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First look video: Monica Pope dishes on Sparrow & her back-to-basics movement

monica pope sparrow
Monica Pope in her new surroundings
monica pope sparrow

Sparrow Bar + Cookshop has been open for a week but it was still in a state of flux when CultureMap sat down with chef/owner Monica Pope to talk about the restaurant's new name and direction.

Designer Jur van der Oord of installationsantiques was in to discuss some still-arriving details and fixtures as well as to saw down the massive L-shaped wooden community table, which was a bit too massive to allow room for both guests and passage.

 The t'afia favorites are still there — Pope says her loyal customers would never let her get rid of them. But there are also some new directions, like a burrata with heirloom tomatoes, steamed mussels and tacos with beef tongue.

 New light fixtures made of fused pizza screens crowded tabletops, waiting to be hung over tubular light bulbs, along with other curiosities like test tubes full of salt and pepper and the occasional antique book that lined shelves.

Pope attributes much of the new design to wanting to go back to basics, removing all the extras that get in the way and allowing guests to simply relax and focus on the food. The new tables, metal manipulated by van der Oord into a rough but fluid dark surface that Pope compares to leather, are designed to be solid and unique as well as to let the white dishes really pop in contrast.

That doesn't mean there aren't some personal — dare I say twee? — touches. Little hints of sparrows abound in text on tiny magnets attached to the central staircase, as well as in neon outside the restaurant's central window. The restrooms are also labeled with "Tod" and "Liv," the names of Pope's cats.

As for the menu, Pope insists its not about starting over as much as reframing the things that she and her kitchen do so well as well as playing with new flavors. An abbreviated menu consists simply of apps (Pope declines to call them small plates, preferring to label them as "shareable"), center-of-plate dishes and a selection of sides that can be ordered individually or in a trio.

The t'afia favorites are still there — Pope says her loyal customers would never let her get rid of them. But next to the tried-and-true shiitake mushroom dumplings, crisp chicken, milled potatoes and her famous mac' and cheese carbonara, there are also some new directions, like a burrata with heirloom tomatoes, steamed mussels and tacos with beef tongue.

Pope hopes the reasonable portions and prices (nothing on the menu is over $20) inspire guests to take some risks, trying veal sweetbreads and beef cheeks and crispy Brussels sprouts marinated in a caramel miso glaze.

It's the same elevated American food that Pope is known for, but modernized to reflect the more casual, flexible way people want to eat today.

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