I am later than usual, well after six, and when I walk into Lark the booths along one wall and banquettes lining the other are all full. Loath to occupy one of the four-tops in the middle of the room, I opt for a stool at the tiny bar at the far end of the dining room. I have never sat here before, I tell K. (I have been seated at just about every other table in the room). F. greets me from behind the bar, as he pours me a glass of water and heads off to other tables with goblets of wine. From the bar I can see into the kitchen, and for the first time I realize that the podium-like station where J. (the chef/owner) stands all night is kind of a last stop for every dish that leaves the kitchen, where he can examine each plate, wiping the rim, scattering a little more salt, giving a last ok before it is floated out and served to the waiting diners.
I order my dinner quickly - two of the night's specials, because that's how I roll - and settle in to chat with whoever happens to be behind the bar. Different servers come in and out, to pour water and wine and mix drinks for the diners that are filling the room. (When I look back over my shoulder, I see that all the tables are full; by the time I leave people are waiting on the couch over by the front door). They begin telling me about the animal rights protesters that set up shop the night before, waving signs and showing movies about how foie gras is produced. The story comes to me in pieces, like parts of a puzzle, each teller giving a new detail, the next person expanding on it. One person tells me about the guy dressed as a duck, another tells me how one of the protesters tried to stop another server from coming in to work. D. tells me that they sold more foie gras that night than they ever have on a single night. I wish I had been there to see all the action, but then my dinner arrives.
First comes the black cod, crisp-skinned fish over a bed of diced beets, some creamy vinaigrette and a salad of curly something-or-other tangled with translucent slices of fennel, an explosion of textures and flavors. The vinaigrette is a little bit like tartar sauce, only better, and I love tartar sauce. It is addictive. Then come the pork cheeks, so tender there is no need for the steak knife, over a puree of root vegetables intensified with a touch of - could it be? - truffle oil. I see the guy who has joined me at the bar is chowing down on the pork belly - apparently a gift from the kitchen, as he used to work here - and am momentarily envious, but I can have pork belly any time. Inspired by the previous night's events I order the seared foie gras instead of dessert. It is served with caramelized slices of pear and slices of pain d'epices, a sort of sweet, dark, cake-like bread, like a spice cake, and a little salad.
But then I find myself wanting a little sweet something (or perhaps I just want to stay a little longer), despite my foie gras 'dessert,' so I order the pomegranate sorbet, which comes in a little Staub soup plate, sprinkled with slivered almonds and pomegranate seeds, and it is so good I want more. The guy next to me - it turns out he now works at Spinasse - is eating the lemon parfait, cool layers of tangy mousse capped with whipped cream and a feathery tuile. But I have eaten those before, and I prefer to save them for summer nights, and that is months away.