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It's been the summer of Little Sparrow in downtown SanTana, the diner that has wowed folks in its three short months with the refined creations of chef Eric Samaniego and the restaurant's Victorian-meets-Western cocktail lounge expertly run by head bartender Joe Valdovinos. The two chingones are the Newman and Redford of O.C. dining right now: brash, handsome young guns who nevertheless let their talent do the talking, who challenge themselves at all times. Samaniego seems to introduce a new dish every week; Valdovinos has almost completely scrapped his opening-day cocktail menu, even though that meant the exiling of spectacular drinks like the Negrete, his Mexi take on a Negroni named in honor of ranchera legend Jorge Negrete--may that one return soon.
He does have a Mexi-themed drink right now in the form of an India Maria, a shrubb-IPA cocktail named in honor of the Mexican comedic actress--get that one. But I'm going to recommend tthis week he Smooth Operator, if only because it's a fine metaphor for Valdovinos' alcohol outlook.
Though Valdovinos is a master of all spirits, his love for the dark liquors is evident in this drink. Rye, Cynar, St. Elizabeth's Allpsice Dram, and something called "improved bitters" move together like the sinuous rhythm of its namesake Sadé song. The dram offers spiciness; the rye, sharpness. Cynar's artichoke punch gets an assist with the aromatic bitters; a orange rind and a lime slice add citrus. The result is a smooth, slightly thick, eminently drinkable cocktail served In a chilled tumbler that concentrates all the flavors even further. The mind boggles at what Valdovinos can do--and you better go get the Smooth Operator right now, before he moves on to the next masterpiece.