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Portion Size at Finer Restaurants

Recently I've gone out to some great dinners. Great food, wine, ambiance, service, the whole dining experience was exceptional. BUT, I got a beef (although not too much of it). The entrees that I've been served as of late have been little more than a moderate to large snacks.

I just feel like something is wrong when 2 people go out to eat, have an appetizer or two, two entrees, dessert, a bottle of wine, pay the check (often about $150 - $200) and I leave hungry. I will admit to having a fair appetite, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Anyone else had this problem? Please tell me I'm not crazy or I will start going out to eat exclusively at the Cheescake Factory.

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  1. gaterfoodie, you could not be more right! Although many out there will say eating less has its healthy qualities, I still believe, like you, that portions have been shrinking at many of our best restaurants while prices have continued to climb. I remember years ago making a reservation to experience a 'hot' new chef's arrival in Manhattan, sitting through a prix fixe meal which was innovative and quite good, only to find myself eating later that evening at another spot (my guest and I had left hungry and perplexed)...The chef in question, by the way, was Jean George when he first began doing his thing at the old Lafayette...This type of presentation has become rampant in the small plate culinary culture that has been evolving...While I do enjoy 'grazing' from time to time, more often I like a generous portion of food place before me, thank you!

    1. Good for you for bringing up this subject. ... You make an excellent point. Many people feel afraid or intimidated to say, "Please Sir, can I have some more?" Many allow supposed 'trend setters' to make decisions for them. Not unlike viewing paintings consisting of a dot on a canvas and listening to everyone ravve about them when you know full well they have no idea why they are doing so. A great example would be that silly "orange gates" exhibit in NYC a few yrs ago.
      Having been to many tasting/Chef's table dinners,I have experienced the same miniscule dishes. Despite the small serving, size, some have had sufficient courses to satisfy but others have been downright ridiculous. I recently attended a dinner where the size of the beef served was, (seriously) the size of a marshmallow . Another course was served on a spoon!... I cannot help but think the Servers must think we are all pretty foolish spending all sorts of money for so little. I think the only way to make your displeasure known is to avoid those restaurants and to feel confident enough to state why when asked.
      No one should spend hundreds of dollars for dinner only to find themselves in the local Diner 3 hrs later.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Tay

        Good analogy with the dot on canvas! It's what I call "audacity art." It seems that if some "artists" have the audacity to ask a ridiculous price for nothing, people push and shove to pay it. "The Emperors New Clothes" syndrome.

        So I also call restaurants where you can tell how much rent they pay for their location by how much bare space there is surrounding your lonely morsel of food "audacity restaurants." I really really hate it when the "reduction of truffled blood oranges with heirloom yellow tomato coulis" that "compliments" my bay scallop size beef medallion is applied to the plate with an actual paint brush in such a thin later you can't even smell it, let alone taste it! A pox on the chef!

        But it has not always been so. In a one short century -- really not that long a time -- upscale (uptown?) food has gone from absurdly elaborate portions, with a nine course dinner being the norm, to what our audacity restaurants set before us today where the entire meal would not equal the lightest course back then. Want to see some over-the-top fancy dishes? Look up some of Careme's presentations or even Escoffier's. See if you can find a menu for dinners served in dining cars of trains in the early 1900s. Incredible. But! It was also considered *extremely* bad form back then to clean your plate. Food history can be fun!

        In today's upscale expensive restaurants, the only ones that seem to still serve filling portions are steak houses that serve USDA Prime dry cured beef. So if you want to spend an arm and a leg for dinner, go Porterhouse! Two arms and two legs, and you can go wagyu!

        1. re: Caroline1

          Remember those "Great Chef of ...." shows? The tinkling piano or luxurious guitar and the rich, seductive voice over would say "And now Chef creates his signature plating" and you watch him drawing free form art on the plate in two colors/sauces and carefully plate up two lamb chops, a tablespoon of rice, and three green trees.

          Which brings to mind that "audacity restaurants" always mention on the menu every single thing on the plate, even one cornichone, and then put each item on the plate by the tablespoon full.

          1. re: yayadave

            : Le Cafe Eau D'City


            TIFFANY SALAD an elegant play of one glorious curly endive leaf against one of Belgian endive artfully brought to their glistening best with spritzed Badoit Red water from France, a strategically placed golden grape tomato and a generous drizzle of fine Tuscan extra virgin olive oil with three luscious droplets of one hundred year old Balsamic vinegar
            fifty nine ninety five

            In other words, for fifty bucks you get two leaves of lettuce, one grape tomato, and enough manure to fertilize all of Tuscany!

            1. re: Caroline1

              Thank you for this - I needed the laugh :)

          2. re: Caroline1

            Christo's "Gates" was beautiful and fun. The park was overflowing on the cold February day we went. Plus, he can draw like a master, and uses proceeds from the sale of his drawings to finance his installations. Municipal cooperation is required, but not public funds.

            Let's see, food… Afterwards we ate at the Met. It was good. And the portions seemed adequate.

          3. re: Tay

            Actually, Christo and Jeanne-Claude's "Gates" was absolutely fantastic!
            And IT WAS FREE!

            But I know what you mean. I feel that way about Rothko.

