June 13, 2019

Food for Thought

At this Italian restaurant, the waitress suggested that the five of us do “family style.” I was surprised. Since when did fine dining restaurants start suggesting “family style”? I Googled and found a New York Times article titled “Are You Secretly Tired of Sharing at Restaurants?” from last year. Family style at high-end restaurants is apparently a thing. The article says it’s partly fueled by social media.

Not sharing at fine dining restaurants makes sense to me because the chefs would want to control every artistic detail of our dining experience. As an audience member, I wouldn’t want to alter or ruin it either. Imagine sitting in front of Jiro Ono at his three-Michelin-starred sushi restaurant in Tokyo with your friends and cutting each piece of his meticulously crafted sushi into four smaller pieces in front of him; you would not dare. Constantly passing the plates around is not only distracting but also a pain. The portion sizes of fine dining restaurants tend to be small too, so, cutting them cleanly and evenly is challenging.

Family style works for Chinese restaurants because they design their dishes specifically for sharing. When a “lazy susan” is provided, the act of passing the plates is even fun. When the dishes are designed for sharing, not sharing them is problematic. For instance, a particular dish might be too heavy, sweet, or salty for you to consume all of it, but is perfectly pleasant if you are only eating a portion of it.

I believe in paying attention to the intentions of the chefs. In many cases, they do not have any specific intentions for sharing or not sharing, but in some cases, they do. In the latter, I find that honoring them is essential in fully appreciating what they are trying to express through their food. This is particularly true if you are going to write about it; you wouldn’t be judging them fairly if you ignored what they intended.

This particular Italian restaurant apparently welcomes sharing. In fact, a couple at our table ordered two pasta dishes to share, and the chef preportioned them into two smaller plates for each person. This tells you how much some chefs do care about our experience of their art.