Saturday, May 10, 2008

Saturday Lark.

Just before lunch today, the sizzle and smell of frying radish-cake (made with shredded Daikon radish, rice flour, and bits of ham or sausage) was filling the air, making me drool. I stuck my head around the door to tell my boss that the thing I will miss most when she moves out of the living quarters attached to the lab (long story) and back into her remodeled home is when her cleaning lady makes lunch for us. She laughed. But it's true. I will miss lunches of brown rice and stir-fried vegetables and those soft squares of radish-cake with a crisp, fragile crust seared on in patches from the hot pan. It's different from the radish-cake (or turnip-cake) you get at dim sum restaurants, lighter and crisper and less greasy, and instead of a few squares to be shared with the rest of the table, there is a mountain of it, enough for you to eat as much as you like, but not too much, because there is still dinner ahead.

And then it is time for dinner, as always, at Lark. I have time to run home and change into something marginally more presentable, to exchange my backpack for a handbag, to grab the grocery list so I can go shopping afterwards. K. is not there. F. remembers that I was there for the Whole Beast dinner some weeks ago, asks if I liked my dining companions. I told them that they were wonderful, and he tells me what I have only recently begun to understand, that the company is as important as the food. It is true. Fifteen courses would have seemed an eternity if I had been seated with stuffy bores, or arrogant assholes, but the people I had dinner with that night were lovely, warm and friendly and vastly entertaining.

One of the specials that night was a twist on shrimp cocktail, shell-on shrimp served with a trio of sauces, half a pound or a whole pound. The shrimp are small and sweet, some still filled with their roe. The sauces are ginger lime, saffron aïoli, and freshly made cocktail sauce. The ginger lime is a little spicy and a little sweet; the aïoli is creamy and intensely fragrant from the saffron - so intense it seems to seep straight into my skin - and the cocktail sauce is, well, cocktail sauce (but very good, house-made). I fling bits of shrimp shells far and wide, it seems, until J. rescues me with a damp napkin. It feels vaguely gluttonous to sit here with a plate of shrimp all to myself, but then, that is the triumph and the tragedy of dining alone.

For my main course I choose the gigli pasta, frilled on one side and straight on the other, curled around fat green English peas and shreds of duck confit, with tiny caramelized onions and a creamy sauce. Perhaps the sauce might have been better had it been less creamy; it overwhelms the other ingredients with its richness. Still, it is very tasty, perhaps better than very tasty, and I eat every last bite of pasta, every last shred of duck confit, chasing the fat green peas around the bowl with my fork. Time for dessert.

For once I can't make up my mind, whether to have the chocolate madeleines - the memory of those lemon ones still lingering in my mind - or the lemon parfait, or the malt ice cream. But I go for the coconut sorbet. It is thrilling, a little creamy, but not too creamy, and very smooth, atop shaved coconut, crunchy sweet black rice, tiny cubes of fresh mango, capped with a paper-thin slice of dried mango, crisp and tart, against a background of exotically colored and therefore unidentifiable sauces splashed across the plate. I'll be back for more, soon.

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