            1. re: Loren3

              Yes free to the public and to be fair, the artist spent some of his own money to have them installed, but I guarantee that the NYC Taxpayers got slammed for the police overtime, Parks Dept overtime, Dept of Sanitation overtime and a gazillion other things associated with that exhibit.
              While I respect your opinion and that of a previous Poster,how anyone could possibly refer to that as "beautiful and fun" and "absolutely fantastic" is beyond me. I'd have to agree with Caroline1's assesssment:
              The Emperors New Clothes" syndrome

              1. re: Tay

                We can disagree about what is good and bad art but the revenue generated by people who went to see the Gates certainly off-set any additional cost to the city.

                1. re: KTinNYC

                  I don't know with any certainty that " the revenue generated by people who went to see the Gates certainly off-set any additional cost to the city." .I'd have to see the facts/figures before I could support either view,
                  but I tend to think not.
                  BTW... I don't necesarily think of it as good or bad art...
                  More like pretentious, pseudo art.
                  I was really using it as an analogy for people who patronize pesudo restaurants, because they don't have the confidence to say "Hey! what's up with serving me minuscle 'portions' of ridiculously concocted dishes at astronomical prices" and calling it dinner?" :-}

          4. Well it's always been my experience that 'upscale', 'trendy', 'fine dining', (or whatever you wish to call them) restaurants have always been more about 'taste', 'presentation', ambience and less about 'portion(s)' sizes. Maybe 'portion' sizes are getting smaller but to me they were never huge, big, or what I would even consider 'moderate' in size compared to places like coffee shops, diners, or restaurants not consider of the upscale, trendy, or fine dining variety. I guess that's why we rarely dine at them. Good food, even creative food doesn't need to be overpriced and served in portions that would barely satisfy the appitite of say a field mouse.

            1. Right. The 3 scallop appetizer for $22 my wife got and the 5 Gnocchi appetizer I got at another place for $10 were perfect examples. These things are just not that precious.

              But there is a certain amount of Political Correctness going on here, also. A certain segment of our society is blaming obesity on the large portions served in restaurants. So local food writers have been writing how happy they are to go out to dinner and find smaller portions!

              2 Replies
              1. re: yayadave

                That's right, yayadave, and these same 'critics' have been going home hungry after spending a stipend...I don't buy it!

                1. re: gutreactions

                  They never admit to "going home hungry." They always claim to be well satisfied and glad to see some sensible and healthy sized portions. They're just ever so Politically Correct.

              2. I just got in from an excellent dinner at a popular restaurant and although I'm not actually hungry, I'm hardly feeling full. I shared an app. with friends and had an entree of cod - no more than 3 oz., as I would guess, then split a dessert. I had a drink, some very nice, crusty bread and a cup of coffee. The bill was around $140 for three of us. As I said, the food was brilliantly prepared and presented, but on the skimpy side of portion control. A few more bites of fish would have been very welcomed.

                1 Reply
                1. re: EllenMM

                  But if you'd had your own app & dessert instead of sharing, would you have been full?

                2. I think it makes sense for the restaurant to leave you satisfied but wanting just a little bit more; you're not uncomfortably stuffed and you'll return to their restaurant. My original post was inspired by two evenings out where after a dinner that averaged $100 a person, the rest of the evening I could not hold a conversation with anyone without thinking how great it would be to dash across the street to subway and scarf down a footlong meatball sub. That's where I have the problem.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: gatorfoodie

                    Thomas Keller once said that the correct amount is when you are finished and wish you had one more bite.

                    This leaves you with the desire for more and a more positive impression than if you were full and couldn't eat another bit.

                    1. re: scubadoo97

                      I would have to agree with Thomas Keller in that regard. But what about wishing you have just one more entire meal? That can't be right.

                  2. Small portions, especially in expensive restaurants, are to me both a rip-off and an insult. Perhaps the restaurant equates stingy with "elegant." Give me an Irish bar any time.

                    1. Well, I'm someone who's all for smaller portions because of health reasons. While I don't mind larger portions when I'm dining in my hometown as I can take home a doggie bag, it's kind of annoying when I'm on the road. However, I think there are several reasons why finer restaurants have smaller portions. A lot of these restaurants may be modeling after European restaurants where portions are smaller (I call them sensible) than American sizes. Secondly, Thomas Keller has said it before -- it's about law of diminshing returns. The first bite is transcendent, second bite wonderful, etc. The larger the portion, the more accustomed the customer gets to the dish and the less likely he'll want more. The whole point is to have the customer yearning for more.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        When I yearn for more, I'd like the option of satisfying that yearning with the leftovers from my dinner :-}

                        1. re: Miss Needle

                          In the restaurants in Germany for the most part and in those in the small Polish border town right across the Neisse River from where I live, the portions in the restaurants are usually generous. Unless you don't like the food, you are not likely to go away hungry, certainly not because the portion was too small.

                          1. re: RevImmigrant

                            I think what you say is true of most restaurants in most places, also. This "problem" usually occurs only in expensive, pretentious restaurants.

                        2. I agree that some of the portions offered are absurdly small. I don't want a Flintstones rib, but I do expect a reasonable portion. The $22 three scallop app is the perfect description of the problem.

