"Is this your first time at [this restaurant]? Let me tell how it works." Wait, let ME guess: It's small plates, right? And these small plates are meant to be shared, right? Of course. I've been living in DC for 11 years, and the spread of the small plates restaurant has been steady and inexorable. Restaurants may call them tapas, meze, bites, cicchetti*, or whatever, but the idea is all the same: All courses have now been replaced by appetizers, which are fun and multitudinous and give us patrons the idea that yes, we can have it all!
Reaction to small plates has always been ambivalent. Fans see small plates as a joyful approach to dining, one made of many new flavors to be enjoyed in an almost Mediterranean social closeness. Critics complain they don't even remember what they ate, and in any case, they're still hungry. What can I say? Although I consider myself a voracious eater with an bottomless curiosity for food, I am becoming increasingly critical of the small-plate approach.
I don't want to imply I'm a defender of quantity over quality (god forbid), but I am completely convinced that each and every food thrives in the right portion.
So I thought about it, and here is my conclusion: When a meal consists of too many small plates, food becomes just a savory or sweet tease that goes nowhere, an ephemeral joy, a culinary mood swing, a meal-interruptus. It's like speed dating for food, only it never leads to an actual date. What can I say? Maybe I'm still a romantic at stomach.
So, restaurants, please reconsider your small plates. Sharing and tasting can be great fun, but how about finding the courage to offer a meal of solid, brave dishes that are mine, all mine, to love and to cherish till dessert do us part? Do you think I can't handle it? Oh, I can. I do. I do.
*Cicchetti are Venetian tapas. Yes, I was brought up on small plates, but the beauty of cicchetti is that they are an accompaniment to the aperitif. The real meal comes an hour later.