Star Light, Star Bright?

Cutting through the buzz around Capitol Hill's Lark.

The first three things I heard about Lark, the new restaurant helmed in part by Earth & Ocean and Dahlia Lounge ex-pat Johnathan Sundstrom, were (a) "They're doing organic Northwest tapas!"; (b) "Ohmigod, we have to go!"; and (c) "It's in this totally cool, out-of-the-way neighborhood!" As it turns out, all three exclamations held some truth, and some overly zealous exaggerations as well.

As anyone who shops at their neighborhood PCC knows, eating a completely organic diet at home can be a challenge—and it ain't cheap. Still, because the preponderance of pesticides and chemicals can make broccoli about as toxic as any mad cow's flank, eating organic is a legitimate cause. And Sundstrom, I'm sure, knows this. However, Lark does not present a fully organic menu. At the bottom of the first page of the aesthetically pleasing booklet of offerings, Sundstrom and his partners—wife J.M. Enos and friend Kelly Ronan—state that it is their "goal to use sustainable products from trusted artisans." Organic? No. Headed in the right direction? Yes.

Also listed on the menu's opening page are eight varieties of sheep's or cow's milk cheeses from as near as Blaine, Wash., and as far as Switzerland. A sample of one of them goes for $4; a trio is $11. After much deliberation, my party and I settled on three and were quite unpleasantly surprised when the slivers delivered were of such tiny proportions that we nearly had to resort to a game of rock, paper, scissors in order to each get a mouthful. This was a sign of things to come; throughout our meal, I felt as if I had been transported to the '80s when the more minimal a plate was, the more hefty the price—and the more you were meant to be impressed. Three tiny pieces of cheese did less than impress us.

Now, the idea of "Northwest tapas" is something of a head scratcher, but that misnomer isn't Lark's fault. Sundstrom says they try not to use the T-word; rather, their aim is to encourage diners to share—to cultivate a "social" atmosphere. The variety of prices on the lengthy menu—which is separated into cheese, vegetables and grains, charcuterie, fish, and other meats—indicates that plate sizes also vary and that one might be wise to order a few items to create a meal, but this conclusion is intuitive. Lark's dining concept is a little unclear. No one likes a 10-minute spiel from the waitress, but some guidance would have been nice.

The three of us ordered seven plates and a dessert, and I can't say I left feeling sated. The braised beef short ribs ($15) were so short they couldn't possibly be shared, and they weren't nearly special enough to double up on. St. Jude's Albacore ($13), though quaintly named for the ship that harvests it, was egregiously tough—a huge disappointment, especially considering that the spicy olives and preserved lemon it came with would have made it delicious if the fish hadn't been so tragically untender. The halibut cheeks with cranberry beans and Virginia ham ($15), however, were wonderful, the ham just a light smoky coloring over the meaty fish. Similarly, the smoked prosciutto with fig chutney ($12) was amazing, but attempting to share the tiny dish nearly severed a friendship. Not so social.

Which brings me to the second statement. Do you have to go to Lark? Well, it's a gorgeous restaurant with a gorgeous buzz, and Sundstrom has a gorgeous reputation. The night I was there, the very stylish Dayna Grubb, who runs Seattle's most exclusive yet kicky shoe store, Ped, dined nearby, and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz held court at the center table, which sits inside a curving piece of gauzelike fabric and is lit as if by stars. The delicate, winding room divider, esteemed guests, and exposed beams give Lark an upscale cabin feeling; it's very Northwesty but somehow just a tad exotic, too. So is the wine list—and by "exotic" here, I mean "spendy." All the foodies in town are talking about Lark right now, and if you're listening, yes, you have to go. If you're of a different tax bracket than Schultz, though, you'll need to save up.

And finally: This business of Lark being in an unusual, out-of-the-way locale. People, it's on 12th Avenue, not far off Madison Street, near Seattle University. When New York's meat-packing district became populated by chic bistros and Stella McCartney's boutique, that was unusual. This hardly compares. But hey, if you have to go, at least it's no big trek.

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