I had been at work for some hours when the noises of lunch became apparent from the kitchen. A., the cleaning lady, was cooking for our boss; I could smell the clean, nutty fragrance of steaming brown rice, hear the sizzle of radish cake (made from daikon radishes and goodness knows what else) frying on the stove. K. swoops in, calls me to lunch, and whooshes off to call my other co-worker, T., to join us. The four of us sit down to steamed brown rice, sautéed shrimp with ginger, stir-fried soy beans, and a heaping pile of radish cake, my favorite, lighter and crisper than the often leaden kind found in crowded dim-sum restaurants. There is a salad, lightly dressed with a balsamic dressing, and a small piece of fish, also cooked with ginger. It feels nice to have someone cook for me; usually I do my own cooking, or go out to eat, and often either one can be a burden. There is something comforting in eating someone else's home cooking, something calming and reassuring. It makes me feel cared for, loved, even. I didn't have to do the shopping and cooking and cleaning, or decide what to order. It just appeared before me.
Dinner at Lark has that same quality of being cared for, of being comforted, which is why I come here as often as I can. It is unusually cold outside - it has been snowing lightly in some parts of Seattle - and I run the three blocks to Lark in my usual monthly ritual. Never mind that I will be here again on Monday night (more on that later); tradition must be upheld. Someone I haven't seen before - she must be new - leads me to a table at the end of the room, the corner banquette. (By now I think I have sat at every table on this side of the room, and most of the ones on the other side). I flip through the menu, but as soon as I hear that the special is a rabbit shepherd's pie, my choice is made. I don't order anything else - not a salad, not a plate of sautéed mushrooms or the nettle soup or a bite of seared foie gras - I don't need anything else, not tonight. I eat bread and butter and imagine what the party and the large table in front of me will be like - they always seat large parties at that table, or at either end of the banquette-lined wall - will they be loud and boisterous, or chat quietly as they choose their meal?
My shepherd's pie arrives, distracting me from all other thoughts. The pie is baked in a small oval Staub cocotte, with a little salad on the side. I made myself some little shepherd's pies last week, but they are unto this one as a Hershey's kiss is to a Maison du Chocolat truffle. That is to say, very good in its own way, but nothing compared to the other. Unlike my own humble concoction, there is not a dense layer of mashed potato forming a crust, but rather some airy, potato-scented cloud that seems to be mostly butter. Below that airy cloud is a sort of stew - but that is too pedestrian a word for this - of rabbit meat and cauliflower florets in a slightly tangy sauce that sharpens the sweetness of the rabbit and the cauliflower, point and counterpoint. I think there is mustard in there, and more butter, and I would have mopped up all the sauce with my bread, but I am too full. It is the perfect little dinner for a cold night.
I have the pineapple tarte tatin, because it is warm and sweet with caramel and I have a cold walk home, and it is as good as ever, crisp buttery pastry, golden fruit, cool melting ice cream. I pay my (unusually modest, because I only had one dish and a dessert) bill and walk home. My bag feels lighter on my shoulders, my strides longer; I am home before I know it. And in two nights, I will be back.