After two years of empty mohair booths, one of Seattle’s seminal—and straight-up best—Northwest restaurants is back.
Lark closed its doors in March 2020 like every other restaurant in the state. But its owners, chef John Sundstrom, Kelly Ronan, and JM Enos, didn’t reopen the dining room last summer. Or this past fall or winter.
Last week, the trio once again lit the starscape of lights on the ceiling and resumed dine-in service. This is Lark 3.0, says Sundstrom—a familiar restaurant with a new menu format and a slightly different interior. The menu reflects the biggest change: A four-course menu replaced the expansive a la carte sheet of yore, though diners can choose among three or four dish options for each course.
The old menu “was so fun,” says Sundstrom. “But it also just takes a lot of people to run it.” Put another way, in 2022’s behind-the-scenes restaurant reality, it’s more feasible to pull off a 20-item menu than a 40-item one.
Lark is hardly alone in its embrace of the set menu. High-profile newcomers like Tomo and longstanding favorites like Cook Weaver have organized, or reorganized, their menus this way of late, enforcing financial solvency while also preserving ambition. “It’s a great way to focus our energy,” says Sundstrom. And a timely evolution after 18 years in business and a James Beard Award back in 2007.
Sundstrom, Ronan, and Enos used the down time to make some upgrades, and some significant changes upstairs. When Lark relocated here in 2014—a move that ushered in Lark 2.0—the mezzanine space was a standalone crudo bar dubbed Bitter/Raw. Now it has the same deep blue mohair banquettes people dig so much downstairs. Longtime fans will recognize the new series of translucent curtains as a nod to the original Lark over on 12th Avenue. (They’re also a handy tool to section off semiprivate space.)
Over the course of the pandemic, Lark served up some higher-end takeout menus, but Sundstrom and his slim crew focused their efforts on Slab, the tiny sandwich shop tucked behind Lark’s bar (not to mention sibling pizzeria Southpaw, which adapted readily to takeaway.) “We’re remembering how to sear fish,” Sundstrom says of the kitchen team. “They’ve been cooking Cubanos.”
The new menu will change monthly, mixing classic Lark dishes (right now the tartare and octopus a la plancha) with seasonal creations. Other subtle adaptations also position Lark for our new era of dining, like reducing the number of seats slightly, to create a little more distance between parties, and being open five nights a week instead of seven.
“We wanted to keep the essence of Lark, but in a pandemic and post-pandemic world,” says Sundstrom. That world will include lots of counter service and fast-casual dining. Sundstrom wants this room to remain a bastion of hospitality, serving food that takes lessons from ambitious kitchens around the world, but tempers them with Seattle reality: “A high-concept restaurant where you submit to the chef’s vision—that’s never been our thing,” says Sundstrom. “We’re not an art project.”