One of Irwin's complaints about small plates ("a tool for punishing those who just want an honest meal") was that dishes are sent out from the kitchen as they're ready instead of being coursed out. That same complaint came up during the latest "Lunchtime With Mr. Gold" (the weekly live chat in which readers ask dining questions to L.A. Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold). Are small plates a train wreck for the table?
"We don't do it this way because it's necessarily easier for us or to dictate how you eat," says Rustic Canyon chef Jeremy Fox. "If you're coming to a restaurant, you're not just coming because you need to fulfill your daily calorie intake. It's about celebrating good food, good service and good wine. I think sharing promotes a more festive atmosphere: passing plates around, 'you've got to try this,' picking off the plate, I associate these things with really enjoying the meal."
The expediter and servers should be keeping an eye out to see how many dishes and which dishes are at the tables and to coordinate as best they can. The intention is not a willy-nilly parade of food. "If somebody orders the hamachi, squash salad, meatballs and chicken, we're not firing the meatballs and chicken with the hamachi," says C.J. Jacobson of Girasol. "Squash and hamachi are first always. It's a delicate plate of hamachi with a teeny bit of citrus. We serve it with what makes sakes sense for the palate."
Feniger says she tries to honor requests to send plates out to diners in simultaneous courses. "But for a small kitchen, that means the window (where the plates are put once they're finished) gets really crowded and kind of backs everything up."
Meanwhile, your food is sitting there. "When everything comes out in a coursed manner, things are going to sit," Fox says. "Salads are going to sit for longer than they should after they're dressed. Or maybe something will sit under a heat lamp.
"I don't feel like it's worth it to have the food suffer because that's the way things have been traditionally done in a restaurant. It comes down to creating the best atmosphere for each restaurant. I'd rather it be as well done as possible and go out to the table right away.... It's 2013, how we eat is always evolving."