According to Wikipedia, “small plates is a manner of dining that became popular in Western food service after 2000.”
The trend has become even more popular since then, for dishes that easily qualify as small plates now can be found on most menus.
Apparently, though, “Western food services” were slow to catch on. Small plates, in the form of Spanish tapas, Italian ceccinni and Middle Eastern mezze, and even dishes on appetizer and bar menus, have been fixtures for generations.
In fact, most cuisines have some version of these quickly prepared, easily shareable dishes. Their common feature is size. They are, by definition, small. They are not nutritionally balanced and not intended to be enough for a meal.
That means you need to order several dishes for a meal, especially if they are going to be shared, and pay attention to such things as protein and vegetables. It makes sense to start small, adding dishes as appetites — and the size of “small” servings — dictate. This strategy also avoids a table covered with too many dishes to eat at once and innumerable take-home boxes.
In keeping with the Wikipedia-defined trend, some restaurants now identify dishes as tapas or small plates. The following are among those that consider these small dishes a specialty.
• Maple Avenue, 147 Maple Avenue West, Vienna (703-319-2177). This small restaurant (reservations a good idea) serves self-defined “eclectic American cuisine” with designated small plates. These currently include Thai okra; shrimp and grits with venison blueberry sausage, okra and piquillo peppers; creme fraiche wings with a hint of Korean chili paste and oyster sauce; and burrata with walnut arugula pesto, green tomato jam and gruyere crisp. Don’t overlook the sides here. The beer-battered fries are among the best around.
• Dolce Veloce, 10826 Fairfax Blvd., Fairfax (703-385-1226). Though nominally a wine bar, the kids (and everyone else) will devour the pizza cones, either filled simply with tomato and cheese or with favorite pizza add-ons. The cicchetti (defined as Italian-inspired small plates) menu offers an array of dishes, (some you may not want to share), among them torre di mozzarella, with layers of mozzarella, roasted peppers and eggplant in a fig balsamic reduction; risotto with grilled baby artichokes and gorgonzola; grilled steak skewers served on saffron rice; and platters of assorted cheeses and meats.
• Evo Bistro, 1313 Old Chain Bridge Road, McLean (703-288-4422). Though the menu has evolved, tapas remain a specialty. Especially worth trying are the grilled artichokes; the ample bowl of steamed mussels with tomatoes, herbs and feta cheese; and the three-cheese tortilla, a crepe with potato, manchego, parmesan and provolone cheeses. Beet salad and steamed or sauteed vegetables satisfy the vegetable requirement.
• Hoang’s Grill and Sushi Bar, 502 West Broad St., Falls Church (703-536-777). The tapas and small plates mingle in the appetizer menu at lunch but stand on their own at dinner. Most are Asian inspired, among them crispy spring rolls and soft summer rolls; salt and pepper fried calamari; and escargot stuffed with pork, ginger, mushrooms and lemongrass with a ginger lime fish sauce. The Vietnamese stuffed crepe, ready to be broken in pieces, wrapped in lettuce with fresh Vietnamese herbs and dipped in fish sauce, is one small plate sufficient for a meal.
• 2941, 2941 Fairview Drive, Falls Church (703-270-1500) This restaurant has gone beyond small plates to offer “small bites,” including truffle arancini and crispy calamari with citrus aioli, in addition to its appetizers. Maybe “small bites” are destined to be the next Western food trend recognized by Wikipedia.