Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A note about small plates, and restaurants in general.

A friend recently posted on his blog about a favorite spot of mine, Secco. I've noted to others that Secco isn't my go-to joint for a meal because putting a full dinner together can sometimes cost more than L and I have as discretionary funds. Why? Because, as people have noted before, the plates are small.

An omnivore like me may be able to put together a fine meal for under $30 — duck or steak, a salad, soup plus the schiacciata, for instance. There's enough balance and richness to satisfy my palate and leave me feeling satisfied. A pickier eater may find it difficult, though. Vegetarians will find some very tasty items, but at least in our visits, L hasn't found the plates satisfying enough. As a result, we're more likely to enjoy one of the best cheese and charcuterie plates in town, drink some excellent wines, and finish the meal at home.

A few times recently, Secco seems to have become a straw man for what some Richmond diners see as the problem with small plates in general. They are — well — small. What a surprise, right? The point of tapas or shared delicacies is that you enjoy a variety of tastes. It's possible to put a full meal together, but you have to strip away expectations of each person getting an appetizer, entree, and dessert. Regardless, the problem with many small plate restaurants is that they often aren't adventurous enough. Too often, small plates simply seem like easy ways for restaurants to maximize profit and minimize care for preparation. This is where Secco beats the curve.

My standard for a good restaurant — no matter the cuisine, style, or cost — is whether it provides me with meals I can't produce myself. Whether it's because of better equipment, ingredients or the elusive techniques of proper preparation, I don't care. If I have been served something transporting that I could not produce as well myself (or find better elsewhere), the restaurant gets my kudos. Mas Tapas in Charlottesville fits the bill. So does Catina, a local banh mi joint. Numerous falafel joints in New York that leave me longing for the right crunch, not to mention a couple steak joints in the city that simply produce a better filet than I can duplicate, are on the list. I could go on, but the point is Secco has landed on that list faster than other places in town. What the chef is producing is worth tasting and savoring. I haven't sampled anything yet that didn't make me smile.

L and I may not eat there as often as I'd like, but that has more to do with life in general than it does a quality-to-price ratio. Ultimately, I wish there were more restaurants that delivered the way Secco does.


In the interest of full disclosure, I am friends with the owner and staff of Secco. But that's only a small part of why I am proud to say they've hit the mark so well. Richmond needed a place like this.