John Curtas is …

Spring Mountain Road

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First Bites – SPARROW + WOLF

“It’s very chef-y,” said the Food Gal. “It feels like the chef is cooking to impress other cooks.”  Indeed, how you feel about all these cheffy impressions will probably depend on how many cartwheels you like to see from a kitchen. Because there is no doubt that much of what you will eat here is tasty, but none of it is what I would call simple.

Before we explain the menu, a little background is in order. Sparrow + Wolf is the brainchild of veteran Strip chef Brian Howard – who was last seen doing David Myers’ bidding at the now-shuttered Comme Ca. Tired of cooking for tourists, Howard has made the bold move of bringing his elevated world cuisine to the ‘burbs – but not too deeply into the neighborhoods. Instead of trying to woo the fickle Summerlin or Green Valley crowds, he’s opted to open on Spring Mountain Road – a mecca for foodies and tourists alike.

He’s done it by hollowing out an old pho parlor, cutting it in half, bringing in a wood-burning oven, and creating an open, airy coziness in a space that used to look like a budget cafeteria. There’s a long bench against one wall, and an 8 seat bar that looks into the kitchen. There’s also complicated cocktails and a menu full of things to eat that you have never thought of.

For example, who would’ve thought that a tangy, white Alabama barbecue sauce would marry perfectly with a thick slab of halibut? It sounds odd, and isn’t a whole lot to look at, but it’s lip-smackingly good. Ditto the crab two ways: one topped with kimchee, the other a fried egg, or a shallow bowl of sliced duck, with bits of salted cucumbers and a tangle of sautéed mushroom in a sweet-sour plum-duck broth. It’s a dish that sounds Asian, looks vaguely French, and tastes like the best of both worlds.

Howard’s food likes to toggle around the globe – as when he stacks his lamb tartare, fresh oysters and charcuterie into bento boxes – and some of the combinations don’t make much sense (Why are octopus tentacles on top of a really good dry-aged steak?), but once the food hits your palate, you know he’s on to something. Some combinations need work – as when tough, bacon-wrapped cabbage distracts from beautiful sweetbreads – but the hits far outnumber the misses.

There are also a few items we’re not sure about, such as the Chinatown Clams Casino at the top of the page (an umami bomb – clams, cream, bacon, uni – tasting like it was dropped from a David Chang menu), and the beef cheek/marrow dumplings are best consumed by a crowd around a roaring fire in the dead of winter, not in 105 degree Vegas heat. Ditto the udon Bolognese: a triple-rich homage to wafuu (Japanese/Italian) pasta that slayed us after two bites.

Rib-sticking or not, this is clearly an ambitious restaurant – more aspirational than anything since Other Mama opened. And Howard is banking on corralling the same clientele to his less seafood-centric version of a gastropub. The foodies will flock here for sure, and some tourists will traipse, but will Asians and others adapt to these intriguing alimentations? Only time will tell.

SPARROW + WOLF

4480 Spring Mountain Road

702-790-2147

What You’ll Be Having at SPARROW + WOLF

 Tomorrow it will have been open for two weeks. Every chef worth their Victorinox has already checked in, and industry types of all stripes are making a point of making a pilgrimage here to see what all the shoutin’s about.

We’ve been to SPARROW + WOLF twice, and plan a third visit before doing a formal review. But as a public service, we thought we’d post some tasty snaps of some of the more interesting dishes to give you, our loyal readers, an idea of what you’re in for when you check it out.

Two caveats: 1) when we say “the more interesting dishes” we basically mean most of the menu, which is nothing if not interesting, and 2) all judgments are reserved until said review, and nothing said herein should be seen as an endorsement of, or opprobrium for, any of the plates, food, drinks or service.

So, without further ado, here’s what you’ll be doing when you get there:

Cozy interior + Big window + Busy bartenders =

Wine refrigerator + Retail sales available + $20 corkage =

Wood + Wood smoke + Fragrant smell of burning wood (this is a good thing) =

Funny names +  Punny names + 5-ingredient cocktails =

Good stemware =

Good beers + Acceptable wines + Decent prices + New Mexican sparkler =

Fresh baked bread + Butter at the right temperature =

Oyster one way + Oyster another way + Oyster a third way =

Bento box + Charcuterie + Lamb tartare + Lump crab + Big shrimp =

Smoke + Burnt wood + Brown booze =

Beets! + The fact that chefs can’t stop serving me beets =

Oddly arranged artichokes + The fact that thistle lovers like alliteration =

Very Spring-y sweetbreads + Peas + Pea shoots + Bacon-wrapped cabbage + Seasonal eating =

Butcher wings + Burnt tomato + Ndjua vinaigrette =

Hamachi + Lychee + Rice cracker =

Maryland blue crab + Kimchee + Crabmeat + Egg =

Duck + Foie gras + Wood ear ‘shrooms + Salted cukes + Plum-duck broth =

Halibut + Alabama white bbq sauce + Citrus confit =

Dry-aged steak + Cephalopod =

Calamasi + Blueberry + Tart =

That’s enough to digest for one Tuesday morning. We’ll give chef Brian Howard and his crew another week or so to get their sea legs under them before we visit again.

