For the first time since it began snowing the streets are nearly clear, and I drive down to work, tired of walking, tired of my rubber boots with the fake-fur lining, tired of the snow and ice and slip-sliding my way to work. I have dinner at Lark to look forward to, and I walk in, shedding jacket and vest and scarf and a sweater, take my seat at one of the benches that line one wall. The dining room is quiet, partly because of the early hour, partly because of the current economic gloom that seems to be everywhere these days. But the staff are as welcoming as always, telling me about the night's specials, commiserating on the week of snow and how we are just ready for it to go away. (I lived in St. Louis until I was five, and in Rochester, NY for four years of college; my first memory is of snow, and I should not be such a weenie. Seattle weather has made me soft).
I order two specials, the branzino, and the braised pork cheeks. I had been leaning towards pork belly, but could not resist the thought of softly braised cheeks over pasta. This is always my dilemma. The bread and butter arrives, and I tear into it, shedding crumbs in every direction. Then my fish arrives, the branzino all crispy-skinned over a bed of curly kale, some sort of salad, all against a blob of some unidentifable creamy puree. I think about A.'s earlier criticism, that Lark is a difficult place to go to with a large group. While the idea of small plates is rather seductive it doesn't quite work; sharing is so messy for anything more than two or three people, and they only take reservations for groups of six. For more than four people, you have to order two of everything, and then the bill mounts up alarmingly.
Leaving aside these philosophical musings I turn my attention to the braised pork cheeks, tonight replacing the lamb shoulder that is on the menu. The cheeks have a hint of orange peel, more kale - now my most frequently eaten vegetable - and sweet-tart cipollini onions, and flat round disks of croxetti, all topped with the crunch of breadcrumbs. I think they are breadcrumbs. I hope they are breadcrumbs. I mop up every drop of sauce - delicious sauce - with bread, counting on the single diner's cloak of invisibility to mask my poor table manners. It was either that or hold up my napkin so I could lick my plate. More tables have filled, but the restaurant is not completely full, and I worry about the future. (A recent anniversary party for Lark was so packed with fans and friends that it was hard to get around the room, so perhaps I should not worry yet). Then I order dessert.
Tonight I bypass the tarte tatin, the persimmon cake, the chocolate madeleines. I have, instead, the chocolate bread pudding. It is dense and rich, but not too sweet, made with what tastes like rye bread, with caraway seeds adding an unexpected crunch of flavor. I eat it slowly and eavsdrop on the conversations going on around me. A man at the table next to me - I can tell they are going to be the fun table tonight - looks at my emptying plate with an envious gleam in his eye, even as he plans his own meal (beginning with a selection of cheese, including the Silly Billy which almost everyone in the room, except for me, has ordered tonight. I think everyone just likes to say "Silly Billy"). All too soon I am done, and head home to lie down, and think about my next Saturday Lark.