Saturday, March 1, 2008

Dinner at Lark. (again).

Today C. and I are working together, and this time I manage to drag her to Lark with me after we have finished for the day. We walk into the nearly empty restaurant, to be greeted by K., who jokes that she knows I had to work today, because it is Saturday and I am here for dinner again. C. raises an eyebrow at me as we are seated in one of the booths that run along one side of the room, the way she does when the salespeople at Barneys say hi or the girls at Retrofit (a funky local home-furnishings store) greet me with hugs and ask where I've been lately. (I like to go back to the same places, places where people remember my name, who will take the time to stop and chat, whether it be for food or clothes or bedside lamps). The waiter brings menus and tells us the evening's specials; he is the one who does not remember me and always asks if I have been there before. C. asks me what the kumquat Dry Soda (it comes in other flavors, like lemongrass and rhubarb and lavender) tastes like; I tell her that it tastes like Fanta, if Fanta had a graduate degree in French literature from the Sorbonne.

Our waiter brings us the last kumquat soda, which he pours into two tall flutes. We order recklessly; translucent slices of salami arranged around a small bowl of mostarda di uva, that Italian grape chutney, sweet and intense against the salami. There is a piece of Spanish mackerel over thin rounds of fennel, with olives and tiny, glowing cubes of some spicy, saffron-scented jelly with the rubbery bounce of aspic, but unlike any other aspic I had tasted before. We have braised lamb shanks, served in (or under) a tagine over couscous with some chickpeas - or perhaps they are garbanzo beans. The lamb was tender and lightly gamy, and the couscous was soft and fluffy and soaked up the sauce with each bite. The agnolotti arrived last, this time with black trumpet mushrooms and a lighter, brothier sauce than last time, but with the same savory veal filling enclosed by a dough that has that perfect, firm bite to it, what the Italians call al dente.

Somehow eating here always makes me feel cozy and well-cared for, even when I am alone, perhaps especially when I am here alone. With someone to share it with, it is not exactly better, no, but certainly different. It is harder to concentrate on the flavors mingling on your plate when you are caught up in conversation. And then I have to consider someone else's tastes, someone else's desires, but at the same time, we can order more things and share them, four dishes instead of two. We skip dessert because C. has given up sweets for Lent, and I cannot bear to watch her toy sadly with a cappucino while I dive into the lemon parfait or a warm date-and-pine-nut cake. (As we gather up our things to leave, K. leans over and says, No dessert? I'm worried about you! C. has given up sweets for Lent, I tell her, I'm being a good friend). Next time. Easter is only a few weeks away.

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