At Sofra Bakery and Cafe, this mezze
platter offers, left to right, tomato
kibbeh, beet tzatziki, cacik, whipped
feta with sweet and hot peppers and
skordalia (potato purée with almonds).
presented, with good flavor that
encourages the customer to go on to the
next bite. With only three to four bites
per customer, it’s important to make sure
those few bites are extremely tasty.
At Sofra Bakery and Cafe in Cambridge,
Mass., chef Ana Sortun serves up more
than a dozen Mediterranean mezze items,
including whipped feta with sweet and hot
peppers, Armenian bean and walnut pâté,
smoky eggplant with pine nuts and more.
While many items are traditional, Sortun
keeps the menu interesting by putting her
own twist on others. “For example, we’ll take
a classic tzatziki of yogurt, cucumber and
dill, and instead we’ll make a beet tzatziki.
Or with our baked goods, we might take a
croissant and stuff it with zatar,” she says.
Best Chef: Midwest, reflects a broader
international focus to his small-plates menu,
offering items that range from pappardelle
with lamb meatballs to duck confit rillettes
to a jasmine rice cake. The trick, he says, is
not to reinvent the wheel but look for a way
to get the flavors out there.
can be menu killers,” he says. “You don’t
always need them, especially if your menu
is fresh and changes frequently.”
For a whipped-split-peas-with-goat-
cheese dish, Sortun uses wild herbs from
Chios, a Greek island. Rather than making
peas taste like smoked ham, Sortun is
using them as a transitional ingredient
from winter to spring, and incorporates
Greek flavorings, instead.
“Make sure you have some big flavor
there, because it’s a smaller portion,” says
Siegel. “The wow factor is set in the few
bites [the customer] is going to get, so
it’s important that dishes are seasoned
properly and have a great flavor profile,
otherwise, it’s three bites of nothing if its
bland. Be a bit bolder with the flavors.”
Clearly, there’s room for a variety of small-
plate formats, and many chefs predict this
style of eating will become a permanent
part of menus across the country. Small
plates offer more options for the diner,
more creativity for the cooks and the chef,
and it makes sense economically.
At Sofra, customers make a mezze platter
comprised of five different items. Most
are vegetable-driven, and customers are
encouraged to make a meal by combining
many dishes. “It’s a lighter style of eating.
You can’t really do a small plate of beef short
ribs. They shouldn’t be filling,” says Sortun.
Siegel says he tries to keep the majority
of his small-plates menu in the $7 to $12
range, but because Bacchus is considered
fine dining, there’s room for a $17 foie gras
dish, as well.
Bissonnette agrees, but says offering small
plates is a commitment, and shouldn’t
necessarily be mixed with traditional
appetizer/entrée/dessert concepts. “Doing
small plates is a different concept. It’s
hard. It’s harder to get the flow down in the
kitchen. You can’t time the food,” he says.
“And if we mixed small plates and entrées,
we’d have to make the menu an eighth of
the size, just to choreograph it.”
SMALL PORTION, BIG FLAVOR
At Bacchus in Milwaukee, Adam Siegel,
winner of the 2008 James Beard
Providing customers with at least 12-15
items to choose from is key, he says, and
they can include simpler items, such as
cheeses or marinated olives. What Siegel
avoids, however, are specials. “Specials
Mansfield, Mass.-based freelance writer
Clare Leschin-Hoar’s work has appeared in
The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe
and The Christian Science Monitor, among