Little Plates, Big Impact

Whether you call them tapas, amuse bouches, antipasti, or meze, savvy diners know that the best meals often come in small packages.

A few nights ago, my dinner consisted of roasted beets with walnuts and Valdeon, a Spanish blue cheese. Plus sizzling-hot shrimp swathed in sherry and garlic-kissed butter. And smoky sausage with sweet dried figs, and meatballs cloaked in a chunky tomato sauce, and cinnamon sugar-dusted churros (essentially, donut sticks) dipped into a ramekin of thick, liquid dark chocolate. Lest you think that I’m an incurable glutton, know that each of these dishes came in a small portion. In fact, composing a meal out of small plates is a fun and delicious way to eat. Whether called tapas (in the case of my meal), small plates, meze, dim sum, or cicchetti (Venetian bar snacks), the concept is the same: down-sized portions of a variety of dishes. Borrowed from Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia, and now a trend sweeping this country, the small plates concept allows you to try a wide variety of dishes rather than fill up on one appetizer, entrée, and dessert.
Think of meals fashioned from small plates as toned-down tasting menus. While foodies get to experience more of a chef’s repertoire (especially if they come with a group), diners watching their waistlines—or with small appetites—will appreciate the modest portions. And, for those of you who’d rather just order a steak, keep in mind that many small-plates establishments also offer entrées.
But, don’t just take my word for it. Visit the following local restaurants to experience this new (to us on this side of the Atlantic) way of eating first-hand.

Barcelona Restaurant & Wine Bar
18 W. Putnam Ave., Greenwich, CT
(203) 983-6400; www.barcelonawinebar.com

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 I’m not entirely convinced that Barcelona Wine Bar really is in Greenwich—it seems so in character with its eponymous city. Visit for the bustling scene, especially on weekend evenings, and the delicious food. With the smoky scent of chorizo in the air, feast on any of about 30 tapas (not including the cured meat and cheese selection), from light (e.g., house-cured olives with thyme, pepper, and garlic), to moderately filling (e.g., gambas al ajillo, or sautéed shrimp with garlic and sherry; herbed goat cheese with wild mushrooms with balsamic reduction), to heavy (e.g., albondigas, or meatballs, in tomato sauce; empanadas of spiced beef with smoky pepper purée; chorizo with sweet-and-sour figs and balsamic-sherry glaze). Or, feast on entrées, such as churrasco, or grilled skirt steak, with chimichurri, a fresh herb sauce.
Whatever you order for the savory portion of your meal, the churros with chocolate are the can’t-miss dessert of the house. Pair it all with sherry (Barcelona offers seven), any of 20 wines by the glass, red or white sangría, or a mojito or caipirinha. If you’ve forgotten to make a reservation, just squeeze in at the massive, hand-carved walnut bar, and enjoy the scene.


Oporto
191 E. Hartsdale Ave., Hartsdale
(914) 722-6565; www.oporto.com
“I go to Portugal every two years and my friends and I go to tapas places,” says Portugal native and Oporto co-owner and chef Rui Correia. “It’s my favorite way to eat.” Indeed, Correia practices what he preaches—the menu at his Hartsdale Portuguese restaurant features about 16 appetizers, from which a meal can easily be fashioned. Correia and co-owner and manager Rui Cunha, have also begun offering a late-night small-plates menu, including panini, more than 20 tapas, and strawberry-banana-Nutella crêpes (admittedly, not Portuguese, but who’s complaining?).
“Most of our customers are from Scarsdale and want to eat good food at night, beyond just wings,” explains Correia, who has modernized and lightened his traditional family recipes. They sure can: after devouring the warm, baked-fresh-daily Portuguese bread, try the smoky jewel-like mussels Casino (brimming with chorizo, bell pepper, onion, parsley, extra-virgin olive oil, and piri-piri, a pepper sauce used in many Portuguese dishes); crispy garlic chicken; as well as chorizo-cheese empanadas balanced out by acidic salsa verde (featuring lime, cilantro, onion, tomato, piri-piri (optional), and extra-virgin olive oil); or the gamba (pan-grilled Maya prawns with garlic sauce and drops of piri-piri). Alternatively, stop by the open kitchen and tell Chef Correia what you’re in the mood for—he’s both talented and accommodating.
Whatever you order, do wash it down with red or white sangría, one of the restaurant’s caipirinha drinks (made with lime, sugar, and the Brazilian sugarcane liquor, cachaça), a Portuguese sangria martini, or Portuguese wine (Oporto is building its wine-by-the-glass program).
Then, sit back and enjoy it all in the cozy, rustic-yet-elegant, earth-toned surroundings: archways lined in dark wood, Portuguese pottery, and a tiled mural (entitled Castelo de Leiria, the artwork depicts the town where Rui Cunha’s parents live). The soundtrack: Portuguese fado (blues) and Brazilian jazz, of course.