                          1 Reply
                          1. I think it would be nice for the professional food reviewers to add a note on
                            quantity rather than just the airy-fairy descriptions.

                            It really is crazy when an expensive entre short changes you on something
                            like the quantity of mashed potatos ... i understand high end beef might be
                            expensive, but that is ridiculous.

                            1. I'm probably going to get an argument from restaurant owners but it seems to me that if the portion size is small, the price per portion charged should also be small. $22 for three scallops is too much. Even at a high end place, unless adorned with other expensive ingredients, three diver scallops shouldn't be more than $15 or so.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: filth

                                There was a time when I was on a high end restaurant kick and tried to visit a few nicer places in any given city we were visiting. After six or seven restaurants, all of which I thoroughly enjoyed, I quickly got off that kick. While the food was great, I often didn't leave full and that's no fun when you've just spent $200 or more. Now I seem to stick with ethnic food that fills me up, tastes great, and where I live, it's hard to spend over $50 on a great ethnic meal.

                              2. I run into this problem a lot going out to dinner with my SO - and this is why he hates to go to some of the "finer" restaurants in our area. I'm 5'1 100+ lbs, he's 6'1 200+ lbs. While we always enjoy the time spent togther, when we go to a restaurant of my choice - he comes home & orders a pizza. And also gripes about how much we paid for dinner and how he should feel full - which I 100% agree with. Then, I usually fall asleep in a food coma.

                                1. I know I would prefer to drop $200-$300 at one of Chicago's top steakhouse's for a slab of prime beef, crab bisque, stone crabs, and either lobster tails, or King Crab legs, than go to Alinea, or one of the other small portion, "concept" restaurants in town anyday.

                                  Just my personal preference, and addiction to slabs of medium rare prime beef, and shellfish in large quantities.

                                  1. The irony is that in the crummy chain restaurants the portions are so gargantuan that you can't possibly eat it all (at least I can't) - but it's so lousy you don't want to bother with a doggy bag - unless it's actually for the dog.

                                    12 Replies
                                    1. re: rfneid

                                      Yep. I was forced to eat at a TGI Friday's for the first time in about 10 years a couple of weeks ago and was aghast at just how bad it was. Somehow they managed to make dumplings, fried shrimp, steak, freakish-looking mashed potatoes and dessert taste pretty much the same, including a similar level of sweetness all the way around. Couldn't eat again until lunch the next day.

                                      On the other hand, food costs have always been the smallest part of restaurant costs and if you want "ambience," nice table settings, attentive staff, etc, someone has to pay for it. Which is why I'm so much more prone to buying my own scallops and cooking them at home if that's what I want, saving fancy restaurants for times when I want the night out or want dishes/foods that aren't mindlessly simple to prepare well at home... If the typical delivery pizza is someone's idea of a good time, they should realize they're never going to feel like they've gotten their "money's worth" at a place that focuses on quality rather than filling up their customers with whatever's handy. It's really just a case of different strokes...

                                      1. re: MikeG

                                        You hit the nail on the head. Also, tho' the trendy word is "grazer" these days, I prefer a variety of smaller dishes to one or two massive plates of protein and a starch. Unless the food is prepared poorly, I generally feel the cost is worth it. And if I'm a tad peckish a little later, so what? I don't blame the restaurant.

                                        1. re: MikeG

                                          I think this is what bothers me. I think you're right when you say "food costs have always been the smallest part of restaurant costs." Would it have cost them so much to put 5 or even 6 scallops on that plate? The ambiance, service, and kitchen costs are covered. I think they probably have to charge for the ambiance, service, and kitchen costs. Those costs are there, so they can't lower that price. So why not put out a decent plate?

                                          1. re: yayadave

                                            Food costs have NEVER been the smallest part of restaurant costs, considering that they typically hover between 25-40%. Apart from labour no other item takes up that large a percentage of a dish's total cost.

                                            Another thing I find quite telling is whether or not these posters are mutually exclusive to the posters who bemoan the places where they serve gargantuan portions of food.

                                            1. re: Blueicus

                                              Well, yeah, in a sense. I was basically thinking of three categories. Food costs, labor and everything else under the general heading "fixed/overhead." One hopes they spend more on food than on the paper towels in the restroom, but that wasn't what I meant. ;)

                                              As for "one or two more" scallops, though, seriously, that way lies bankruptcy, especially these days, and doubly-especially in Manhattan. A scallop here, a scallop there, a rent hike here a rent hike there and the next thing you know, the space is being offered to the next highest "bidder"....

                                              1. re: MikeG

                                                Yeah, you're probably right. "A scallop here, a scallop there" and people don't come back and "the next thing you know, the space is being offered to the next highest "bidder"...."

                                                1. re: yayadave

                                                  Perhaps, but USQ Cafe has been around for a while now and all I got was 3 HALVES last Summer as part of prix fixe lunch. :( But what I was getting at is that 3 more scallops dramatically increases food costs as a percentage and since they're the hardest thing to predict/control, restaurants usually manage food costs with an iron fist... And given the almost surreal level of commercial rents in good locations in Manhattan these days, it's hard to blame them without more information.

                                                  Honestly, I think most people who go to places like that probably aren't drawing the eat-hearty crowd much to begin with, unless the owners/managers really have no idea what they're doing...

