You might not realize it, but until recently, many of New York’s top toques were subject to what chef Wylie Dufresne has called the “tyranny of the entree.” Under the oppressive regime, most restaurants thought it necessary to serve “main dishes” — large plates of food containing an entire varied meal for one person, at a single, vaguely reasonable price.
But you won’t find me in the streets happily crying, “Viva la revolución!” In the name of supposedly giving diners more choice, the entree has been forced out by trendy small plates, family-style eating and tasting menus. Lately, I’ve found myself missing having the choice to order a main course.
Dufresne’s new East Village gastropub, Alder, only serves small and medium-size portions of his experimental fare. In March, Empellón Cocina chef and owner Alex Stupak removed all entrees from his East Village menu, dramatically declaring on Twitter: “I can’t stand them, so I’m never cooking them again.”
Meanwhile, at Feast, a new East Village restaurant, the main focus is on family-style meals — starting at $49 per person. And you no longer have to go to Per Se or Daniel for a tasting menu. As of June, even casual Asian barbecue joint Fatty ’Cue offers them. Chains have also freed themselves from the entree’s greasy shackles: TGI Fridays debuted a “taste and share” menu nationwide in April, while Olive Garden has been testing out a “Taste of Italy” small plates menu that will go nationwide in December.
Hallelujah! Let freedom ring! Or maybe that ringing is just the sounds of restaurant cash registers. Sure, these new menu formats allow chefs to cook outside the box and let diners opt for lighter meals — but all of those small plates don’t come cheaply or easily.
Pearl & Ash, a small-plates restaurant on the Bowery, has been praised for its reasonable prices since opening in December. The average cost of one of its dishes hovers around $12. That’s reasonable — if one will do. On a recent visit, a chilly waitress suggested my friend and I order three to four each. Two hundred bucks later, we were still peckish. Some of chef Richard Kuo’s delicate dishes are quite tasty — but try dividing a single octopus tentacle or tiny bowl of green beans and sea urchin amongst a party of four.