Monday, April 21, 2008

The Whole Beast Supper. part one.

I had been waiting for this since last summer, when K., one of the owners of Lark (she runs the dining room), had told me about the annual Whole Beast Supper. They order a whole animal - usually a pig and a lamb or two, possibly a goat - and cook various parts of it in twenty or thirty ways. It is served family-style, at communal tables (unless you have a large enough party for a whole table), which is a great way to meet other people. I am excited and a little scared at the same time, and have prepared for tonight's feast by eating lightly for two days - a little macaroni and cheese for lunch and cereal for dinner yesterday, some yogurt and a few chocolate malt balls for lunch today. I think I'm ready, and in fact I am so excited about the evening ahead I run down the hill, down the four blocks to Lark, taking the shortcut that crosses the Seattle University campus and deposits me almost directly across the street from the restaurant, a few minutes early.

K. has seated me at the first table just inside the entrance - this is the table we had the very first time I ate here in February of 2006 - where three people have already taken their places. We shake hands and introduce ourselves; they look familiar to me. We are all regulars. They are joined by two friends, taking up half the table, and two more couples flank my place at the other end. Actually everyone looks strangely familiar, and I am sure I have seen them here before. No one ever looks at a woman dining alone, which gives me a certain anonymity, as well as allowing me to watch all the diners around me. The tables fill up, and bowls of Marcona almonds and marinated olives arrive. The party at the other end of the table have ordered glasses of cava, while the couple to my left have brought their own wine, which they promptly share with me.

The menu is arranged in four waves of four or three dishes each, with a palate-cleansing ice before the last wave, and then dessert, a total of fifteen dishes and two desserts (including the almonds and olives as one course, but not the sorbet cleanser). I resolve to pace myself, to avoid eating the bread, to take small bites and savor each one slowly. Hard to do when a platter of salami and coppa floats into view. Or perhaps it was the lardo on toast with mostarda di uva, melting cured pork fat over a grape jam, sweet and a little salty, soft and a little crisp. (Despite my notes I can't remember the order in which the courses arrived; I can only remember that they did not come in the order as described on the menu). At some point the chef/owner came out to talk a little bit about the dinner, to introduce the guest chefs, and to warn us that we should eat the guanciale-wrapped dates very carefully, because they are hot and the Gorgonzola stuffed inside is like "molten lava." They are sweet-salty-creamy-tangy all at once, which is what you want in a starter, and even though I want more I know there is much, much more to come.

The second wave begins with - I think - a warm pork pate en croute, which is like meatloaf, only better. Later the chef - one of the two visiting guest chefs - comes and sits next to me (she is a close friend of the two women on my right) and tells us that she didn't quite like how the pastry turned out, but I thought it was just fine, better than fine. It is warm and savory, homey and sophisticated at the same time, elegant rusticity. It is one of my favorite dishes this evening. There is squid stuffed with chorizo and eggplant (again, I am not sure about this, as the details are a little fuzzy), and it may be the only stuffed squid I have ever liked, tender and richly flavored by the stuffing. A salad of pig's ears and watercress with green papaya is passed around, all crunchy textures (the ears) and cool green flavors (the watercress and green papaya) spiked with pickled chiles.

We have only made it through the first two waves. I'll get to the rest of the meal tomorrow.

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