                                                  1. re: MikeG

                                                    It is also true that some not-so-good places keep going for years and years. From what I read on these boards, Tavern on the Green would be one example. So it is true that some places can pull off the "our food is precious" gambit and do very well. That does not make it true or right. And it doesn't hurt to call the emperor "nekked" when he is.

                                                    By the way, in most things, NYC is on a different planet from everywhere else, so things that are true of NYC are not necessarily true everywhere/anywhere else.

                                                2. re: MikeG

                                                  "seriously, that way lies bankruptcy???" You're pulling our collective legs, aren't you. '-)

                                                  But you made me think. (Dangerous activity) I just scoured the web looking for the most expensive scallops I could find at full retail. Didn't spend hours, but did spend a little time. The most I could come up with was $16.00 a pound for fresh dry divers scallops with a yield of 8 scallops per pound. Those a prize plums for scallops! Two ounces each! So that's $2.00 per scallop, as I said, "full retail." I don't know of any restaurants that pay full retail.

                                                  So say it's forty bucks for sea scallops at some audacity restaurant. Their operating costs, cooking costs, staff costs, rent, utilities, and insurance against icebergs crashing through a wall and clients suing for whatever reasons is already covered in the forty bucks for the dinner with three scallops on the plate. So what's wrong with a little note on the menu that says for an additional nine to twelve bucks you can have three more scallops? Costs the same to cook six as it does three.

                                                  Actually, since all of their costs are already covered by the first three scallops, it wouldn't kill them to add the extra scallops at true market price of six dollars, but then all of their customers would be sitting there mumbling to themselves, "Wait a minute! If it only costs six dollars for three scallops, and you only get three scallops on the $40.00 plate, what's the other $32.00 for? Maybe the Yukon gold potatoes really are!"

                                                  On the other hand, if this hypothetical audacity restaurant really did serve scallops that weigh two ouches each, that's a six ounce portion of protien. That's a lot of fish!

                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                    "You're pulling our collective legs, aren't you. '-) "

                                                    Extrapolate, people, extrapolate! But I think you get that judging by your last paragraph. My point being (see also the latest "tip jar" thread) that sensible businesspeople understand the concept of watching the pennies and letting the dollars look after themselves. One person wants more scallops, one wants a bigger piece of Wagyu beef. Another an extra bit of truffles with their supplement, another cries because they didn't get an extra few bites of caviar. Or someone thinks the tablecloths aren't quite heavy enough or the flowres not fresh enough, another objects because they think "they" didn't get enough freebie courses. Etc, etc, etc., etc. Like any other aspect of restaurant going - if you can't afford to "waste" that kind of money, do your research and avoid places that are more "sizzle than steak." But apparently lots of people would rather have sizzle than steak, and who's to argue with that as long as we're not talking basic necessities, etc.?

                                                    On the other hand, I really have no idea what people are calling "audacity" restaurants. Are we talking Per Se? The French Laundry? Alain Ducasse? Or are we talking the inevitable wannabes that try a little too hard and just never quite cut it? Why would one go there anyway? And if a restaurant is an "audacity" restaurant, what's the big deal? Don't go. Does one complain that Tiffany's jewelry should have bigger stones for the price? Or designer clothes (the real ones), extra pants/skirts/whatever? Etc. etc. etc

                                                    I'm not trying to be obnoxious, I just really don't get the complaints about this kind of thing. Sure, I complain that in my rapidly "luxurifying" (formerly plain old middle class) neighborhood is getting to where it's hard to get a fairly simple meal for less than $35 all told (talk about "audacity"), but that's a horse of an entirely different color it seems to me...

                                                    1. re: MikeG

                                                      Of course. You answered the whole thing. If you don't like the quality, don't go back. If you don't like the quantity, don't go back.

                                                    2. re: Caroline1

                                                      Just remember that there's no such thing as a free lunch... never. If it were, a lot more restaurants would be doing that.

                                          2. Hmm, how does this extend to elaborate tasting menus, where 7,8,9+ course of tiny taste explosions / textures add up to a huge bill and still grumbling stomach? (And in some cases, stomachs grumbling not from hunger but ingredient / flavor overload).

                                            If you're paying for the *experience* at these high-end and high-concept places, are you getting your education *and* money's worth of calories when you leave the table?

                                            On a side note- at a former restaurant that I cooked at, we had a customer finish their meal, then asked their server to bring them more food. Correction: they demanded more food. Their argument: if they were paying for a meal, they expected to be full at the end of it. When the waiter (having a brain freeze about how to respond) came back to the kitchen with the news, we all had a collective, "can you do that?" moment. Sometimes I wish I had the "audacity" myself to ask when dining out.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: Starka

                                              Starka, thanks for bringing this forward...I believe that many of our most 'creative culinarians' today believe that 'small plates' have become 'big plates', while patrons are paying more for the 'priveledge'. Excuse me, with all respect to Chef Keller and all, I would rather have a generous plate of food put before me (not necessarily 3 sea scallops with a few dots of sauce), innovations included, and not walk out hungry after leaving such a major tab...only to have to eat later that same evening. Sorry, I don't buy it...

