Deciphering Dining Trends: Small Plates
When considering how to approach a menu focused on small plates, you should first consider if it’s even the experience you’re looking for in a night out.
The small plates trend has swept across America over the past decade and not everybody agrees that this is a good thing. Dueling food op-eds in The Washington Post and Slate actually duked it out over the idea of ordering a range of small-portion menu items that can be shared amongst a group.
Writing in the Post, columnist Neil Irwin said the trend is the reason he “can’t get a decent meal” these days and said small plates put a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of a diner who must read a menu and determine not only how to get enough food – but also how to get a balanced meal of meat, starch and vegetables. Irwin also noted that small-plates restaurants send out food as its ready, potentially causing a disruptive dining experience.
Slate columnist Matthew Yglesias defended the idea of small plates by saying the model not only encourages conversations and communal feelings within a group – it also allows for both the chef and diner to experiment with their decision making. For example, if you see something on the menu that piques your curiosity – you’re much more likely to order it if it comes in a smaller size and lower price point than the typical entrée.
Yglesias went on to say that if you’re really in the mood for a standard meal in courses – there’s always TGIFridays or Chili’s. Although, chain restaurants have also been making recent concessions to the small plates trend…
On a recent visit to Buffalo Proper, executive chef Edward Forster told us that people should think about a small-plates experience as way to select menu items – without fear of committing to one dish and then looking across the table to see a companion’s dish that looks even better than yours.
“Instead of committing to – ‘That’s my appetizer and that’s my entrée’ – you have a myriad of different things you’re going to be able to sample,” Forster said. “We’re trying to decrease that risk, by allowing people to try more things and sometimes even step outside their comfort zone.”
If people are uncomfortable with the format, Forster suggests starting slow or even structuring your experience close to what you might have at a more traditional restaurant.
“If you’re new to the idea, start with three of the ‘share’ plates and then move on to what you would consider a traditional entrée, where – ‘This is my food, and that’s your food,’” he said.
We also asked Forster about the criticism of small-plates restaurants leveled by Irwin – that small plates come out of the kitchen as their ready, which could be disruptive to diners.
“Right now we do things as they’re ready, but then again a lot of it is service element,” he explained. “So, if three people come in and order 15 different things or a very large portion – our service staff still courses it out in the way that you would in a traditional restaurant. For these three people, you might get a wave of five things that come to the table.”
“Then we’ll clear all that away, get you some new silverware, get you a fresh drink from John at the bar, and then get you ready for round two and round three,” he added. “It doesn’t just come as 16 things hitting the table within ten minutes.”
Forster also told us that Buffalo Proper, while not a tapas restaurant per se, is inspired by Spanish dining culture – which finds patrons dining and socializing long into the night, even on weekdays.
“The idea is that most people take siesta and then go out to dinner at 11 (p.m.) and then they’ll be eating until 1 in the morning,” Forster said. “So, in keeping with that – we’re keeping our kitchen open every day until 2 a.m.”
“We do the same menu, we do the same food and we do the same service,” he added. “From 3 p.m. on a Friday, 5 o’clock every other day – we’re here every day until 2 a.m. doing the same thing.”
Recommended Restaurants for Exploring Small Plates in WNY:
333 Franklin St Buffalo, New York 14202 | (716) 783-8699
To name a few Small Plates: Eggs & Potatoes described as Painted Meadow Red Wine Poached Egg, Roasted Potatoes, Flat #12 Mushrooms, Miso Broth, Pesto and Pickled Ramps, Chickpea & Lentil Fritters with Pickled Cauliflower, Herbs and Chamomile Aioli, and Roasted Chicken Thigh with Avocado, Tomato and Bitter Green.
5 E Huron St, Buffalo, New York 14202 | (716) 848-4500
To name a few: Bay Scallops are Plancha Seared and served with Coconut Rice, Burmese Tomatillos, Popcorn and Mint, Lobster described as Butter Poached Tail with Garden Carrots, Wilted Greens, Couscous and Lavender Lemon Jam, and Rainbow Trout, served Whole Roasted with Grilled Peach Salad and Manchego Cheese.
Bourbon and Butter
391 Washington St, Buffalo, New York 14203 | (716) 253-6453
To name a few: Shaved Foie Gras with Maple Glazed Peach Tart, Crispy Pig Ear with Fried Egg, Greens and Pickled Jalapenos, and Korean Kalbi Beef Steamed Bun with Mild KimChee and Sriracha Mayo
54 West Chippewa Street, Buffalo NY 14202 | (716) 854-WINE
To name a few: Sweet Corn Bisque with shrimp and corn fritter, Crispy Asparagus Roll with prosciutto, egg whites and goat cheese, and Roasted Beets with crispy goat cheese, pickled onion, orange segments, citrus vinaigrette and tomato vinaigrette
490 Rhode Island St, Buffalo, NY 14213 | (716) 464-3786
To name a few: Shroom Stack described as Panko Crusted Flash Fried Portabella, Mesclun Greens, Sauteed Onions, Roasted Red Peppers and Melted Provolone with Balsamic Reduction, French Onion Dumplings described as Caralemlized Onion Filled Fried Pockets with Aged Provolone, Gruyer Cheese and French Onion Broth, and Beef on Weck Meatballs described as Housemade Weck Infused Meatballs with Caraway Seeds, Kosher Salt and Worcestershire Horseradish Gravy.
The Black Sheep
367 Connecticut St. Buffalo, New York 14213 | (716) 884-1100
To name a few: Peach Caprese with Mozzarella, Pesto, Olive Oil, Balsamic and Basil, T-Meadow Pork Belly with Fresh Corn Polenta, Watermelon, Salsa Verde, Creme Fraiche and Jalapeños, and Tajarin with Tomato, House Ricotta, Sesame and Black Truffle.