Every now and then we get the chance to dress up and become a more sophisticated version of ourselves when dining out. Your head sits a little higher. You wash and vacuum your vehicle so the valet doesn’t think you’re a vagrant. At the restaurant, you use an accent when describing the French cooking technique used on the day’s special. “En Papillote is the only way I’ll cook my pheasant.” And then the wine comes. The true test of a foodie’s might and knowledge. Will you wave the cork under your nose? Will you read aloud the vintage and region on the label and act like you actually know two shakes about what your talking about? You’re not Paul Giamatti and this isn’t Sideways. Dressing up and having a nice night is great but don’t overreach and be something you’re not!
There’s sophistication and there’s pretentiousness and please don’t confuse the two. Pretension is when a restaurant cares more about its atmosphere than its food. Real substance is substituted for high priced drinks and a flirty waitstaff. Like the New York Yankees, it’s expensive, flashy and you seldom get your money’s worth. Sophistication, at least to me, is when a chef takes time to plan a menu and it speaks of what’s in season and the surrounding community. It means importance is equally portioned to the service, the atmosphere and the meal. The service is attentive but not pushy. The atmosphere is clean, uncluttered and reflects the nature of the food. And the meal is prepared with a deft hand and a desire to elevate your opinion of what a meal can be.
The Lark is a prime example of sophisticated dining in the Metro Detroit area. Dining here is a three hour experience that takes diners through the paces. Upon entering you are seated by a Maitre D’ who watches over the restaurant like a proud parent over a child, carefully seeing that every patron’s whims and needs and tended to. A giant, golden Spanish chandelier hangs from the ceiling and lords over the orangish-peach colored, 52 seat dining room. Outside the windows is an outdoor patio area festooned with lattice, trellises and white Christmas lights that I can only imagine sets a beautiful scene in the summer. This is the kind of place that seems to attract a much more refined crowd. A crowd that worked hard for a living and now enjoys the benefits thereof.
Appetizers are still brought by on a trolley cart where diners can select some or all of the appetizers that are offered. The best bet is to ask for a sample of everything that is offered. It’s really kinda sweet that they do that I think. I got one of everything. Shrimp cocktail, a raw oyster, curry duck salad, smoked salmon, and a bean and potato salad loaded up my plate. The duck salad was well seasoned with diced green apple in it. And warm sopapilla bread is served with every meal by the way. Just the right amount of salt and it’s fried a golden brown.
The first course consisted of a soup, a pasta dish, or hot appetizer of the day which was sauteed scallops with fennel. I ordered the scallops which, in a word, were exceptional. Sidenote: everything I had was exceptional so let it go without saying the rest of the post.
The rest of my meal consisted of a kale Caesar salad, cranberry sorbet, a veal chop with pomegranate demi-glace, butternut risotto, and roasted beets. Other members of our party ordered halibut with crab cakes and a “Rack of Lamb Genghis Kahn” which even comes with it’s own numbered tag! I don’t know why they do it but it’s fun to collect the personalized tickets they give you when you order it. Our table’s order was 73,040. People seem to collect these tickets like they’re World Series game stubs. It adds to the atmosphere.
All along the way our waiter was patient, knowledgeable and well dressed. The dude was a mensch. He was always available but never hovering. He talked to us as if we were friends rather than customers. When it came time to order off of the dessert trolley (that’s right, they still use a trolley) he didn’t even flinch when my girlfriend squealed with girlish delight at the mere sight of it. He just calmly piled her plate with all sorts of torts, cakes, fruit, bonbons and everything else that will fill out your hips. His job is to make people happy and he went above and beyond.
There are those that will say the Lark is overrated and rests on its laurels. I’m not so sure about those statements. The Lark could definitely be labeled “old fashioned” but not necessarily in a bad way. My appetizer and salad definitely took a page out of newer cookbooks and I enjoyed the Pomegrante demi-glace. Having been open since 1981, I doubt much has changed at the Lark in the past 31 years. The menu doesn’t offer shooters, foams, sliders, cake pops or spherification. I doubt those would appeal to its clientele anyway. What you will find is well cooked, beautifully presented dishes in a warm and inviting setting. Call me sentimental but sometimes that’s all it takes with me.
This type of dining may be a once a month or a once in a lifetime event for some people. Whatever the case is for you I would gladly recommend the Lark for your special occasion.
6340 Farmington Road, West Bloomfield