San Francisco, CA: The Char is the Star at Lark Creek Steak
Lark Creek Steak
Westfield Centre Mall, 845 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 (map); 415-593-4100; larkcreek.com
Cooking Method: Grilled over a wood fire
Short Order: Quality beef with an impressive smokey char
Want Fries with That? Yes; they taste better than they look
Price: Steakburger, $12.95; add cheese, $1.50; lunch special with root beer float, $17.50
You don't expect to find meat that's been cooked on a genuine wood-fired grill when you're dining at the mall. But there, at the front of Lark Creek Steak's open kitchen, on the fourth floor of the Westfield Centre Mall in downtown San Francisco, sits a Woodshow Broiler stoked with almond wood. This impressive contraption, with its big metal wagon wheel on one side that allows the cooks to control the distance between the cooking surface and the fire, imparts a smokey crust to the meat. The end result is a tasty burger where the char is as much the star as the beef.
Props to the design crew behind Lark Creek Steak—you certainly don't feel like you're trapped in the mall. The high, peaked wooden ceiling and the open kitchen give the space surrounding the cushy banquettes and white tablecloths an inviting feel. The ambiance befits the pedigree of the food, which has earned quite a few very positive reviews over the years (including this nice little paean to their burger, which I came across just as I was finishing off my own review).
The folks at Lark Creek have labeled their offering the steakburger, a moniker that rubs me the wrong way in its implication that a hamburger somehow needs a fancified title to exist in a fine dining setting. But I'll let it slide, because the beef that Lark Creek grinds fresh daily is literally the product of the trimmings from the various steaks on their menu. Besides, the end result is tasty. My half-pound patty came off the grill just a little dry around the edges, but I was too busy savoring that campfire char to get too bent out of shape about it. And the tender center of my burger had been left plenty rare enough to allow the juices to flow freely and to preserve more than enough beefy taste to stand up to that flavorful outer crust.
Lark Creek Steak will serve you a burger bathed in barbecue sauce and bacon, or even a burger topped with truffled brie cheese and a truffle vinaigrette. But after eating a deep-fried burger for my last review, I was desperate for a plainer model. At Lark Creek, this meant that my patty came with a few leaves of bibb lettuce, pickle strips, and the first truly red slice of tomato I've seen in some time. Lark Creek also shows off that grill one more time by adding a generous disc of grilled red onion to the pile. The cheese selection includes bleu or Gruyère, though I chose the cheddar—properly tangy, but not enough to overwhelm the main event. The buttery sesame seed bun gets toasted enough to add some crunchy texture around the edges.
Fries come standard at Lark Creek Steak. The pale, chubby rectangles of freshly cut potato appeared a bit marshmallowy when they arrived at the table and I was afraid I was getting starchy steak fries to go with my steakburger. But if they contained a bit more potato than my ideal fry, these spuds also maintained a crisp exterior and I happily ate all of them.
Get to Lark Creek at lunchtime, and you can order the steakburger along with a root beer float for $17.50. The Thomas Kemper Root Beer doesn't have much bite (which may be why it wasn't at the top of the list for the Serious Eats root beer taste test), but it makes a sweet and pleasant float, and adds a bit of whimsy to lunch at this upscale restaurant.
Priced at $12.95 (add $1.50 for cheese), the steakburger at Lark Creek Steak may get a few sideways looks from those of you who view burgers only as properly downscale fare. If that's your desire, this is the mall, and you can get a cheeseburger down in the food court for a more reasonable $6.49. But for the pleasure of high quality beef encased in an impressive wood-fired char, you'll have to go up to the fourth floor.
About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. Though he's an equal opportunity eater, there's a special place in his heart for crispy slices of pizza and juicy hamburgers. David is not much of a shopper, and so does not usually eat at the mall.