Saturday, June 03, 2017

Of small plates and anxious diners

Restaurants matter!  Since childhood, I’ve had an almost religious attraction to restaurants serving tasty Chinese food, Italian food, steaks, etc.  Now in my late 50s I’m speaking out against a form of dining that started to proliferate across the U.S. about 10 years ago.... a restaurant concept called, “small plates”. 

It’s not the portion size that bothers me.  OK, part of the problem is size-related, but one can obviously consume as many little bites as one wishes and leave satisfied.  Nor is the problem entirely due to flavors (I've enjoyed tapas and other tiny treats served at many small plate eateries).  The problem is the convoluted experience of the small plate "dinner".  Dinner in this case is a misnomer.  It's more like playing gastronomic chess and I don't like it.  Here's what happens at a typical small plate experience....

Small plates photo -- Wikipedia
After eyeing a group of baby plates spewed across a table that's invariably too small to accommodate them or the rest of us -- I’m drawn to some of these culinary strip teases much more than others.  Now -- how many pieces of the great stuff shall I eat?  

I want to be mindful of my fellow diners, but if I ignore the less appetizing small plate items, I'll leave hungry. I can do that or fill up on marginal stuff.  Some choice.

Wait, did she order those marinated artichokes as her dish?  OK, how many small plates shall we order for the next round?  One?  Two?  Twenty?  
Who votes for which plates to order?  You going to finish those artichokes?  Should we eat off of one another's plate?  Wait who wants dessert? 

I hear a sharp rebuke coming from the reader who is a Small Plate devotee, “Just order more small plates that you like and don't sweat the rest!”   No thank you.  I’ll go elsewhere and enjoy my own entree in simple, adult-plate-size bliss.  Who was given license to complicate something as wonderful as dining out and serve instead, an unclaimed barrage of appetizers?