The conventional course-structured restaurant meal, dating back to the advent of restaurants after the French Revolution, is taking a backseat at numerous county restaurants these days. Mirroring the increasing interest in global cuisines and traditions, and the swing toward more casual dining experiences, diners around the county are clamoring for small plates and shareable dishes, and local restaurateurs are responding.
At Hudson Social in Dobbs Ferry, Chef Joe Bologna says their menu has evolved since opening in 2015 because of customer behavior. “We expanded the shared plates because a lot of customers were going toward appetizers and sometimes ordering them as entrées.” He estimates that 75 percent of his customers order shared plates, which include sliders and baked Brie with raspberry compote. Sharing fits the restaurant’s mission as “a really casual family-friendly environment where people can mingle and enjoy each other’s company,” explains Bologna. “Even some of our drinks we serve in bowls, put multiple straws in, and people can share.”
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“Appetizers are the most fun part of the meal,” declares Michael Lubic, co-owner of Traditions 118 in Granite Springs. “They tend to be creative; you tend to share them; everybody gets a little bit of everything. When it comes to entrées, you pick one, and you’re stuck with it.” Many customers still order traditionally, but he added small bites (easier to share) and shareable appetizer options to please the many groups who frequent Traditions. “With these larger tables, they love sharing appetizers,” says Lubic, who was recently asked to price a menu of only appetizers for a party of 20, instead of a three-course meal. He also attributes interest to social media. “Showcasing on Instagram, sometimes I get a better response from the apps and the shareables than I would from a giant piece of meat,” he observes.
“My husband and I like appetizers because they are much more flavorful,” says Lisa LaBelle, who owns Madison Kitchen in Larchmont. “That same level of flavor in an entrée, it’s a little overwhelming.” In 2016, the restaurant switched from a fine-dining concept to a menu of small, shareable plates, like eggplant meatballs and truffle gnocchi, to entice customers during the week. Frequent patrons are groups of women (girls’ night out, anyone?). “They come in parties of five or six,” explains LaBelle. “They sit, have cocktails, share, chat… it’s really nice. Now, I’m getting more couples and bigger parties. People love the concept of trying a lot of different things, not being committed to that $35 entrée.”
Herb Lindstrom, co-owner of Cooked & Co in Scarsdale, concurs, saying, “I’m always excited when I go to a place, try different things and don’t have to get a huge plate of something.” This fall, the restaurant expanded to accommodate its brunch overflow, explains co-owner Melissa Iscaro, and began dinner service of shared and family-style plates Thursday through Saturday. A scaled-down menu is available at the bar on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Lindstrom says the shared-plates concept is also practical because of their small tables and kitchen layout. Chef Mike Bianco characterizes the menu, which will change often, as Modern American. Look for roasted and pickled carrots with farmer’s cheese and dukkah, and roasted chicken with polenta. Another plus of small plates, says Bianco, is that “it helps not to have to charge as much for people to get really good-quality food.”
Jennifer Aaronson of Hastings-on-Hudson’s Boro6 Wine Bar agrees that cost is a factor. “The price point is very affordable on most of our dishes,” she says. “You’re not locking into a $150 check for two people and can go out and spend $40.” She and her husband love the European culture of eating small plates at casual spots. “The Westchester community is very sophisticated: Everybody’s been to a place like Boro6 in Europe and is so happy it’s in their backyard,” she says. The cheese and charcuterie boards and avocado toast are popular items. “Ninety percent of the time, people are sharing. They love to graze their way around the menu,” says Aaronson. She also thinks people are more health-conscious, noting they “understand it is healthier to eat smaller meals throughout the day.”
“We realized small tastes of something were not offered anywhere near us,” says Stephanie Small of UnWined in Somers, which opened in July of 2018. The menu features American cuisine in Spanish-tapas style. “It offers people the ability to have tremendous variety,” Small says. “If you can’t choose between wanting a scallop or a flatbread, you can have both without any guilt or remorse.” She reflects on an unusual eating habit that might throw those early French restaurateurs for a loop. “We have a core crew of mid-20-somethings. They eat dessert first! They have a glass of wine and dessert, chill out for a bit, and then they get into dinner.”