Having read in Orange Coast Magazine that Little Sparrow in Santa Ana was their choice for Restaurant of the Year, we decided to have dinner there this past Saturday evening.
We arrived at 6 pm and were seated at a small table in the bar area. We started with cocktails which are supposed to be a strong point of this restaurant. Although I almost always enjoy a Bombay Sapphire martini, I was told that they did not carry this spirit. (Indeed the bar menu states that you should not expect to find your favorite spirit here!) OK so I ordered another gin martini, and my partner ordered some kind of a citrus martini. Both drinks were on the smallish side, but more importantly were served lukewarm! A really good martini will typically have ice crystals floating on the surface, We added ice cubes to our drinks.
We asked for some bread to accompany our drinks. We were brought some rather nice sliced bread and butter. The bread had been lightly toasted on a grill…a nice touch, but…it had been painted quite heavily with oil before grilling, and was very greasy, and not appealing.
For a starter, I ordered a "small plate" of lamb merguez meatballs. Although not bad, "small" is putting it mildly! The plate contained of three marble sized meatballs…indeed, I have had larger amuse bouches than this. This was ridiculous. My dining partner had a carrot salad, which was just barely ok.
We were sure that our entrees would be better…but that was not to be. I ordered the skate which was the fish of the day. It was seriously overcooked, and was served cold! Really inedible. I asked the server to take it away, and to bring me a hamburger such as the one a nearby diner seemed to be enjoying. Nope…not possible. Little Sparrow only serves 7 hamburgers per evening, and that allotment had already been met! Hard to believe that early on a busy Saturday evening, in a restaurant/bar which probably seats ~ 60 persons per seating, only 7 burgers would be available. So, I ordered the mussel appetizer for my entree. The mussels were fine (PEI, I think), but the broth (which is truly the essence of the dish) was also just lukewarm, and not especially flavorful. My dining partner had an agnolotti with peas entree. This too was served lukewarm, and the pasta was no better than the prepackaged stuff that's in every supermarket cooler.
This was truly one of the worst meals we have ever had in Orange County. If Little Sparrow is currently the best restaurant in Orange County, OC is really in trouble in this area. Fortunately, there are dozens of better restaurants in OC…many that would be a much better choice for Restaurant of the Year.