Whew. We just lay there for a while as the waitstaff hauled off the rubble. I remember the old custom -- the dictate almost -- from old novels and 1940's movies of sharing a cigarette with your lover after sex. And some of us did it back then despite we didn't actually smoke. Similarly, I craved a cigarette after this romp; we looked shyly at each other 'round the table as if we'd just shared something passionate, and physically intimate, which, of course, we had.
Monday last, after staving off the pangs all day with bitter tea, and Altoids, The World's Tiniest Architect and I hastened to First Hill's Lark.
It was the 2008 Whole Beast Dinner, Lark's third annual celebration of butter and pork blood. While there were actually three beasts (a pig, and 2 lambs) there were parts of the whole we never got to eat -- we must say, we didn't miss them, and might, actually have eaten some parts that were left unidentified. "What you don't know, won't hurt you," I said later to the Architect. "Where were those testicles and eyebrows I wondered -- in the meat balls?"
The dinner is served family-style to tables of eight, and we found ourselves sat 'cross from DJ Riz' Rollins, (KEXP Wednesdays, Thursdays, 9p-1a; Sundays 9p-12a) and his boyfriend, Rob, a nurse. I've known Riz since the early '90's when we both wrote for The Stranger, and did spoken word around town in another world from politics and media. He was in The Stranger considerably more than me -- a columnist, in fact; after all, he is ultimately cool and me ... not so much. He's been writing about music, and DJ'ing in clubs and on the radie-yo since cassette tapes, and writing food since the primeval dawning of the Age of Seared Ahi.
(photo: DJ Riz)
As we were meeting our other table mates: a happy pediatrician named Eric, a courts social worker named Laura, and husband, Jon, plates of coppa and salami from Fra'Mani and Salumi arrived; this is thin-sliced, cured pork, from which is derived, but bearing only faint resemblance to the baloney some of us chomped in the sack lunches of our pre-salad days. Then came the Tuscan lardo with mostarda on little toast squares. Lardo is pig fat taken from just under the skin and cured, and adds an intense meaty lusciousness, and about 4 million calories to anything lucky enough to be wrapped in it. The latter is a grape chutney with mustard. There were Marcona almonds, and home marinated olives laying around; then came fat dates stuffed with Gorgonzola and wrapped with thin, crisp Guanciale, bacon made from the yummy jowls of Signor Pig.
The courses were served by "wave;" that was the first, with three more even bigger ones to come -- and dessert!
(Could I do it? Was I we up to the task? Is my belly big enough to stuff it all in? Was the pre-starving sufficient? Was this the day I keel over á table, fork in hand, napkin stuffed in my tight collar, smile on my face, and the words, "are there more?..." on my lips? Happily, the answer to these questions, were yes, yes, yes, and no).
We were breathing through our mouths as the 2nd wave hit.
The warm pork pate, was the country kind ground coarse like meatloaf.
Yowza! meat loaf, ubiquitous to the cuisines of the world is great
anywhere, anytime, especially in a pastry crust with dabs of rhubarb,
grain mustard, and logan berry honey. Then came squid on a little
brochette with little rounds of chorizo, the tender squidly arms
waving; their little bodies stuffed with olive, tomato confit, and
grilled radicchio from Treviso. There were white prawns wrapped in
lardo roasted with rosemary. A stand-out was salad of slivered pigs
ears with cress, green papaya, crispy shallot fragments and pickled
chiles. Pig's ears have little flavor, but give a satisfying chewy
crunch not unlike the raw geoduck in a sushi joint.
(The squid was done by Chef David Hawksworth, late of Vancouver's West Restaurant who's abuilding an eponymous joint in the upcoming renewal of The Hotel Georgia. He and Susan Vanderbeek, (who just sold the famed Oystercatcher at Coupeville) were helping Lark's superstar chefJohnathan Sundstrom who thought up this feasting).
We're at the halfway point, some put on running shoes, and sprinted to Ballard and back; I just sat there like Jabba the Hut staring at the butter for the bread we hadn't touched and let the half-naked swatting teams keep the flies away from my moist, white skin.
Then the 3rd wave swooped in like the Marines hitting Omaha Beach. We were ready.
Lamb crepinettes, those little spiced poached sausages fell all around us in their beds of paper-thin sliced pears and fennel; then a bombardment of savory lamb's tongues (the tastiest tongue we know, with the possible exception of the L'il Architect's) in a salad with barely cooked cauliflower and shrapnel of toasted almonds. Plates of pork cheeks exploded with a little heat from their coriander broth, and first-of-the-year ramps and fresh pineapple picked right off the tree in the restaurant's backyard. Pan fried pork kidney's fell with a thud at our table -- the curry mustard, the asparagus and dill; the Basmati rice couldn't cover the barnyard-y bouquet that is an acquired taste acquired by few these days.
A retreat to the spa and the vomitoria for a short R&R, and some sensate pampering by the half-naked eunuchs hired from nearby Seattle University, and then, revived... á table!
The 4th wave was a little like the 4th dimension, and as we'd have to really strain to make such a dimensional analogy, we're tired, and it's late, so we won't.
We were glad, finally to get something substantial: like the lamb sweetbreads ravioli with fresh English peas (flown in from Bolivia, presumably) on a pile of stewed fava beans, and fresh mint. The dough was a little tough, but the flavors: the inimitable sweetbreadiness alongside the low-brow bean was perfect. (Despite the pairing of glands and fava beans, which invoked the "Silence of the Lambs.") Then came pork tongues dolce forte (sweet strong) a sweet/sour blast of balsamic, and prunes. An ancient recipe which often contains chocolate (this did not), it was surprising and gave the pork tongue plenty of flavor. (it's the least tasty of all the tongues we know). And then: another continent heard from -- Africa -- with grilled lamb kofta, those spicy, little meatballs rained down with spiced carrot slivers, Mustapha's olives from Morocco, and couscous .
Gratefully, dessert was simple -- crackling chocolate cookies (no, the crackling was a sugar deal, not pig skin) made by the Chef Johnathon's wife, JM (who couldn't attend) and warm Meyer lemon madeleines with a custard sauce to dip them in.
I'm never sure if John recognizes me as the reviewer who wrote one of the few less-than-slavish reviews of his jumping off restaurant: Earth & Ocean in the W Hotel when he was there. The review, for the P-I, was slavish enough, but then it wasn't the puff piece that this is.
John Sundstrom. winner of the 2007 James Beard Award as the "Best Chef in the Northwest," is an important chef; and Lark is an important restaurant, as is his second place, Licorous, which is next door, serving small plates and large wines. Being out of corporate restaurants suits him, apparently, and his restaurant will always be regular stops for such as we.