Monday, July 31, 2006

Dinner out. Lark.

The best thing about having my parents home for the summer is that their friends keep wanting to go out to dinner. For me this means a) often hilarious conversation with extremely smart, cultured, funny people and b) wonderful food (and wine). Some people may find it strange that I would be willing to go out with my parents and their friends, but it is never boring and the food is always good, whether in a restaurant or in someone’s home. Last night we were out with two of the best cooks I know (actually three, including my mother), the husband of one, and another friend who is also apparently a very good cook.

In the past few years there have been a number of new restaurants that emphasize artisanal products, seasonal produce, naturally-raised meats, etc. Another trend has been the concept of shared small plates, like tapas. (A third new trend was mocked by a local magazine, regarding restaurants having one-word, one-syllable names). Lark is all of the above.

It is not a large restaurant – perhaps fifteen tables. A small house, converted to a restaurant. Above us is a timbered wooden ceiling; booths of dark wood line the walls, and four or five tables run down the center of the room, with gauzy curtains on a snaking rod giving a vague sense of privacy. We are tucked away in the corner, where I can watch as the bartender deftly mixes two mojitos behind the tiny bar. After stirring the icy mixture with a plastic straw, he quickly sucks the last drops caught at the end of the straw before tossing it out and straining the drinks into waiting glasses. For a minute he looks like a little boy who has been given the spoon to lick while his mother scrapes out the bowl of cookie dough.

There is a plate of meltingly creamy mozzarella burrata to start, with crostini heaped with caramelized onions. A bright salad of roasted baby beets of different colors, deep magenta and gold, sparkling with orange oil, sweet and tender, comes to the table. An airy chicken liver mousse, smoother and lighter than the usual pâté, is served in a glass, with some toast and a little dish of preserved Rainier cherries. A platter of rosy-dark slices of smoked prosciutto arrives, smudged with mostarda di uva, a sort of Italian grape chutney (for lack of a better description). The chef himself comes by with a plate covered with two different kinds of lomo, a smoked pork tenderloin, both in the traditional style (round slices) and then more prosciutto-like (slightly irregular long slices). I prefer the more traditional style, the texture and milder flavor of it.

Next came a little cocotte of sweetbreads, tender and crusty little bites of meat, with the mild but unmistakable flavor of lamb. The sweetbreads are on a bed of slippery pale green fava beans, tiny fat baby carrots, cloves of garlic braised in a tart verjus. And they are all mine. (Usually we order several things and share, but not this time). I do manage to steal a slice of my mother's roasted pork belly, which while excellent I feel lacks the unctuous texture of braised pork belly, the more traditional Chinese way of cooking it. You are more aware of the fat of it. A. spoons some farro onto my plate, chewy grains contrasting with the soft slippery golden chanterelles.

I remember that last time S. had an incredible tarte tatin (apple, or perhaps some other winter fruit) and I regretted ordering whatever I had chosen, so this time I have the fig tarte tatin, with crisp, buttery pastry, sweet dark figs, and a chévre ice cream melting over everything. It is heaven.

There is a small group of restaurants that I have loved for many years, because the food served is interesting and exciting, not to mention delicious, but most of all because they are relaxed and unpretentious and consistently on top of their game. I want to feel at ease, to feel that I know when I go there I will eat something wonderful, to have waiters who are friendly and unsnobby and know (and most importantly, love) food. I think I may have to add Lark to this list.

1 comment:

Juanita J. Sanchez said...

That's it. I'm moving to Seattle. Yum!