Monday, September 17, 2007

Eating Seattle: Lark

I almost felt like, why bother? Lark opened when I was living in NYC, so I missed the first-year, just-opened excitement. Now the restaurants is, what, four years old? Why pick Lark over, say, a newer place like Veil? Would it really be as good as I hoped?

The chef, Johnathan Sundstrom, just won the James Beard Best Northwest Chef award. And although I'm not convinced the Beard committee members know much about chefs outside their home town of NYC, there's no question: it's a huge accolade.

And I've loved Johnathan Sundstrom's food for a long time. I reviewed Earth & Ocean when Sundstrom was the debut chef there, when his (great) food took second billing to the ultra-trendy scene in the bar. He wasn't a foodie household name back then.

But Sundstrom's cooking has long shown that rare touch, part instinct and partly an ability to get out of the way of carefully chosen ingredients. I still remember (seven years later?) his roasted asparagus with just a hint of truffle oil (back when truffle oil wasn't the ubiquitous ingredient it is now). It was simple, it was like tasting asparagus again for the first time. It was perfect.

Several years later I was writing this article on stew for Restaurants & Institutions. It was a great excuse to call Johnathan up and give him some much-deserved press. He'd just opened Lark, so it was timely. And it turned out, he's a really nice guy.

And yet, despite coming home to Seattle for holidays and family visits, I never managed to make it into the restaurant. For four years.

Which is the long-winded version of how we ended up at Lark this past Friday night for our much-anticipated first dinner.

The room is lovely at night. Candles flicker, there's a nice hum, and when you look up, the warm rough-hewn wood ceiling just adds to the sophisticated charm of the space. There were four of us--including my oldest friend, Clare, and her husband Matt--so we decided to all pick one thing from the menu and go from there. Matt ordered a great bottle of Sancerre and we were well on our way.

Ed and I share a lack of control when faced with chicken liver pate, so when the dish arrived we went right for it. The pate (called parfait on the menu) was smooth, rich and fantastic with a smattering of the huckleberries served alongside.

Next up: sweet corn soup with gulf prawns. Have you had a prawn that tasted like a prawn lately? Probably not. The soup was just gorgeous corn through-and-through, but those prawns that tasted like prawns are what I keep thinking about.

Then came the burrata. If it's possible to be the new "it" cheese, burrata is it. No, seriously: Mozza (you know, Nancy Silverton + Mario Batali = busy as hell Italian in LA) orders their burrata from a cheese maker who delivers it the day its made.

I first tasted burrata many years ago when I wrote a review of Valentino for the Citysearch office in LA. I remember being stopped in my tracks by the warm, oozing cream center. It's a truly fantastic experience, and Lark's version--with perfect tomatoes and just a hint of basil oil--rightly accessorized the cheese without doing much to divert attention elsewhere.

Yellowtail carpaccio was next, wearing just a drizzle of lemon oil and slices of green olives. Nice.

Local squab (breast and leg) arrived tasting amazingly flavorful in its rare glory, accompanied by a house cured bacon-wrapped fig. Why aren't bacon-wrapped figs on every menu in town? They're amazing.

Last, the striped bass with taragon and tomatoes. Very good, but a little "eh" after everything else we'd tasted. This was the "safe dish," the dish you'd order if you were on a diet. Don't get me wrong: They nailed this one too, it just wasn't as inspired as the rest.

Four years into it, Lark is still at the top of its game. Every bite, every taste was excellent. How many restaurants can you say that about?

It's surprising and yet not, especially after noticing that chef Sundstrom himself was expediting that night, wiping plates and watching to make sure everything leaving the kitchen was just as it should be.

NOTE: Sorry for the lack of photos. I don't like to take pictures when I'm dining out (especially in nicer restaurants). I think it takes away from the experience and draws attention to my table, neither of which is something I want to do.

Lark in Seattle
[where: 98122]

1 comment:

Richard said...

Great review! Thanks for sharing your experience. As a fellow foodie, I took some pictures of the food and they are on my blog