                                              1. re: gutreactions

                                                Have you had that problem at a Keller restaurant, or are you just using him as an example? People keep mentioning all these outrageous examples of small food/big prices, but no one's saying what restaurants they're supposedly occuring in. Are these anecdotal? If not, names would be helpful to warn your fellow hounds.

                                                1. re: writergirl

                                                  Hugo's in Portland ME is a good example. the first things served are biscuits that are the size of quarters- one per person. all of the other courses are similar.Sure, the food is tasty but really- how ridiculous is that??? People rave about this place, which I think is laughable. I think people have become too entrqance with going to the "in" place for their precious food. I would rather eat at home.

                                              2. re: Starka

                                                So did you serve him extra courses? If so, was it cheap "fillers" such as a starch? Was this a really expensive restaurant? I don't think i would have the nerve...

                                              3. My experience in fine dining is very limited, so I can't really comment. But I will say that conversely, normal restaurant portions are WAY TOO BIG! This might effect the expectations of fine dining. When I go out to eat with friends to Macaroni Grill, TGI Fridays, or PF Changs, everyone can get full on a single entree. With those huge portion sizes, why would you even bother listing appetizers and desserts? Yeah it's nice to get bang for you buck, but sometimes, I want to eat a nice 3-course meal without asking for a doggie-bag. Eating a big plate of one thing is SO BORING! Plus, I think asking asking for a to-go box is a little emarrassing. I just hate the thought of not eating everything that's on my plate.

                                                So to me, fine dining should be all about being able to enjoy multiple courses. If you're full by the time you get to the last course, all of the magic is gone. You want to enjoy the last course with as much fervor as the first. A full stomach would be a bit insulting to that last course, especially when the ending note should probably be the best part of the meal.

                                                So in my view, the point of fine dining is not to get full, nor is it really about eating. It's about having an experience that you can't get anywhere else; food just happens to be a big part of the equation. You don't take long walks on the beach during a sunset for the purpose of exercise do you? :)

                                                10 Replies
                                                  1. re: phan1

                                                    "the point of fine dining is not to get full, nor is it really about eating. It's about having an experience that you can't get anywhere else; food just happens to be a big part of the equation."

                                                    They why eat at all?

                                                    1. re: Jeanne

                                                      "Then why eat at all?" Because it is enjoyable....?

                                                      1. re: KTinNYC

                                                        You missed my point KT in NYC - see the quoted text in my post. Food just happens to be part of the equation of eating out? Give me a break. I'm all for ambiance - but some of these posts describing miniscule portions in "fine dining" restaurants? See Caroline 1's post - I totally agree with what she is saying.

                                                        1. re: Jeanne

                                                          Read what you quoted yourself - it says BIG part, not part. Absolutely the food is the main attraction, but there's more to eating at a fine restaurant than just the food.

                                                          Phan1 has it right, I dislike most American restaurants because they give me too much food, at most places I'm nearly full after the appetizer. When I'm in Europe - especially France - I know I'll get reasonable portions and actually be able to enjoy every course instead of dreading the appearance of yet another gargantuan entree.

                                                        2. re: KTinNYC

                                                          Absolutely KTinNYC,
                                                          Because it's enjoyable!!! For sure.
                                                          It's funny, most people who want the big portions are also usually the people I don't enjoy sharing a bottle of wine with over dinner because they will usually be happy chugging a bottle of 2buck chuck and make no notice of a nice wine because they are too busy chugging it...these people usually have no clue how to savor anything...golly, if they like to plow through a meal with quanitity over quality, imagine how they are at other things that should be savored and enjoyed...eeeew.
                                                          I prefer my company to also know how to appreciate the little things.
                                                          NOw, don't get me wrong, there are several places that serve some pretty funny excuses for fine dining and I also wonder on occaisson if they are just playing a cruel trick on us.
                                                          Then there are places like Joel Robuchon, that I am so thrilled with since they do do the ity bity portions so I can enjoy a 13 course tasting without feeling like astuffed pig after 2 courses...these ity bity portions also let me enjoy a wine pairing....dining on small, well executed, thoughtfully designed tid bits is, to me, like consuming art....maybe I am crazy but that is why I enjoy long tasting menus....it's like food promiscuity...mmm, naughty, but you can do it in public, and in front of family.

                                                          1. re: tatertotsrock

                                                            ttr, I completely agree with you about enjoying a number of small courses without feeling stuffed. Are there times when one course is so delicious I could eat 4 servings? Absolutely! But the progression of courses is part of the experience and in a great restaurant the whole meal is often greater than the sum of it's parts. I'm ethnically Chinese so when we went out, which wasn't often, it was for dim sum or banquets so in a way I've been eating "small plates" my whole life.

                                                            Let me also agree with you about savoring wine. I have a friend that owns a mid-priced wine bar and he introduces me to wines all the time. I've noticed that the first taste of a good wine is always the best. The combination of flavors and finish can be revelatory but by the second or third glass I'm no longer even thinking about how good the wine is, I'm just consuming it. This is comparable to a meal. Sometimes less really is more.

