Grazing has always been an enjoyable way to eat—think of all those contented cows—and it’s more interesting than ever. True foodies recognize the pleasure of tasting more and eating less; bites of this and that allow the curious gourmand to sample an array of dishes. Enter small-plate dining, an excellent way to whet the appetite, enjoy myriad flavors, explore an exotic cuisine, discover accompanying cocktails and stimulate conversation. Chefs put their best foot forward with the small plate; the reduced size permits creativity that cannot be achieved on a larger scale. Portion control is another small-plate bonus, as typical modern restaurant servings are overwhelmingly huge. Go easy on both gullet and wallet with some of our favorite small plates out and about.
WILD MUSHROOM RISOTTO FRITTERS
Find the “Spasso bites” section on the restaurant’s menu and go for the wild mushroom risotto fritters. Perhaps you’ve had the eatery’s exquisite risotto, a kitchen mainstay; imagine these toothsome grains and succulent mushrooms formed into loose patties, lightly breaded and fried. It’s as delicious as it sounds, full of butter and herbs, but the key thing here is the Gorgonzola sauce: creamy, pungent and delightfully decadent. It’s nice to share them, but trust us, you’ll want your very own order of these. $7.
Small-plate dining is the best way to indulge in luxury ingredients like scallops. A whole plate of them might be overwhelmingly rich, but a few delectable nuggets gussied up with the finest accoutrements are worth savoring. At Cov, the plump mollusks are expertly seared so that they’re browned on the outside and yieldingly translucent on the inside. Macerated fennel, softened by a long soak, adds a subtle hint of anise; sweet and bright mango salsa livens with citrus and crunch. The crowning touch, candied ginger, provides unexpected zing without overwhelming the delicate seafood. $16.
BLVD Kitchen and Bar
Sliders popped up on our culinary radar a decade or so ago; the instantly popular mini-burgers are now frequent stars of the small-plate scene. No one knows why they are called sliders—our best guess is it’s because they slide into your mouth so easily. They are irresistible, and BLVD handles them with aplomb. A trio of them probably amounts to more food than a single burger, but never mind. You decide the players in this trio: a choice of hamburger, pulled pork, chipotle salmon, turkey burger or pastrami. We love the smoky, fiery chipotle salmon; the pulled pork, soft, tangy and sweet, is also not to be missed. $13.
Tostada means “toast” in Spanish: in Mexican cuisine, it’s a fried tortilla with stuff on top. Lago Tacos makes an appetizer version with satisfyingly chewy mini-cakes made out of fresh corn masa (flour). Three of them sit on a narrow rectangular plate, heaped with carnitas, braised pork from the Mexican state of Michoacan. The deeply flavored meat is prettily accessorized with neat mounds of spicy salsa verde, pale shredded lettuce, creamy avocado and a sprinkling of queso fresco, a fresh, salty cheese in the vein of feta. At happy hour, it’s only $5. $7.95.
Japanese cuisine has always been rife with small plates, for both aesthetic and culinary reasons. Like Americans, Japanese culture embraces snacks that go with cocktail hour, which we generally classify as happy-hour food. Under the side dishes section of Yumi’s menu you’ll find hamachi kama. Touted as the best part of the fish, it’s yellowtail tuna cheek grilled on hot coals and served with ponzu, a light, citrus-infused soy sauce. “Cheek” might sound like a wee morsel, but this cheek is a hearty serving from a 100-pound fish. It’s meltingly tender and flavorful, abounding with prized crispy edges. Yumi always offers ultra-fresh fish, flown in daily, and the chic, lacquered-box interior makes the experience feel extra special. $8.95.
LOBSTER CORN DOGS
Ike’s Food and Cocktails Minnetonka
Minnesotans of every age love the State Fair, and the most emblematic food of our great state get together is the mighty corn dog—a far cry from small-plate fine dining. But Ike re-invents the iconic treat using luxury ingredients. Chunky lobster sausage—salty, peppery and ocean-kissed—gets dipped in a sweet corn batter before deep-frying. They arrive in a dainty group of four on long wooden skewers, lounging in a pool of bright pink sauce, a chili aioli that is gentle enough for the Minnesotan palate and a terrific companion to the lobster dogs. $14.95.
BEEF TENDERLOIN CROSTINI
Bacio excels at using high-quality ingredients in simple but ingenious combinations with brilliant accents. The beef tenderloin crostini is an excellent case in point. Tenderloin, the most cherished cut of beef, is seared to just the right degree, retaining a rosy interior. Such beautiful meat needs little else: Bacio adds an earthy truffle aioli, a sprinkling of prized Maldon sea salt and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, exquisite touches that transform the whole into more than the sum of its parts—it’s a rare moan-at-first-bite adventure. $14.
Christo’s offers an appetizer-sized version of many of their signature dishes, which means you can try a few things at once or opt for a single light meal. We chose the delicious falafel, which tends to be too filling on a dinner scale. Falafel, a staple for college kids nationwide, is a sort of meatless meatball made from ground chickpeas, herbs and spices, notably cumin and oregano. Christo’s falafel comes with homemade sesame tahini for dipping, a silky sauce that binds the crumbly balls. We recommend a side of tzatziki, tangy homemade yogurt mixed with shredded cucumbers, chopped fresh dill and garlic, with a marvelous cooling effect. $6.35.
McCormick’s Pub and Restaurants
Steak tartare is a classic French dish, basically raw ground beef served with some assortment of onions, cornichon pickles, capers and a raw egg yolk. The idea is to mix it up according to personal taste; think of it as a deconstructed, uncooked meatloaf. McCormick’s offers a tidy timbale of meat using high-quality tenderloin beef, which hardly needs embellishment. Experiment with different mix-ins: here there are shallots, chives and caper vinaigrette. McCormick’s unique contribution, a bold charred onion mayo, is the best part. Eat it with hot, freshly grilled bread. $13.