A little of this and a little of that: the “tapa-fication” of menus is a solid trend. Many cultures have well-established cuisines of small plates: Spanish tapas (like that served at White Plains’s racy Peniche), Italian antipasti (like the Italian goodies served at, of course, Antipasti, also in White Plains), Chinese dim sum, or meze from Turkey and Greece. “Grazing,” as it’s called, does seem cheaper and lighter—but is it?
Unless you order lightly, you probably won’t save at all with the small-plates approach.
Take John-Michael Hamlet’s menu at John-Michael’s Restaurant (100 Titicus Rd, North Salem 914-277-2301). His smaller “Second Courses” are served between appetizers and entrées. Add one portion of his award-winning smoked oyster fricassee to his trademarked “foiejitas” at $17 and $19, respectively, and you’ll spend more than you would on entrées such as the duck breast ($30), veal ($34), or beef tenderloin ($35).
At Valley Restaurant (2015 Rte 9, Garrison 845-424-3604), you might make a lighter but satisfying dinner from a seasonal soup or salad at $9, a poached egg for $12, and goat-cheese at $8. Together, they cost as much as an entrée choice like the roasted chicken at $29. But order just one more starter-sized plate and your dinner will be well above Co-Chef Brandon Collins’s substantial Berkshire pork chop at $31 or a grilled salmon for $28.
At Half Moon (1 High St, Dobbs Ferry 914- 693-4130), sticking with bar food will stay reasonable but probably will leave you hungry. The view and roomy bar (and the outside seating in season) are ideal for snacks and schmooze. That means you’ll probably escalate from “small bites,” such as cheddar and scallion croquets ($7) or spicy tuna on crisp wantons ($7), to inventive ceviche tastings ($18) before you even get to appetizers, salads, or sandwiches ($9 to $19). And you haven’t even ordered the wine.
The Tap House (16 Depot Sq, Tuckahoe 914-337-6941) takes a similar approach with meat and cheese boards “for the table” and nibbly, shareable hors d’oeuvres of sorts, like stuffed potatoes or “everything” fries, that beg for cocktails or beers. Then two meal items from the extensive small plates list generally equal the cost of one larger grand plate.
Smaller wine bars, like Casa Brusco (219 Main St, Eastchester 914-346-5170) or Mima Vinoteca Kitchen and Wine Bar (63 Main St, Irvington 914-591-1300), encourage leisurely diners to pick out selections of imported meats and cheeses to enjoy with wine. Then the real meal tab begins with antipasti, pasta, and pizza (roughly $9 to $18) or proper meat and fish entrées ($17 to $29) afterwards.
So what’s the upside for you if it isn’t cost? The small-plate option can be safer than settling on one $30 to $40 entrée that you might not like or might get bored with. Variety and sharing are fun. You mix, match, and order to your appetite, customizing your own smorgasbord like an iPod play list.
And reasons chefs are enthusiastic? They may find it to be easier to wow customers with three to four intensely flavored bites than with a large entrée. Hamlet says small plates mean “good exposure for any chef/restaurateur” and they allow “a lot of imagination.” Small plates also can help stretch expensive ingredients, make use of smaller cuts, and reduce waste.
Of course, some chefs have not gone the small-plates route. Michael Carrozza of Julianna’s Restaurant (276 Watch Hill Rd, Cortlandt 914-788-0505) is no fan. “It’s psychological; people justify eating more by eating smaller plates.” He worries that “people scarf down all of these tapas in a lounge, and truly forget about what the whole dining experience is all about.”