Gourmet comfort foods have been the theme of Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine since its 2005 inception at Ashland Springs Hotel.

Gourmet comfort foods have been the theme of Larks Home Kitchen Cuisine since its 2005 inception at Ashland Springs Hotel.

That meant Southern-style fried chicken, pot roast and meatloaf shared a menu with duck confit and cedar-planked salmon. The common thread, instituted by Executive Chef Damon Jones, has been Larks' copious use of locally produced ingredients, seasonal fruits and vegetables and sustainable Pacific Northwest seafood.

This farm-to-table ethic continued during Jones' recent, two-year absence. Its founding chef now back with some fresh ideas from the East Coast, Larks closed for a few weeks to update its menu and decor. Changes to both are subtle but reinforce Larks' well-deserved status among Ashland's fine-dining restaurants.

Among the greatest hits still on Larks' menu is Dungeness crab and five-cheese fondue ($15). During Oregon's crab season, when Larks purchases directly from coastal fishermen, this dish is a no-brainer. My husband, Will, and I ordered it straight away while deciding on subsequent courses.

Neither one of us could pass up the evening's soup specials: a bowl of cioppino ($6) for him and a cup of winter squash with fennel ($4) for me. We agreed to share the special salad of arugula and wild mushrooms ($10). Compelled to tread lighter still, we asked for a split order (for an extra $5 fee) of the confit duck leg with polenta ($25).

Will briefly made a pitch for the Southern-style fried chicken with bacon gravy and mashed potatoes, another of Jones' home-style recipes, along with grass-fed beef pot roast, on the revised menu. Larks' long-running meatloaf with mashed potatoes didn't make the cut, but the pork chop with apple compote and sweet potatoes appears to be a mainstay.

Starting with the appetizer, each course came out with hardly a few minutes' lapse between. Its top lightly broiled, the fondue was redolent of — if not awash in — shellfish with a sauce thin enough to soak into the stout fingers of lightly grilled, rosemary-spiced bread.

Hotter even than the fondue, each soup was a superb example of its genre. While the color of mine suggested squash, the first taste was of fennel, and the consistency was among the silkiest I've seen in some time. The cioppino surprisingly lacked shells to grapple but featured delicate morsels of white fish and mussels in a rich, almost smoky seafood and tomato broth.

The salad nicely juxtaposed bitter arugula, savory mushrooms hinting of garlic, slivers of candied almonds and shards of smoked Gouda. Even shared by two diners, the portion was ample.

That goes double for the duck confit, each plate boasting a rich, fall-off-the-bone-tender leg perched atop hearty but creamy polenta. Will was convinced we were being wooed with extra food. The server explained that cooks try to plate two smaller legs, but sometimes diners end up with portions that are closer to the typical size.

I love braised meats with polenta, but in this case, textures would have been more complementary if the duck's skin was crisped a bit more. The sweet orange glaze also suggested a bit more salt in the polenta.

We couldn't pass up the offer of dessert, singling out apple bread pudding ($8.50) from Meyer lemon tart and warm chocolate cake with salted-caramel ice cream. The dessert's bread and custard melded more seamlessly than expected, producing a cake-like effect, with the butter-pecan ice cream a spot-on match. Heating the pudding a bit more would have heightened our enjoyment. But it's hard to fault an empty plate.

Larks is located at 212 E. Main St., Ashland. Call 541-488-5558 or see www.larksrestaurant.com. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays, brunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, dinner from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; the bar opens at 5 p.m.

— Sarah Lemon