                                                            1. re: KTinNYC

                                                              Wow KTinNYC,
                                                              The thing you said about the wine perfectly sums things up for me.
                                                              I have a friend who savors wine more sensaully than I do.
                                                              He can "make out" with one glass to most of our campanions 3 glasses. He's no tea-tottler, but sometimes we'll open a bottle, not expecting it to be as great as it is, and then it turns out to be fantastic and we just can't stop sniffing it, and rolling it aound in our mouths trying to prolong the experience. Sad thing is, if we're with others, will reach for the bottle by the 3rd course and discover that it is all gone...oh well.

                                                      2. re: phan1

                                                        Fine dining should be a full sensory experience, and you make it sound as if it's okay with you if a fine, well appointed restaurant charges you fifty bucks for a glass of water with some nice background music. I don't think anyone here is saying you should leave an upscale restaurant so engorged that you can hardly stay awake to drive home, but you should not have to visit a drive-through so you have enough food in your stomach to go to sleep once you're home either.

                                                        I think the problem with many high end restaurants today is that they have lost their ability to evaluate what an appropriate plating is for an a la carte meal and what is appropriate for a fifteen course tasting menu. They are not the same! Or at least they shouldn't be.

                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                          Caroline1, thanks...that's my argument all the way...we have too many chefs and restaurant owners that feel so called 'small plates' have become their 'big plates', and guess what!!!...the public leaves hungry after leaving that tab...

                                                      3. i think you need to realize that chefs are designing small plate tastings for people who make a great deal of money by sitting relatively immobile on their asses all day, with iras and health insurance and "help" at home. people who don't *need* the food served during the meal as nourishment and don't *want* the extra calories in the extra 2 scallops. these folks have voted with their platinum cards and voiced that they are after something else when they dine-- the experience, the service, the song & dance. paying for *food* is completely different than paying for *a meal* in the context i'm talking about. of course, when chefs entertain each other they serve very different food indeed.

                                                        18 Replies
                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                          The solution is simple. The "platinum card voters" need to learn to leave food on their plate. Easy!

                                                          I'm in edit mode now. These platinum card voters you're talking about in all likelihood do not eat out every night. As I said, they have options: leave food on their plate or go ahead a live it up because they don't eat out at this level of restaurant nightly. At least the billionaires and millionaires I know don't. There is no excuse for chef's using thimbles to measure portions at exhorbitant prices. None!

                                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                                            Oh Soupy, that's not fair. Dining portions are not delineated by economic demographics, but by the resto. Last time jfood checked Opentable and the phone reso taker does not ask jfood if amex blue, green, gold, platinum or black are going to be used at the end of the meal. That "surprise" comes at the end as you know.

                                                            And many people who pay with platinum are not "immobile on their asses all day" with "'help'" at home. Cardholder since 1980 here who also wants the extra 2 scallops (jfood actually recieved 1 scallop sliced thin into 6 slices in one resto that went on the DNR list).

                                                            But jfood does agree that the food is a BIG part of the experience but very much wants good ambience, good service and the other intangibles.

                                                            When he leaves a resto he wants to feel relaxed, smiling, and comfortable in the belly, not engourged. Jfood hopes that is what the resto is striving for as well at high price-points. There are restos that do this well and others that do not, same as in every aspect of life.

                                                            1. re: jfood

                                                              forgive my bluntness, guys, i just felt it needed to be said. i think that odds are very good that if you look to your right and left at an establishment that specializes in small plates, you'll find that you're dining with well-paid corporate exec types, not people who work blue collar jobs. the dining audience that supports these places make a certain figure/year and i don't think there is any getting around that. sure, you might get a couple of teachers on their anniversary or a young chef dining alone who saved up for a month-- but we all know who's paying the bills here and it's folks of a certain net worth. while dh and i enjoy these places occasionally, we don't rec them to the bil (construction worker) and sil (mommy) for their special occasion meal *because* the small plate thing is *not* designed around portion size=value, and because they would leave the restaurant both hungry and unsatisfied. the audience of these restaurants, who don't have calluses on their hands, would ideally leave the restaurant *satisfied* in a way that doesn't have that much to do with being full.

                                                              i do agree that some establishments/chefs accomplish this better than others and there are definitely guys who don't need *us* to "get" their "genius," they need a good swift kick in the pants and can i please have the second half of my flash-braised micro-beet so i can have enough strength to give it to you (oh no, i'm not thinking of anyone in particular. . .)

                                                              it might be getting onto spongier turf to bring it up, but when you examine the very refined bits of comestibles on the small plate before you, arranged like an ikebana arrangement with edible architectural engineering, admit to yourself that this is not a natural way to eat, this is a product and it is designed as much (or more) as a flight of fancy as it is "food." someone has designed this to appeal to someone else, it isn't the way people eat at home, especially those who are preparing it for others to consume. there are great differences between those who are served and those who are serving. whether its a meal tomorrow at french laundry, vatel serving louis XIV, or an enslaved cook sending a hot covered dish down that long underground tunnel that ends at the dumb waiter to jefferson's dining room, the evolution of all cuisines is essentially about certain people refining and innovating foodstuffs to appeal to the fancies of those they serve. the small plate guys are appealing to the current elite class, and the rest of us can buy a front row seat (if we can afford it), or do as jfood does and DNR.

