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Left Bank Larkspur
by Karen Solomon on Oct 21, 2004
You’d better like pigs if you plan to enjoy the Left Bank’s Larkspur dining room. And not the realistic oinking farm animal, but the graphical portrayal of the portly fellow in classical 1920’s Parisian poster incarnation -- whimsical, cartoony, and carefree of his future form seared on your plate. Images of pigs, said to be good luck in rural France, dominate the dining room’s every wall -- giving imagery to the whimsy and luck that you, as diner, are about to experience.
This Francophile’s dream strives to be all things to all people. A lush outdoor street café is perfect for a warm Marin evening -- the place to catch the bustling scene strolling a historic tree-lined thoroughfare, or simply to gaze at the Lark Creek Inn across the street (Larkspur’s other dining claim to fame). The indoor 25-foot mahogany bar elbows its way into the dining room and attracts a sizable crowd for increasingly intoxicated conversation, the ample wine and cocktail menu, and live jazz and blues on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Servers greet you warmly and with style -- their crisp white blouses turned tres continental with a vibrant scarf trailing behind. The décor of the dining room itself is both elegant and rustic -- the omnipresent pigs meet airy roof beams, stone-faced walls, a flood of light and street scene, marble tables made less stuffy by wicker seating, and an enormous and inviting fireplace -- all of which come together to spell out the restaurant’s “cuisine grandmere.”
And like grandmere herself she is a treasure, but trying to do too much at once leaves her disjointed and unfocused, and this unevenness shows its frailty in the cooking. The tart Lyonnaise ($8), a house signature dish, is a luscious piece of French history with a resounding goat cheese and onion palate. Don’t miss this slice of fairy tale heaven. But the story turns darker when the quenelle ($9) turns the page. A tough and rubbery scallop and salmon mousse puck puddles in an unimpressive lobster sauce. The lesson is indicative of the menu -- stick to the basics and grandma is at her best.
Entrees were good, but not necessarily a good value. The duck confit ($18) is crisp and succulent atop a creamy Camargue rice and solid port reduction. But the bouillabaisse ($19), another house dish, was an abundant crock of shrimp, bay scallops, and white fish whose freshness and complexity were outshined by the well-rounded saltiness of the broth.
An eye around the other tables shows a diverse Marin crowd of families with older children and adults meeting with friends, dressed in everything from sport coats to sportswear. Savvy diners know to stick to the Angus steaks ($17-$25) and the hamburger Americaine ($8), clearly local favorites. And we wish we could tell you that their accompanying pommes frites were aptly crisp and flavorful, but our otherwise-attentive server forgot to bring them and another side dish to the table. Grandma is sweet, but forgetful. Let her stick to the basics, and show you her adorable pig collection again, and your visit will be as pleasant as its always been.
by Karen Solomon on Oct 21, 2004