In the meantime, just remember this equation: Sparrow + Wolf = unique gastropub.

SPARROW + WOLF

4480 Spring Mountain Road

Las Vegas, NV 89102

702.790.2147

http://sparrowandwolflv.com/

CHADA THAI or CHADA STREET? Both!

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One has a big sign, announcing its presence in a large, almost all-Asian strip mall, directly on Spring Mountain Road. It is located just a mile west of the Strip.

The other is tucked into a small, all-Asian strip mall, a couple of miles further west.

One you can’t miss; the other you can miss standing right in front of it.

Both are relatively small — with one having a bigger feel to it, thanks to some overstuffed furniture and a long bar. Neither is open for lunch, which is a tragedy.

Chada Thai is darker; Chada Street is more brightly lit and feels more casual.

Large groups will do better at Chada Street; first dates will be impressed by Chada Thai.

Oenophiles will be impressed by both of them.

The service at both is excellent.

The wine list at Thai is shorter than the one at Street; the champagne list at Street is awesome; the markups at both are so mild you’ll wonder why you ever bother to drink wine (especially white wine) anywhere else in Vegas.

If I had to distinguish the food between them, I’d tell you that Street aims for rougher, urban, spicier fare — befitting its “Thai street food” moniker — while big brother Thai skews more traditional regional dishes, albeit with much nicer presentations, and in a more sophisticated setting than your usual neighborhood joint.

Look for dishes labeled “medium spicy” at both if you want to enjoy what you’re eating. “Medium spicy” enables you to enjoy both the food and those delicious white wines that compliment it. Anyone who doesn’t like the electric jolt of Thai chilies should book elsewhere. Anyone who asks for anything “Bangkok hot” has rocks in their head. (In this regard, the menu has a helpful chili pepper legend beside the hot dishes — dispensing with the old “pick a 1-10 level of spiciness” nonsense. Stick with 1-2 chili pepper symbols for the tastiest dishes….unless you’re a complete hothead, or a masochist.)

As for the food at both: it is flat out wonderful. At Thai, Bon Atcharawan (who recently took over from big brother Bank)  is as adept with crispy deep-fried oysters and larb, as he is with sea bass.

(Steamed sea bass with special plum sauce at Chada Thai)

They have tilapia on the menu in various guises, but the sea bass is the swimmer to get. Just as essential on this menu are the miang pou (crab-stuffed lettuce wraps), almost raw rib eye steak (yum nua) marinating in chili-lime dressing, green papaya salad (som thum), the house-made beef jerky (nua dad diew), and the rice powder-dusted crispy beef (pla nua tod):

…it being a study in crunchy/spicy/beefiness.

The thing about this food is that it never gets boring. You can have the same dish multiple times and be intrigued by the spices one time, or the balance between sweet and heat another. Or maybe it will be the fine interplay of proteins, textures and herbs that catches your attention. In no way do I profess to be an expert in Thai cuisine, but it doesn’t take a native to notice how these recipes have been honed over a millennia to orchestrate a controlled riot of flavors in the mouth. (Mediocre Thai restaurants always overplay the gloppy sweet-meets-heat paradigm, and miss the herbaceous, sour-bitter subtlety that characterizes a finer hand in the kitchen.)

From top to bottom, the kitchen at Chada Thai seems to ace dish after dish effortlessly. A small but mightier restaurant you will not find in Las Vegas.

http://www.epicurious.com/images/articlesguides/diningtravel/restaurants/las-vegas-hot-spot_612.jpg(Crispy chicken and larb at Chada Thai)

Chada Street, in its own way, is just as good.

Plating is not as refined (they use a lot of banana leaves here), and there’s a certain rustic simplicity to the recipes (lots of grilled and skewered items), but the food is no less tasty and the experience no less satisfying. Chili heads should plunge right into the goong share nam pla (raw shrimp bathed in incendiary spice);

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…and purists won’t want to miss the straight-from-the-Bangkok-streets calamari with salted duck egg (pla muk pad kaikem):

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…the sort of dishes that intrepid foodies dive right into when they’re deciphering the foodstuffs of an Asian capital.

Such is the menu at Chada Street: less refined, gutsier, and aimed more at the culinary adventurer in you. You can play it safe here with things like the crab fat fried rice (kao pad mun pu), or the crispy pork hock (ka moo tod), or the gorgeous shrimp pad thai:

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…but for our money, it’s more fun to tuck into some koi nua (raw, diced, chili-dusted beef), and watch the sweat form on our foreheads.

No matter what your savory compulsions, you won’t want to miss the Thai toast at either location:

…it being the perfect shared dessert for a group of adventuresome foodies who need to quell the heat.

No matter how you slice your vertical bread, what Bon Atcharawan and Aime Wanmaneesiri are doing at these two restaurants is phenomenal. Having these two Thai siblings in town is one of the coolest things about eating (and drinking) in Las Vegas.

CHADA THAI & WINE

3400 S. Jones Blvd.

Las Vegas, NV 89146

702.641.1345

http://chadavegas.com/

CHADA STREET

3839 Spring Mountain Road

Las Vegas, NV 89102

702.579.0207

http://chadastreet.com/

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