                                                              1. re: soupkitten

                                                                Dearest soupkitten,

                                                                I defintiely like your style, however, this:

                                                                "odds are very good that if you look to your right and left at an establishment that specializes in small plates, you'll find that you're dining with well-paid corporate exec types, not people who work blue collar jobs. the dining audience that supports these places make a certain figure/year and i don't think there is any getting around that. sure, you might get a couple of teachers on their anniversary or a young chef dining alone who saved up for a month-- but we all know who's paying the bills here and it's folks of a certain net worth. while dh and i enjoy these places occasionally, we don't rec them to the bil (construction worker) and sil (mommy) for their special occasion meal *because* the small plate thing is *not* designed around portion size=value, and because they would leave the restaurant both hungry and unsatisfied. the audience of these restaurants, who don't have calluses on their hands, would ideally leave the restaurant *satisfied* in a way that doesn't have that much to do with being full. "

                                                                ....would definitely not be me.
                                                                See, if you looked to the right or left and saw me, you would see a tiny personal trainer who, over the last few years, chose to work just enough so I could take off in a kayak and a tent for months at a time...therfore, not clearing anything more that 12grand a year...no credit cards, and I am totally solo.
                                                                Now, I have always researched and chosen my dining destinations wisely...only one shot, in an unknown town, dining solo, I wanted to enjoy as much as possible as far as variety goes, so the small plates have always been a welcome splurge for me.
                                                                The only times I have been underwhelmed with a small plates place are at a very highly respected place in la called aoc. I have been 3 time and still, I cannnot give a rat's ass for this place...in fact, I'd prefer to have a considerately braised rat's ass over the dishes I have tried there 3x. It has been 4 years since I have been but a friend of my is trying to convince me to go again so, come the new year, I will give it another try....I was not thrilled paying outta my ass for some pea shoots and some flaccid meat the size of my thumb.

                                                                1. re: tatertotsrock

                                                                  sure, and cheers to you for your priorities. when i'm at a small plates place i'm also a (low income) outlier-- it's a very intentional decision for people earning less than a certain amt of money, with limited discretionary spending, to eat at these places-- you said this yourself and it's you & me both tatertots-- we *can't* support these places and keep their doors open on our occasional, perhaps once a year for a b-day, visits. this is why some communities can't support fine dining restaurants of a certain level, people can't afford to go often enough. . . the small plates place survives where enough butts can fill its seats every evening, and i'd argue that it caters to its own audience, same as the opera (where i am also a low-income outlier), and the rest of us are just kinda tourists.

                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                    soupkitten, the funny thing is, I dine out quite a bit. See, I don't buy clothes, I live in a tiny little place and I own a cute 96 car that's paid for and doesn't cost much to insure. I also don't have cable, I don't go to movies and I do go to Concert Hall quite a bit because I'll do student rush or my clients will hand me tickets they can't use...thank goodness.
                                                                    I wont spend my money on happy hours at chains when my friends go out....I save my $ for places like GRACE, BASHAN, Gingergrass (that's easy to afford), and Chadaka Thai.
                                                                    I love small plates places because I can try more things when dining alone.
                                                                    I actually with BASHAN had a small plates option becaue I can never choose what to order and everything is so amazing...the worst thing happened the other night when a friend and I went...we had so many amazing things that we couldn't finish that we asked for itty bitty to go boxes because we knew we'd eat the tastey morsels in the morning....we forgot to take out box of short ribs home!!! Uggg!!! and they were the best things ever!!!
                                                                    Viva the small plates for small people who like to eat a lot of different things!!!

                                                                2. re: soupkitten

                                                                  That was an extremely well written and very dead on posting.
                                                                  Thank you...

                                                                  1. re: aelph

                                                                    What soupkitten posted was fact. I don't see how you can write such a ridiculous post. It just makes no sense.

                                                                    1. re: Tay

                                                                      Let's try a different tack. Soupkitten is posing a facile opposition; "bluecollar" or "low income" vs. "AM EX silver card holders." Soupkitten is attempting to curry favor in that most disagreeable of fashions; an immature, ill-considered, inflammatory observation. In fact this entire misapprehension of "small plate" = "upscale" doesn't hold water. It's interesting in this day and age(and in this country) that some are beholden to such antiquated, derisive stereotypes.

                                                                      1. re: aelph

                                                                        sorry, aleph i didn't see your original argument with what i wrote. we've been talking about portion size and cost, and if 3 scallops for $22 does not equal upscale i don't know what does. at those prices you certainly won't get many people who work for $10/hr dining in your establishment. please let me know what about my point is "ill-considered."

                                                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                                                          Aelph(definitely not an Aleph) :)

                                                                          It just seems you're after a social construction of restaurants. There's a lot more subjectivity involved than restaurants and their patrons are being given credit for.

                                                                          1. re: aelph

                                                                            Aelph, I don't know what part of the country you're in, but in Westchester, NY, the 'regular' restaurants don't deal in tiny bits of food piled prettily on squeeze bottle decorated plates. Thankfully.

                                                                            Yes, here in Westchester, NY, the rich and tony wait for hours to be seated in and be seen in restaurants that do the above and charge through the nose for it. They are welcome to them.

