180405LARK

Beautifully prepared and presented dishes awaited The Gazette’s restaurant review team, The Four Dishes, during a recent stop at Lark in downtown Janesville.

JANESVILLE

Long twilights mean spring is in the air. It’s the perfect time for strolling downtown, and we headed out with a destination in mind: Lark.

Inside, the ambiance is fabulous. Windows on Main Street provide an abundance of natural light and a great view of Lower Courthouse Park. Just past the bar is an oversized booth with wrought-iron light fixtures that resemble bird cages. Modern pendant lights and a thick, black-framed scene of tree trunks and branches enhance the overall decor.

We have been here before. I admit, I go for the drinks menu. There’s a full page of ingredients I’ve never heard of mixed into creative recipes and presentations. To sit sipping at the bar ... watching the bartender’s antics, hearing the cocktail shaker ... for a moment, I feel as if I’m in a chic urban lounge.

But wait, I am! It makes me appreciate Janesville all the more for having this innovative restaurant in the heart of its downtown.

We shared several drinks over the course of the evening. Helene sampled a Debbie, Don’t ($10). Rich tequila and hint of maple syrup made it a very drinkable drink.

Jennifer substituted vodka for gin in an Aviation ($12). With Luxardo maraschino liqueur, Creme de Violette and lemon juice, it was tart but refreshing.

My favorite, the Fig Leaf ($12), was composed of bourbon, fig syrup and an oversized ice cube that didn’t water down the velvety drink.

Nikki got a Nojito ($4), a mint and lime concoction jazzed up with muddled blackberries.

Lark creates fun, familiar dishes with a twist that are made from locally sourced ingredients. Since sharing small plates is one of our favorite pastimes, we sampled our way through quite a bit of the menu. We’d talk and eat, and then order more. It’s a relaxing way to singularly appreciate each dish.

We started with the Brussels sprouts ($6), which we all have a thing for. They were wonderful, roasted with garlic, oil and a hint of soy. Compulsively delicious.

Next up was the tuna tartare ($10). Jennifer and I were a bit squeamish about raw fish, but we were pleasantly surprised. Served with a ball of fried rice and a pureed carrot sauce with a hint of heat, it was an interesting combination of flavors.

No meal is complete without salad, and the roasted roots ($9) got top marks. Arugula greens and ricotta accompanied a mélange of celery root, beets and sweet potato. As with the sprouts, we kept going back for more.

Helene and Jennifer loved the pork belly with pretzel bites ($14). The marinated pork belly on a mound of popcorn puree and house-made pretzels was an explosion of the most unusual flavors. We discovered many of our plates were enhanced by the pairing of flavors, so we tried to get a little bit of everything on the fork.

The night was young, so I ordered a Ruby Flipper ($11)—the perfect drink to sip slowly. There’s the richness of port—cut with egg white—and then watch out: The ghost pepper syrup isn’t messing around.

Another one to savor was Helene’s Prohibition ($10), which looked and smelled lemony, tasted slightly bitter and helped cleanse the palate.

We then moved on to large plates. Jennifer decided on the salmon special ($24), a dish that was back by popular demand. A beautiful piece of fish arrived on a bed of cubed sweet potatoes and fresh spinach. It was perfectly seasoned and scrumptious.

Nikki ordered the ribeye steak and potatoes ($32). Served with more Brussels sprouts (we just can’t get enough!) and delicious potato, broccoli and cheddar croquettes, the steak was cut into thick slices, making it very easy to share.

We were approaching capacity, but we added an order of the tikka tacos ($14) on the recommendation of a friend. The Indian-inspired dish featured chicken and pickled onion drizzled with cucumber sauce and was served taco-style with cilantro in soft, chewy naan bread. It was definitely worth adding to our list.

I am a creme brulee devotee, but with a brie cream topping? While my friends sniffed and laughed, I found the pungent cheese a delightful complement to the chai tea brulee’s ($7) sugary crust and creamy texture. Be prepared—brie whipped cream is not sweet. In fact, none of Lark’s desserts were terribly sweet. We also sampled the banana pudding ($7), with chunks of banana bread and rum caramel. Yum!

After oohing and aahing over the last Luxardo cherry from our drinks, we walked out into the beautifully starry night ... happy as larks.

The Four Dishes—Nikki Bolka, Helene Ramsdell, Jennifer Spangler and Beth Webb—review regional restaurants for The Gazette.

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