I have been anxiously awaiting the opening night of the latest and most comprehensive restaurant addition to Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, The Lark. The buzz has been intense, due to the scope of the project, especially one of this stature that steps up to the big leagues in modern American food, wine and architectural concept.
Tuesday's public opening night was simply fabulous and delicious. No first-night jitters or missteps in view. While I'm sure the staff was feeling some anxiety about making a good first impression, none was obvious to me. Despite knowing quite a few of the other patrons (an occupational hazard as a long-time resident), I just wanted to melt into the sold-out crowd and experience the 131-seat restaurant at 131 Anacapa St. Many familiar faces were tucked into booths, round and four-top tables inside and at the community table, or shoulder-to-shoulder at the bar, which features classic as well as craft cocktails using mostly elite artisan spirits and mixers that incorporate a plethora of fresh fruit and locally sourced veggies.
The industrial lighting was very sexy and flattering. My guest and I were seated on the patio against a glass wall made of old frosted windows with succulents growing out of them. The vibe felt much more like in SoHo in New York City , downtown L.A. or San Francisco. The wait staff, dressed in denim aprons, was relaxed and amiable and very attentive to our needs. There was no affectation going on, which reminded me I was still in Santa Barbara and one of the things I like best about living here.
Leading the design team and an integral part of the project is restaurateur and designer Doug Washington, owner of Town Hall and Salt House in San Francisco. The Funk Zone project is his first venture in Santa Barbara. Washington’s signature style for the exterior and interior can be best described as "urban," integrating vintage and repurposed materials that are sophisticated yet lend themselves to a casual bent, well-suited for the steps-from-the-beach project. Washington collaborated with local architect Clay Aurell of AB Design Studio Inc., general contractor Dan Bush and job superintendent Rick Musmecci of Young Construction in Santa Barbara.
The restaurant, situated on a 10,000-square-foot lot, has attracted local and national attention in its pre-public viewing and a media blitz. The Lark, which takes its name from a luminous Pacific Railroad train that operated between Los Angeles and San Francisco at the beginning of the 20th century, has assembled an impressive team with formidable credentials in front and behind the scenes to make it all work seamlessly and taste amazing.
Beginning with chef Jason Paluska and executive sous chef Nick Flores with culinary credentials that are dizzying, the team includes co-owners Sherry Villanueva, a branding and marketing expert, and local resident and general manager Dan Russo, a veteran of both gastro pubs and fine dining who brings 19 years of experience.
With The Lark and its sister businesses located within the commercial compound is Lucky Penny, a free-standing building covered in copper pennies. Lucky Penny will serve coffee, artisan baked goods, pizzas from a wood-burning oven, fresh pressed juices and snacks — also under Paluska's direction.
A beautiful wine room and bar, Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant, run by two young stars in the wine industry, master sommeliers Brian McClintic and Eric Railsback, is attached to The Lark but has a separate entrance. The sexy wine bar has a retail selection from small producers from Santa Barbara County and Europe that is designed to enlighten the wine novice and dazzle the wine connoisseur. The Lark will be focused on using the best of the best of local organic chicken, seafood and meat and locally sourced seasonal organic fruits and vegetables.
After nibbling on some savory popcorn, a refreshing change from the expected bread basket, what to order was the challenge. Our server treated us to Castelvetrano olives stuffed with goat cheese and dipped in chorizo oil, which we in turn shared with the couple next to us. Glancing around at the other tables, we spied beet salads, arugula with strawberries salads, roast chicken with figs and polenta, a pork shank with beer-braised Swiss chard, and smoked ham hocks and blackberry jus served with ancho honey cornbread. We caught on quickly that with large entrée portions, meant to be shared with delectable sides, we needed more than the two of us to get to taste more the culinary fair than we could eat.
All we could think of was returning on Friday for coffee, croissants and pizza at Lucky Penny, grabbing a beer at Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., and sampling some rosé at the wine bar and returning for round two at The Lark. Get ready, Santa Barbara: The Anacapa Project is a game changer.
The Lark is located at 131 Anacapa St. in Santa Barbara. Click here for more information, or call 805.284.0370.