Saturday, June 02, 2007

Eating out. Lark.

Another Saturday at work, another chance to have dinner at Lark, alone. I am early, as usual, and because it is a warm and sunny June day the shades are drawn and the door closed against the bright light. When I step inside at first it seems the room is empty, and then K. (one of the owners) appears from behind one of the long curtains that curve along the length of the restaurant. In the quiet before the dinner rush I am given my choice of tables along the banquette that stretches down one wall, and I move farther into the coolness of the room. Slip onto the hard wooden bench, flip through the menu with all its enticements. The cheeses and charcuterie need a party of friends to share with; so does the carpaccio of yellowtail, one of my favorite dishes. I ponder the salads, and then the waitress arrives to tell me about the two specials of the night, the second of which is a flatiron steak. Ooh! Sold.

Some bread-and-butter comes as I wait, and a tall glass of soda tasting faintly of lemongrass. A cold soup of ajo verde arrives in a Staub soup plate, the heavy black cast-iron cold to the touch. Ajo verde is a green garlic; in Spain they make a cold soup of garlic and almonds, and this seems like it might be the chef's reinterpretation of it. It is smooth and creamy - very creamy - and cold; it tastes green without being grassy, not like garlic at all, and that green smoothness is interrupted by the textures of blanched almonds and the sweetness of (I think) spot prawns. As I eat my soup I trace the letters that run around the rim of the plate - S T A U B - like the hours of a five-hour clock and feel as though summer has arrived. I eat my bread and my cool soup and watch the table in front of me - two couples of a certain age - as they mutter their way through the wine list and the menu and converse easily with K., one of the three owners, who oversees the dining room (the chef and his wife are the other owners), and three waitresses. One of the men is the sort of diner who talks to everyone, introducing himself to the waitress, to the owner, asking questions about various dishes on the menu. It is like watching a show, dinner theater.

My steak arrives, perfectly grilled and sliced. It occurs to me that I ought to have asked for the pommes de terre Robuchon, so K. glides off to get me some. It might take a little while, she warns me. It's ok. I'll eat slowly, I tell her. Which is hard, because the beef is juicy and flavorful, rich and tasting the way you think beef should taste, and I want to eat it all right away. I distract myself with a tangle of wild asparagus, each stalk no thicker than a strand of spaghetti; I wonder how such a frail stalk could hold the weight of the feathery tip. (The waitress tells me that they come from Provence, and I have a sudden mental image of some farmer flying first-class, a basket of those fine green wild asparagus bundled into the overhead bin). The green strands are slippery and sweet, electrified by the crunch of sea salt. A few porcini mushrooms huddle to one side, quartered and sautéed until golden around the edges, each one as savory and intensely flavored as the steak. The potatoes come in a black cast-iron cocotte, and they are like whipped butter flavored with a little potato. According to Jeffrey Steingarten, Joël Robuchon (for whom these potatoes are named) runs his potatoes through a food mill and then rubs the puree through a sieve; these potatoes have that same smoothness.

My plates are whisked away as I lean back on the banquette and think about dessert. A different waiter stops by - the adorable one, who wears glasses and has a little bit of an accent which I have yet to identify - and suggests the Meyer lemon parfait instead of the rhubarb crisp. It's perfect for this weather! he tells me, and I watch the next table ooh and ah over a succession of dishes - fresh oysters, the yellowtail carpaccio, a beet salad, the burrata which I love but certainly can't contemplate eating alone - while waiting for my parfait. And then I see it, almost floating through the air towards me, a round of frozen lemon mousse capped with a drift of whipped cream, topped with an enormous tuile, the most perfect, most delicate tuile I have ever seen. The parfait is not too sweet, but at the same time not too tart; the creaminess of the mousse tempers the tartness of lemon, without being too creamy. It is like diving into cool water, and I drive home in a lemon-scented haze.

No comments: