"Let's go on a lark!" This phrase has been a common suggestion voiced by Huntington Beach resident Lisa Martinez throughout her life, and now it's the catchphrase of her underground dinner party and marketplace pop-up project. A military brat since day one, the wanderluster and adventurer has traveled the globe, soaking up every dish and handmade good in her path. Lucky for us, she settled in HB a couple decades ago, and for the past two years she's been making delicious, covert moments happen. The aptly named byproduct of Martinez's wayfaring lifestyle and neighborly demeanor—Lark—is making its quiet rounds around Orange County.
Beaming with excitement about her biggest lark to date, Martinez walked us through her expeditions, beginning in Colorado, extending into Germany, Japan and Argentina, and hitting San Francisco before heading south. She developed a love for food and design, and she seems to naturally attract and genuinely enjoy good company. Over the years she's worked as a waitress, an accountant, an ad agency producer, and a full-time mom. Now she's the founder and creative director of one of OC's only pop-up efforts.
"When I daydream, this is what I dream about," Martinez tells us of Lark, the excitement in her voice impossible to overlook.
A culinary and artisan escapade in itself, Lark starts with an enchanting, secret location and builds with the help of Private Chef and Certified Fromage Kristen Trinh of The Mad Platter Kitchen. The two forged a strong friendship while working next door to one another a few years back, and together they're awakening the palettes of Southern California. With Trinh largely behind the menu, the two collaborate on courses, keeping in rhythm with Lark's main goal: to bring people together in an inspiring environment with inventive, locally sourced fare, locally made eye candy, as well as flowing drinks and conversation. Martinez also teams up with other local chefs to keep her lark menus fresh.
The exact location of each artisan market pop-up is not revealed until about two days before the event, but guests are clued in to the approximate intersection of the venue and the full menu. "I always reveal the menu because I don't want anyone to be surprised by the food on his or her plate," explains Martinez. Each pop-up features a multi-course menu, an almost too pretty to eat cheese plate, hand-selected wine pairings, and vegetarian options, and usually entertains for about three hours.
"I try to make the environment as cool and inspirational as possible," says Martinez, noting that she hands guests a drink and a bite as soon as they walk through the door. Sometimes that bite is a tapa carefully placed atop a wine glass, a serving style influenced by Martinez's visits to Argentina. The admitted Pinterest nut uses her innate design eye to dress the space using earthy items from her home and locally handmade pieces. Martinez's twist on the classic pop-up lies in these goods. Many of the decor items are available for purchase as the event winds down, making Lark not only a food experience, but a marketplace one too. Injecting style into the pop-up experience, she artfully brings "style to the table."
As guests sip, dine and dish around the Lark communal tables—handmade by Martinez's HB-born husband—they gradually melt into the space, perhaps not even realizing how carefully crafted their evening really is. Yet, there's still plenty of room for magic. The sensation of spontaneity stems from Martinez's own sense of adventure, steering impromptu road trips and aimless wanderings.
"If you're driving somewhere and you just make a left turn instead of a right and see where it leads you—I love that," says Martinez. "People, if they ride with me anywhere, might have to alter their schedules."
Of course, each lark wouldn't be possible without the help of her two righthand men, Alex Samples and Adam LeHaf, who assist in everything from styling to heavy lifting to conversing with guests. "They make the magic happen," she tells us, noting that Trinh's daughter, Chyna Trinh, offers a hugely helping hand during events.
Previous larks have popped up at AoSA Coffee in HB, 31 Bits in Costa Mesa, The Lark Lodge in Long Beach, and Corona Del Mar State Beach, and the next event will take place at an undisclosed location (hint: a beautiful seaside cottage) in Sunset Beach on Friday, September 19, from 6-9 p.m. Guest Chef Kyle Powers' end of summer menu features savory dishes like 72-hour brined chicken and roasted zucchini steaks, followed by sweet shortcake cookies to cap off the meal. Tickets cost $90 and are available online.
Ever ambitiously daydreaming, Martinez's vision for Lark is to eventually open a brick and mortar space housing culinary events, design/styling resources, and a marketplace. She aims to continue collaborating with new chefs, stylists, and artists, and product placement looks to be a major element in future pop-ups. Toying with numerous, likely countless ideas, Martinez mentioned a possible kids pop-up, a "Lark in the Park," and e-commerce options for her marketplace items.
"The whole idea of Lark is to nurture and inspire others," says Martinez. "I want to create that feeling that I had, and that escape from this crazy lifestyle that we all lead. And the face-to-face interaction that we hardly get anymore."
We'll go on a lark with Lark any day. Care to join?