the last misfire, though, in a bevy of beautiful plates that followed: beef cheek with bone marrow dumplings; sweetbreads with smoked bacon; firm, flavorful halibut coated with Alabama white barbecue sauce; udon noodles “Bolognese” with Taggiasche olives, citrus confit and mint. (That fusion thing again, paying further homage to the neighborhood by craftily mixing culinary metaphors.)
As you work your way through the menu, you might find yourself thinking that there’s not a main ingredient that Brian Howard doesn’t think he can complicate. (Octopus on top of a very good steak? You bet.) But if you taste carefully, and think a little harder, you see that a lot of thought went into these combinations, and by and large they work. Nowhere is this payoff more rewarding than in his Campfire Duck: gorgeous slices of duck and foie gras resting on dark, earthy shreds of wood ear mushrooms, accented by sharp bites of salted plum in a duck bone broth. It’s a dish that appears to be trying to do too much, but those flavor explosions in your mouth tell you it succeeds. This is high-wire cooking without a net, and when Howard pulls it off, the results are thrilling indeed.
Just as complicated are the cocktails — at least five ingredients each — but they’re as clever and complex as the food. The wine list matches the menu, the neighborhood, and the crowd, even if it doesn’t match what a wine snob might want to drink.