Thrice-Changing Spot Morphs Into New Lark Creek Kitchen
It’s the first such new concept by the Moana Restaurant Group since it took over operations of Lark Creek Restaurant Group’s stable in January with the exception of One Market restaurant in San Francisco, which remains independently run.
Not that the other two concepts lacked for diners, but Lark Creek Kitchen is Moana’s first action to refresh the brand. Other plans are in the works to redo Lark Creek Steak in the San Francisco Centre and to reopen the now-shuttered Fish Story in Napa as something else.
Lark Creek Kitchen is not seafood-centric like Yankee Pier. The seafood that is served, though, does adhere to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Seafood Watch” guide, even if that fact is not prominently stated on the menu as it was under the previous concepts.
It’s also not as dimly lit or upscale as Lark Creek Blue. Instead, Lark Creek Kitchen is farm-to-table with a relaxed vibe, courtesy of the white bead board, marble tabletops and taxidermy buffalo and deer heads on the wall. The space was designed by Doug Washington. Yes, that Washington, a founding partner of Town Hall in San Francisco.
Moana’s Culinary Director Eric Markoff (formerly of Town Hall) created the current menu, and hopes to soon install an executive chef at the Santana Row restaurant. He’s already gotten the lay of the land, recognizing that Santana Row patrons like their portions large, and tend to dine as an afterthought to shopping rather as a destination in and of itself.
Of course, after a hard day of shopping, what’s better than a craft cocktail, right? The restaurant smartly offers 14 specialty cocktails. When I was invited to dine as a guest of the restaurant two weeks ago, I happily sipped the That’s My Jam ($12), a blend of Ruby Red vodka, lemon, thyme, apricot jam and rosemary. It had the sweetness of apricot balanced by citrus and lifted with the resiny, forest-y quality of the rosemary.
I started with the Ginger-Apple Cured Salmon Tartare ($13), which came neatly molded atop smooth avocado puree and garnished with flying fish roe. Spread a little on one of the crisp won ton crackers for a taste of creamy and crunchy. Pickled ginger added a nice burst of sweet heat.
The Adobo-Fried Chicken Wings ($9) was comprised of three wings cut into six pieces for sharing, as it’s sizable for one person alone as an appetizer. The chicken was nicely crisp and golden but didn’t necessarily have any distinctive flavor until dunked into the accompanying dipping sauce. “Adobo” is a misnomer here, though, as the sauce was more Vietnamese in nature with its fish sauce and cilantro base rather than the Filipino soy sauce-vinegar-garlic staple. It tasted fine, but if what you were expecting was truly an adobo sauce, then you would have been sorely disappointed.
My husband was happy with his Grass-Fed Burger ($15), adorned with aged cheddar and pickled onions. The server explained when we ordered that the kitchen typically cooks it to medium-rare, but will accommodate the diner’s preference. In this case, my husband opted to have it cooked to medium. It arrived closer to medium-rare, but to me, that is perfect, especially with grass-fed beef, which is leaner and tends to dry out if overcooked. the patty was juicy and had a nice texture in that it wasn’t overly compacted.
The restaurant makes all its condiments, including the accompanying ketchup and malt vinegar aioli (a thinner, tangier tartar sauce). The thin fries were nicely crisp.
My Alaskan Halibut ($28), crusted well and moist, lay atop a large portion of fresh shelling beans that were wonderfully creamy. Their heaviness was cut by the addition of preserved lemon, adding bits of briny, tangy flavor. It was such a hefty portion that I ended up taking half of it home, and eating it for lunch the next day.
That’s because I had to save room for one of my all-time favorite desserts — the famed butterscotch pudding ($8). Every Lark Creek restaurant features this beloved dessert, based on the original one created by founding Chef Bradley Ogden’s mother.
At Lark Creek Kitchen, it’s gussied up with a dollop of caramel, in addition to the usual fluff of softly whipped cream. That’s not a bad thing, either. The pudding, thick and rich as ever, takes well to that extra hit of salty-toffee-ness from the caramel.
At Santana Row, dining may come only after all the shopping’s worn you down. But look no further than Lark Creek Kitchen to refuel you in a most delicious way.