Tucked into an indigo banquette beneath Lark’s starlit ceiling, wrapped in the homelike elegance of one of this city’s seriously lovely rooms, I’m staring at a long menu, dumbstruck by how appealing it all looks. What’s a diner supposed to rule out off this menu? Not the housemade charcuterie nor the classics made famous in Lark’s original location. And how is a diner supposed to choose among all these mains?
Perhaps when a place is actually three places, plenty is simply the prevailing concept. In the loft above is Bitter/Raw, the crudo and amaro bar serving cocktails and platters of Kumamoto oysters. Behind, peeking out from between the staircase slats, is Slab Sandwiches and Pie, the daytime takeout shop sharing Lark’s kitchen. Owner John Sundstrom may be the most accommodating chef in Seattle—this is the chef, remember, who at the original Lark on 12th Ave effectively invented have-it-your-way small-plate dining.
But in Seattle the three-in-one restaurant is hardly unique. Compound restaurants have officially become a Thing—just ask Tom Douglas (TanakaSan/Assembly Hall Juice and Coffee/Home Remedy), or Renee Erickson, currently launching the dining room Bateau, adjoining oyster bar Bar Melusine and doughnut shop General Porpoise. Sundstrom launched his when he found his dream space for the new Lark, an airy warehouse at the south tip of Pike/Pine, whose 5,000 feet enabled a couple of his other entrepreneurial dreams.
Benefits for the restaurateur are clear: economies of scale, shared storage, ease of management, lower overhead. (Sundstrom wasn’t eager to repeat Licorous, his bar one door down from the original Lark—widely beloved but killed by separate overheads.) Clustered restaurants can also squeeze lemonade from lemons; at Erickson’s compound a narrow alcove, awkward for the restaurant, was just right for a doughnut shop.
The benefit for the diner is a festival-like vitality, as one feels in upscale food courts like Melrose Market or the new Chophouse Row. Sundstrom claims he’ll sometimes see a party begin an evening at Bitter/Raw, end it at Lark—even come back to Slab for lunch the next day. Do they love Sundstrom’s food that much? Feel that good about the fact that their Lark rib eye and their Slab brisket came off the whole cow this shared enterprise allowed Sundstrom to buy?
Perhaps they’re simply lured by a place that, in three places, is its own bustling neighborhood, within four beautiful walls.