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Turkish Meze
409 Mount Pleasant Ave., Mamaroneck
(914) 777-3042; www.turkishmeze.com

  

Turkish Meze co-owner Bekir Helvacioglu couldn’t be more hospitable. “We have regular customers who know me,” Turkish-born Helvacioglu says. “They’re like family. We hug each other, they feel at home, and I feel like one of them.” Surely, they also keep returning, and often, for family gatherings to relish the Mamaroneck restaurant’s selection of 20 delicious, mostly vegetarian soups, salads, and appetizers, or meze. (Turkish Meze offers entrées, including moussaka, grilled baby lamb chops, and meat kebabs.) Be sure to try the cold mixed appetizer plate, with some of the most perfect grape leaves (dolma) I’ve ever tried; ratatouille-like soslu patlican (eggplant with sauce); smoky patlican (eggplant salad made with char-grilled baby eggplant, parsley, and roasted red peppers); rich and creamy lebni (with walnuts, garlic, and sour cream); and hummus. I couldn’t think of a better use for the warm pita bread that arrives when you sit down. Alongside it, order the addictive sigara boregi, or rolled cheese sticks (phyllo stuffed with parsley and feta, then fried), as well as the mucver (zucchini pancakes). The wine list offers both domestic and international (including Turkish) selections.
Featuring Turkish rugs, a Turkish tile-and-silver mirror, and menus sporting different photographs of Turkey, the décor reveals the love Helvacioglu and co-owner and chef Abdulmutelip (Apo) Kilic feel for their birth country and the pride they take in their restaurant.

Patrias Restaurant
35 1/2 N. Main St., Port Chester
(914) 937-0177

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Chef and co-owner of Patrias Mariano Aznar calls his casual, colorful restaurant—in a small, blue-and-purple clapboard building on Port Chester’s main downtown street—a “tapas and ceviche bar.” It sounds strange, yet somehow it works, perhaps because the concept was born of Aznar’s passion for both Spanish and Peruvian cuisine. The former is no surprise: Aznar was born in Barcelona and cooked there for 10 years. Before opening Patrias with his sister-in-law, Ivon Rodriguez, he served as executive chef of the Spanish restaurant Solera, with branches in Manhattan and, formerly, Irvington.
At Patrias, you’ll find no fusion food, but rather separate sections for traditional Spanish and Peruvian dishes. Along with the selection of Spanish tapas (gambas al ajillo, or shrimp in garlic olive oil with parsley; canalones a la Barcelonesa, or cannelloni stuffed with chicken, pork, and veal in a creamy béchamel sauce), you’ll find one page with Peruvian appetizers such as ceviche, as well as entrées (like beef chunks sautéed with red onions and tomatoes, served with French fries and white rice), and another with Spanish appetizers (grilled sardines with pimenton oil served with warm potato salad, for instance) and entrées (including four authentic paellas: seafood, meat, black rice, and fideuà, or noodle). If you’d like to focus on small plates, fashion a meal out of three or four tapas per person.
Similarly, the wine list organizes its Spanish and South American entries separately (Spanish beer and sangria are also available). Even if you order wine, make sure to try the restaurant’s house-made chicha morada at least once. Prepared with boiled-down purple corn juice flavored with sugar, lemon, and spices, the sweet and complex cold drink tastes like chilled mulled wine or nonalcoholic sangria.

