I was sitting at the bar, finishing the last bites of my favorite plate of food so far this year—rich sweetbreads, a funky ingredient with an impossibly clean taste, decorated with grilled romaine hearts, smoky bacon, sweet English peas and a silky fond blanc sauce ($21)—and feeling generally blown away by the overall experience at Sparrow + Wolf, when the Jay-Z/Timbaland track “Jigga What, Jigga Who” suddenly came on. It was like the chefs planned it, a sonic digestif of confidence if not all-out bravado. A knife drop.
This is certainly the coolest restaurant in Las Vegas at the moment, the place where on any given night you’ll find rabid local foodies, F&B industry pros of every level and savvy Vegas visitors, but not just because of the food or the music. It’s actually astonishing how well-rounded the Sparrow + Wolf experience is at this early stage, having opened in late May in a former pho parlor on Spring Mountain Road. It’s the third site chef and owner Brian Howard picked out for his first restaurant, after two Downtown spots didn’t come together. Sometimes things just work out, though, and the Sparrow space’s huge centerpiece kitchen, tight, buzzy dining room and sizzling Chinatown location represent an ideal canvas for Howard’s edgy cuisine.
Start with an equally innovative drink, maybe the Spring Mountain Sour with Suntory Toki whiskey, yuzu and beet foam, or the wild Where There’s Smoke, Del Maguey Vida mezcal washed in pork fat with tomatillo and pineapple. If you were a fan of sharing chilled seafood or charcuterie platters at Howard’s last home, the former Comme Ça at the Cosmopolitan, you’re in luck—the Bento Box ($75) assembles oysters and other shellfish with cured meats and terrines for the ultimate group appetizer. You’ll also want to start with the simple hearth-baked bread with butter and sea salt ($5), and an early favorite dish, Chinatown Clams Casino ($7.50 each), topped with the Chinese sausage lap cheong, shiitake mushroom and sea urchin Hollandaise.
This cooking isn’t as complicated as it might sound. Howard is known for using offbeat ingredients and exotic flavors and packing a lot of technique into each plate, but you’re here to eat, so the method is less important than the results, which need no translation. There’s nothing confusing about the deliciousness of tiger shrimp in nutty cascabel chile butter ($19) or meaty, decadent black cod dressed in citrus and creamy, spicy Alabama white barbecue sauce ($22). As if we weren’t done with summer already, we’re really hoping fall starts soon, so we have an excuse to continue feasting on the lamb Bolognese udon ($16), an over-the-top mashup of Mediterranean and Asian flavors and textures.
Sparrow + Wolf aims to redefine rustic, making every dish into comfort food with modern appeal. This is also the territory of chef de cuisine Justin Kingsley Hall, whose straightforward style is the perfect foil for Howard’s ambitious tendencies; see Hall’s thoughtful, simple approach in the artichoke over white bean hummus draped in fresh herbs ($14). More collaborative dishes are in the works—this menu was designed to evolve. For now, standouts include the Campfire Duck ($34), breast with foie gras, wood ear mushroom, salted cucumber and a bold plum and duck bone broth; and the addictive, ultra-rich beef cheek and bone marrow dumpling ($14).
Too much fancy food talk? I understand. Sit at the bar, split the utterly luxurious meat pile aptly named the Big Ass Pork Shank ($27) with capers and teardrop peppers, and finish off with the calamansi tart with blueberry and vanilla merengue. You’ll be back, so you can eat and drink depending on your mood. That’s another thing that makes a restaurant cool.
Sparrow + Wolf 4480 Spring Mountain Road #100, 702-790-2147. Sunday, Monday & Wednesday, 5-11 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m.