                                                                            1. re: aelph

                                                                              AELph (oops)
                                                                              well sure, i'm obviously making some generalizations, but aren't restaurants social constructions? isn't the way society chooses to eat and the way society chooses to *dine* relevant at all? no matter how egalitarian a society wants to think it is, people are of different social classes-- some support themselves serving others, catering to the tastes of others, and others pay the freight for social institutions to exist in the first place. pretty much every restaurant is a mini-cosm of society and "social construction"--that's what makes them so interesting-- yet we can talk about "fast food" "american bistro" "small plates places" in general terms, even though there are stand-outs all around. i am saying that in general, those eating at the small plates places are wealthy; the small plates places couldn't sustain themselves if they had zero customers; ergo (enough) wealthy people have selected small plates. prices are prohibitively expensive for non-wealthy folk, indeed, many of the folks working in the kitchen of the small plates place, and that's a whole nother can of worms.

                                                                          2. re: aelph

                                                                            It's hard to see what is controversial about the observation that it takes an individual with a certain amount of disposable income to support a place that serves small portions for high prices. Someone making 10 bucks an hour and paying rent in a city that can support a place like that simply won't be able to go to an expensive place very often, and without a supply of customers that can afford the place relatively easily, the resto will not stay in business.

                                                                            It's obvious that in really good places, that are doing innovative things with the food, there is a lot of skill, time, and training to pay for in the preparation of the food, aside from the cost of the ingredients themselves, which are also often pricey. So it adds up to an expensive plate, without a lot of volume on it.

                                                                            In innovative places, it seems to me that unless one eats at such places often, some of the nuances are lost on the diner; that is, as in art or music or theater, unless you're au courant, you don't necessarily recognize what's new, innovative, creative with the dish. That's part of what you're paying for: the creativity of the chef, who puts his thought and experience into what he presents (whether it works or not...and that's a separate issue). So in order to really understand some of the small-plates places and why the food is worth the money, you really have to have experienced some cutting-edge cuisine. Which some people are not equipped to do, because they can't afford to eat at such places often enough to stay current.

                                                                      2. re: soupkitten

                                                                        soupkitten, jfood again.

                                                                        he is very lucky in certain aspects that he earns a living without hand calusses, but the brain fatigue and pressure is quite severe. he should have been more specific on what he found "unfair" which was "for people who make a great deal of money by sitting relatively immobile on their asses all day, with iras and health insurance and "help" at home." that's quite a generality.

                                                                        he agrees that at price points like FL it takes a special occassion or high disposable income to go there plus a strong desire. Jfood has absoultely no desire to go to FL and has expressed numerous times he would much rather take mrs jfood to the theatre, that's a personal choice.

                                                                        And if you charge >$50 for an entree, it does limit the universe of potential patrons, anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves.

                                                                        So although you have some very good points in the posts, it sorta gets lost in the bandwidth of generalities. And thank you for understanding that yes jfood would almost always have a small plate/high price point resto on the DNR list (unless being taken) in the same manner that he would probably have a gigantic plate/low price point resto.

                                                                        1. re: jfood

                                                                          I guess it's all been said, but for my part, I don't support places that overcharge for tiny bits of food piled prettily on a squeeze bottle decorated plate.

                                                                          However, I applaud them for overcharging the 'gourmets' who support them. There's one born every minute, as someone said.

                                                                          1. re: jfood

                                                                            jfood, you're correct, i could have and should have phrased the bit about sitting on one's asses, etc. in a less offensive way, yes unfair and mean of me to do so the way i did. i am sorry to offend you or anyone else by being overly blunt.

                                                                            the point i was trying to make is that a person who has a desk job, any desk job, no matter how stressful, has different daily caloric needs than a guy who hauls double'-wraps of sheetrock up 3 flights of stairs each day-- and someone with a physically demanding job may have a legitimate reason, besides financial, to avoid the little plates place, while the small plates place may actually supply enough calories/nutrients to the desk worker, and since the food tends to be very rich, bigger portions may be excessive and/or unwanted for folks who eat at the small-plates place *regularly*.

                                                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                                                              thx soupy, well said and jfood appreciates the retraction.

                                                                    2. I remember when a fast food chain (A&W?) had a commercial based entirely on this premise. The couple left the upscale restaurant and discussed how interesting the menu was, but they were still hungry.. ended up eating burgers and fries.

                                                                      On the other hand, I hate it when my only choices are "big" and "bigger". I'm Canadian; we visited Chicago about a year ago. Of course, I wanted to try Chicago beef, but the smallest steak offered was 22 oz. I'm glad our hotel had a kitchenette; I was able to enjoy the 14 oz. of leftovers for breakfast and lunch the next day.

                                                                      It's not like I'm a punk; I'm 5'10", 200 lbs, and I like a good meal, but, as someone else posted here, I'd like to enjoy multiple flavours. I want an appetizer (which can be small), I'd like side options besides 1 lb baked potatos (and creamed spinach in any amount.. who ever thought this was tasty?!), and room for a small dessert. Dessert, by the way, is the one place where small portions are appreciated by diabetics such as me. The "shotglass cheesecake" model is fine with me, as long as I know up front that's what I'm ordering. It gives me the sweet taste to end a meal without sending me into diabetic coma.