Solaia Enoteca/Piattini
363 Greenwich Ave., Greenwich, CT
(203) 622-6400;
www.solaiaenoteca.com
Quality Italian wine is the star at this intimate, stylish enoteca in downtown Greenwich. Towers of wine bottles and tabletops fashioned from the tops of wine boxes decorate the serene space, with its white Venetian plaster walls and long stainless steel-topped bar. (The restaurant stores its wine in a separate 64-degree room.)
Choose from about 300, several of which are also offered by the glass. While a few selections cost $9, a glass of the prestigious super-Tuscan red wine, Ornellaia, goes for $77! Then, select from a menu of small plates in eight different categories: assaggi (or tastings, including a cured meat-and-cheese plate, bruschette, risotto pancakes, and miniature pork-and-veal meatballs); pasta e risotto (such as warm farfalle with mint, radicchio, heirloom tomatoes, and citrus vinaigrette); insalate (salad); carne e pollame (meat and poultry, including a petite strip steak with balsamic and Vidalia onion-fennel sauce); pesce e frutti di mare (fish and seafood); verdure (vegetables); zuppa (soup); and dolci (desserts). Or, opt for the chef’s tasting menu: $65 for five courses, including dessert; or $95, with three-ounce pairings of wine included.
Chef David Christopher Damon, who has cooked at the likes of Le Cirque and Restaurant Daniel, describes the cuisine as contemporary Italian with eclectic Mediterranean specials, such as pan-seared chicken livers with caramelized onion and rhubarb, figs, and balsamic reduction.

Temptation Tea House
11A S. Moger Ave., Mount Kisco
(914) 666-8808
Temptation Tea House’s non-alcohol drinks menu is a whopping six pages. Along with hot teas, it includes 12 frothy teas with pearl tapioca (similar to milkshakes, but with slightly sweet, chewy balls made of sweet potato, cassava root, and brown sugar); nine flavored black teas; seven Japanese milkshakes; four drinks made with matcha (powdered Japanese green tea); and much more. Perusing the list, it’s obvious that this pan-Asian Mount Kisco establishment takes tea drinks seriously.
It’s only natural, then, that the “house special snacks” (or dim sum) menu is also impressive—dim sum being the traditional Cantonese accompaniment to tea. Numbering about 35, the well-executed dishes include steamed homemade vegetable dumplings (fresh and flavorful and a gorgeous jade green); a Vietnamese roll (or cold “summer roll,” with mango and cilantro); beef and chicken satay (on skewers with peanut sauce); crispy, deep-fried spring rolls; and more. (Just in case assembling a meal out of dim sum and tea drinks doesn’t tempt you, know that Temptation is also a full-fledged restaurant, turning out a bevy of salads, soups, and entrées, including a mean, not-too-sweet pad thai.
Either way, you’ll be seduced by the dramatic, enchanting décor. Framed by crimson walls and a lofty black ceiling, the restaurant also features a hanging bird cage, red lacquer tables and chairs with silk cushions, a mammoth stone sculpture of a teapot, and a floor-to-ceiling painted stone fountain filled with koi. I couldn’t be happier that owners Andy and Jacky Lin will be opening another branch, called Asian Temptation, in White Plains this fall.

Niko’s Greek Taverna
287 Central Ave., White Plains
(914) 686-6456; www.nikostaverna.com
Visit this cozy, intimate White Plains restaurant and you’ll feel as if you’re in the dining room of the owners, the Kringas family. While Voula Kringas does the cooking, hosting, and some waitressing, her sister, Amalia Boumis, prepares the desserts. Voula’s son, Nick, one of the restaurant’s owners, tells me, “My mom does all of the cooking here. Before, we had so much excess food that we figured we should open a restaurant.” It’s a good thing they did; since Niko’s is manna to small-plates lovers. Virtually half of the menu is made up of orektika (appetizers), which can be assembled into a meal and shared. Nick especially recommends the various dips (includingkafteri, with spicy feta; taramasalata, with Greek caviar; tsatsiki, with yogurt, cucumber, and garlic; hummus; and skordalia, with potatoes and garlic); saganaki (flamed Greek cheese); gigantes (giant beans in tomato sauce), octopodi (grilled octopus with an olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing), and spanakopita (spinach pie).
Pair your victuals with wine. Niko’s beverage menu includes about 40 Greek bottles—several of which can be ordered by the glass—as well as retsinas, white wine aged in oak with pine.
Dina Cheney, a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education, is a freelance writer, tasting host, and former cooking teacher. Her book, Tasting Club (DK Publishing/Penguin), is out now.

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