It's elegant yet understated and decidedly approachable. This is Lark.
And it's not hyperbole to say this restaurant helped shape Seattle's dining scene.
"We always envisioned really - part neighborhood restaurant, part bistro - in terms of the vibe, but with a Northwest flare," said chef/owner John Sundstrom. "That's kind of what the original Lark was all about."
Sundstrom, his wife J.M. Enos and business partner Kelly Ronan opened Lark more than 15 years ago.
A chef-owned restaurant, serving shareable small plates on Capitol Hill? Now, that's the norm. But, back in 2003 everything from the concept to the location were way out there.
"It was weird," said Sundstrom. "You didn't really go south of Madison for any reason unless you were high-tailing it back to Beacon Hill or wherever you lived. But I liked the idea of being off the beaten path for people maybe wanting to find us, and certainly we were a hit right from the beginning and very lucky to be here 15 years later."
The secret to Lark's success is part consistency (Sundstrom, Enos and Ronan still work in the restaurant every day), and part evolution. Lark moved into a new, larger space dubbed Lark 2.0 in 2014, and Sundstrom, a James Beard award-winner, continues to refine his craft in the kitchen.
"I don'f feel like my food has stayed static. I mean - there's certainly dishes that we do that are very similar to day one, but we've kept the rest [of the menu] with what's going on with food technology and with what great chefs are doing around the world," he said.
Of course, some dishes are perfect just the way they are, like the hamachi crudo, a Lark staple since the beginning. Gorgeous hamachi loin, sliced thin, served with fennel, preserved lemon and green olive.
"It's a homerun," explained Sundstrom as we sampled the dish, the fish so flavorful and delicate in almost melts in your mouth. "I'm sure we'd have people protest if we changed it or tried to take it off (the menu)."
Ultimately, it's the people who keep Sundstrom and his team going after all these years. The young cooks he trains, many of whom go on to open their own restaurants. The first-time visitors, and the regulars, who stop by for a plate of crudo or maybe a sweet treat, like the quince tarte tatin.
The quince tarte tatin is Lark's version of apple pie, or mom's apple crisp. The fruit rotates based on the season, but in this case, I was treated to quince sourced from an orchard on Shaw Island. The quince is the centerpiece of the tarte, baked upside down until golden brown, then covered with caramel sauce and topped with bits of homemade cinnamon toast crunch and creme fraiche gelato. I could eat this every day - and I mean it.
Some 15 years in Lark remains one of Seattle's quintessential restaurants. As for its place in the city's food history, well, that chapter is far from finished.
"You know - it's still evolving. I hope we'll be here in another 10-15 years to answer that question again. I think really it's just being reliable and tried and true but also still on that front edge of what's going on with food," said Sundstrom. "We're always trying to push ourselves to do better."