Saturday, November 17, 2007

Eating out. Lark.

As always, after a Saturday at work, I head off to Lark as soon as I am done for the day. The bright spot in a long day. (But having to work is not so bad; it is raining outside, and in the lab it is warm and there are snacks. And overtime). It is unspeakably early for dinner, and the room is almost empty. I am settling in and the hostess is just asking me if I have eaten there before when K. (one of the owners, she manages the restaurant with that kind of perfect ease that some people just have) glides up and says "of course she's been here before!" My server for the evening swings by; she remembers me too. Of course, I am young and female and Chinese, and I have eaten here several times, alone, which some people might consider unusual.

The menu has some old favorites and new items, but I wait to hear the specials before I decide. I am momentarily swayed by sautéed Alaska spot prawns (with roe), but as soon as I hear the words "veal cheek" my choice is made. Choosing something to go with it is harder; I flip through the menu before at last zeroing in on the gnudi. I've never had them before, and imagine them to be something like gnocchi. Bread arrives, along with more diners who sit to my left and farther down to my right. There are two kinds of bread: one tangy and dark, with a thick, almost blackened crust, and some slices of the most perfect baguette, the crisp crust yielding to a soft interior that is almost sweet. I prefer the baguette, and wonder if it is from the Columbia City bakery.

The gnudi are ricotta dumplings, a bit like gnocchi, tossed with wilted shreds of dark green chard. There is the gently astringent bite of olives and the sweetness of grapes; it is a perfectly balanced dish with the rich greens against the melting softness of the gnudi. As I eat the dumplings - they are like clouds - I listen to the couple next to me discussing what they should have for dinner. (They have never eaten here before, and it is always interesting to listen to people who have never been here before mull over their choices aloud). I wish there was more gnudi, but I have another course coming. The veal cheek is so tender it falls apart beneath my fork; I set my knife aside because I don't need it. There is a piece of grilled porcini mushroom, a sweet cipollini, some crisp-soft baby carrots. The sauce is so good I mop it up with the remainder of my baguette. I tell K. that if the room hadn't been so full of people I would have licked the bowl, and she laughs.

I usually get the tarte tatin, whichever one is in season, but tonight I have the pear crisp, with finely chopped pecans tossed with the chunks of fruit beneath the crumbly topping, sweet and buttery and warm against the cool vanilla ice cream. Around me people are trying to decide on their orders, or eating their first courses. A table of chic Japanese women chatters away as the last of their group - each more beautiful, more elegant, although all of them are beautiful and elegant - sweeps in, high heels clicking against the floor. It is dinner as theater, and every time I come away enchanted all over again.

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