When a restaurant touts “small plates,” The Restaurant Dieter wants to run. Not so everyone else. This uber-trendy approach to eating out is hip. The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse and others love it. There’s something so…convivial and nonchalant about it; no commitment to eating a meal required. “Oh, let’s just get a few small plates and share.”
Restaurants equally love the concept. Without having to SAY “We’re cutting down portions because it’s expensive” a restaurant can. It’s perfect for these recessionary times.
Normally, you’d think The Restaurant Dieter would applaud this trend. I’ve scolded restaurant chains such as The Cheesecake Factory for monster portions that, in part, fuel the nation’s obesity crisis. A fair number of diet authorities, in fact, recommend choosing both courses from the appetizers section of the menu.
One issue with small plates is that they’re often over-the-top. The kitchen figures a diner is only getting a few bites, so whatever is on the plate must knock one’s socks off. A good example was a recent meal at Jaleo in Las Vegas. The kitchen seemed to be figuring: Why season a few grilled bell peppers lightly when a pool of olive oil will will make the dish so much richer flavorful?
Another is that small plate menus tend to be light on vegetable offerings. They may have a salad, or as I learned on a recent visit to Atlanta’s The Sound Table, a single vegetable: cauliflower and brussels sprouts with lime, jalapeño, rice wine and cilantro. For a dieter, any menu that doesn’t have enough vegetable choices is a problem. Healthy and filling fiber is essential to walking away feeling satisfied.
Finally, there is the problem of sharing. Provided one finds a dish or two on the small plates menu that’s diet friendly, one can’t exactly slap a friend’s hand and say: “Don’t touch that, thank you very much. I’d rather you don’t try one of my two grilled scallops, because I really don’t want to try your skirt steak.”
It spoils that whole conviviality thing.