Saturday, May 12, 2007

Eating out. Lark.

Tonight I leave work at 5; the question looms, where will I have dinner tonight? There is La Spiga, where I usually go on Saturdays when I have to work. There is the little café next door, which I have often wanted to try. There is 1200 Bistro, around the corner and down the street from the lab, whose menu I stop and read whenever I am waiting for a light to change so I can cross the street. And there is Lark. Ordinarily I avoid Lark, unless I am with my parents and they are paying. It is a simple restaurant with small plates and even smaller portions, and ordering with reckless abandon from each page of the menu (it is four narrow pages long - perhaps five, not counting dessert - with a dozen or so choices on each page, cheese, vegetables/grains, charcuterie, seafood, and meats) is a dangerous exercise. But it has been a long week, and I feel deserving of something a little different, so I find myself inside the door, asking for a table.

It is early, and only a few of the booths that line one wall, or the small tables against the banquettes that run along the opposite wall (more tables run the length of the room, in the middle), are occupied. The manager - I think she is one of the owners, with a beautiful, open smile and easy manner - shows me to one of the banquette tables, where I settle in and think about the menu. The good thing about eating here alone is that I don't have to share anything with anyone else. The bad thing is that I am limited to no more than two dishes. I am in an agony of indecision - salad? No. Pork belly, perhaps? Sounds good, but I've had it before. Foie gras? No. Carpaccio of yellowtail or striped sea bass? I spy a rabbit salad, think that perhaps I will have the sea bass and the rabbit salad. And then of course, the waiter comes to tell me about tonight's special: roast rabbit loin, wrapped in bacon. And I am sold.

With the rabbit I order a dish of farro, that chewy grain that has become popular, like rhubarb and pork belly, in the past few years. When we had dinner here last summer A. had given me a bite of hers, the earthy nuttiness of the grains sweet against the almost floral taste of chanterelles; I think there were some greens in there but I can't remember what. I am too tired for wine, and ask for a kumquat soda, which actually tastes a little like Fanta, only not as sweet. (And not bright orange). The bread arrives, some slices of baguette and what looks like pain au levain, which has a dark sourness to it. (Why is it that bread-and-butter always tastes so much better in restaurants? Especially the butter, which always seems to have a freshness that I have never quite found in supermarket butters, although the organic cultured stuff is mighty tasty, I must admit). I prefer the baguette, which is about as perfect as a baguette gets, sweet and golden with an interior that has some stretch to it and a crisp crust that crackles most satisfyingly when I eat it.

And then my meal arrives and I forget everything else. The rabbit loin is wrapped in bacon so finely sliced that it hugs the meat like a crisp, savory skin; the rabbit meat is tender and juicy, both the loin and the tiny rack that sprouts wee little bones. My brain had stopped listening as soon as I heard the words "rabbit" and "bacon," so I am surprised by the salad of shaved asparagus and what looks like arugula, on top of a sort of buckwheat cake, rather like a blini, which I find delightful. It takes a few bites before I realize that the heady perfume lingering over my plate is the truffles in the sauce. The farro comes in a black cast-iron dish, the coarse grains in a buttery, creamy sauce, with the ruffly dark morels and the green astrigency of ramps (at least I think they are ramps; something green, anyway). I sit and eat my dinner and listen to the threads of conversations that become more and more complicated as the tables fill with diners. Some people have dined here before, like me; they are familiar with the menu and order quickly. The young couple next to me are here for the first time; I can't resist leaning over and telling them that they are right to order the yellowtail carpaccio, which comes with preserved lemon rind and green olives, a scattering of black pepper. I tell them to order the duck leg, to try the sea bass. I wish I had room to order the burrata, which the couple to my left are having, that white, mozzarella-like cheese that has a softer, creamier texture even more addictive than your traditional fresh, milky mozzarella. But I want dessert.

The first time I came here I eyed S.'s tarte tatin with envy; each time since I have had to order the same. The fruits change with the seasons, and tonight it is pineapple, sweet and acidic and unctuous with caramel. The pastry is perfect, crisp and buttery, like the best croissant, only with fruit and the cold shock of vanilla ice cream melting on top. I have not drunk any wine, but I feel flushed, flushed with good food and happiness and the sensation of having the weight of the day slip away...

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