I must admit that when The Lark opened last year, I was very skeptical. After all, another premium restaurant in Santa Barbara, especially one with 130 seats located in the Funk Zone, seemed to me to be a big risk. However, the consistent crowds and my recent experience have made me a believer in the staying power of this successful business.
The Lark, located at 131 Anacapa St., is the anchor business in the Anacapa Project. It was named for the overnight Pullman train of the Southern Pacific Railroad that serviced Santa Barbara from 1910 to 1968. Doug Washington, owner of the acclaimed Town Hall and Salt House restaurants in San Francisco, was responsible for the design of the interior and exterior spaces, which feature an urban theme throughout, integrating “vintage and repurposed materials for a sophisticated yet casual sensibility.” Original lighting, handmade furniture, and a 24-seat live-edge communal table stacked on vintage radiators work perfectly to create a space that is warm yet exciting.
Washington collaborated with Dan Bush Design/Build of Portland and Santa Barbara-based AB Design Studio and Young Construction for this eclectic, interesting design. To me, the décor perfectly blends comfort and casual sophistication to create a very enjoyable experience that is unique in the Santa Barbara marketplace. The string lighting and fire pits in the outdoor area create a soft elegance that invites patrons to linger.
No matter how interesting, cool, sophisticated or exciting the ambiance of a restaurant, if it doesn’t have good food, it will not survive. The Lark certainly does not disappoint in this area, with a very focused, simple but ample menu that offers locally sourced and responsibly grown food from the Central Coast served family-style. On a recent visit, we ordered the fried castelvetrano olives stuffed with goat cheese and rosemary with chorizo aioli ($9), followed by the cast-iron roasted broccolini with black garlic, toasted walnuts and cucumber yogurt ($10). We followed with marinated and grilled hanger steak with charred broccoli, Calabrian chilies, crispy shallots and mint ($17), and citrus-cured Scottish salmon with house-made black pepper Crème fraîche, yuzu, dill, pickled shallot and brioche ($14). Everything was amazing, and the prices are very reasonable given the quality, quantity and presentation.
The Lark also offers a full bar featuring classic, well and craft cocktails using the finest in artisan spirits (including Cutler’s also located in the Anacapa Project), mixers and seasonal fruits and vegetables. The comprehensive wine list highlights small Santa Barbara County producers and artisan winemakers from many other regions.
As much as I enjoyed the aesthetic experience and the food, no restaurant can compete in Santa Barbara without superb service. Once again, The Lark did not disappoint in this critical area. Using a team approach, servers were attentive without being smothering, knowledgeable, prompt and polite. In short, the service was truly outstanding. Mike was our primary server and he was fantastic. His passion and enthusiasm were infectious, which further enhanced our experience.
When I first heard about The Lark — the size of the operations, the menu, the price point, the cost, etc. — I was dubious. Santa Barbara is not only a city with a high concentration of high-end restaurants, it is also a relatively small town. Patrons are fickle, and they are reluctant to drive more than a few minutes to go anywhere, even if they really want what the business is selling. Add to this the incredible cost for commercial real estate and you have a very challenging operating environment for restaurants.
The Lark has more than met this challenge, using a winning formula that exceeds expectations for ambiance, food and service, and creating a truly amazing dining experience.