Saturday, December 29, 2007

Eating out. Lark.

It's not dinner at Lark without each server stopping at my table at least once. J. is the one who greets me, tells me the specials of the day, takes my order and checks on me as I eat my dinner. But various others swoop down to fill my glass, take away empty plates, take my order for the quince tarte tatin, bring me a spoon and fork with which to eat it, and at last, the dessert itself. (Which is presently taken away and replaced by the check). There are five servers at Lark, and they have all come by my table tonight. Plus K., one of the owners, who presides over the room and stops to greet everyone. (Most of the diners tonight seem to be old friends). I tell J. that I saw her at the market a few weekends ago; she tells me that she sometimes works at Matt's in the Market during lunch (during the week, alas, so I won't see her there).

When I arrive, the restaurant is completely empty, except for the staff folding napkins and chatting behind the bar. It is a strange sensation to sit alone at one side of the room and look around at the neatly laid tables, stemware and flatware gleaming in the candlelight. The menu has some subtle changes, some old stand-bys (stand-bys is the wrong word, but you know what I mean). Today the farro is made with black trumpet mushrooms; I've had it with morels or chanterelles. Like everything else on the menu, it changes with the season. But when I eat here alone, I only order from the day's specials. Osso buco.

I order my osso buco and braised carrots and sit back. Diners begin to trickle in, sitting down at the booths across the room or at the tables that run down the middle of the dining area. There is bread, one studded with walnuts, the other plain, with a soft, airy, yet elastic crumb and a perfectly chewy-crisp crust, and sweet butter. (I prefer the one with walnuts). My osso buco arrives, with a tiny knife and fork to assist in liberating the marrow from the bone. The braised veal is tender and richly flavored in its dark sauce, over slender twists of fresh pasta and roasted vegetables (which I can't identify). On another plate I have sweet carrots, all kinds, fat little round ones (roughly the size and shape of a large marble) and elongated pointy ones like baby fingers. Some are soft in their honeyed glaze; others are just on the tender side of crisp, all under a gentle sprinkling of herbs.

The tables are all full by the time I have dessert, a tarte tatin made with quince. It is as good as always, melting fruit over the crunch of a puff-pastry crust, under caramel sauce and ice cream. So far I have tried it with apples, peaches, pears, and pineapple. The pineapple is my favorite, but they are all wonderful. The diners to my left, who have only just ordered and are sipping wine, look on with envy. I almost offer the woman next to me a taste (she is tall and glamorous and model-gorgeous), but decide against it. Their turn will come.

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