Episode Six of Dine and Dish has taken the theme of small plates. To satisfy this theme I chose to eat at the Flying Fig. I'd also heard that they had recently added small plates to their menu and that had already put them back on my to-eat list. It's a long list so it wasn't until Dine and Dish that I finally got around to it. (Yes, there's actually a list.)
Welcome to the Flying Fig:
Despite the amatuer photography, it's a charming and attractive restaurant in a fabulous food neighborhood. It's just across from Cleveland's amazing West Side Market. It's in the Ohio City neighborhood which is home to great Lebanese, Puerto Rican, Greek and soon Vietnamese restaurants in addition to Cleveland's local champion of sustainable agriculture, Parker's. Flying Fig is right at home here. It's a good, local restaurant that emphasizes fresh, simple cooking.
Gnocci and scallop:
Tapas, as you are no doubt now aware, are a centuries old Spanish tradition. Their origin lies in a law designed to control the drunken behavior of carriage drivers. Tapas were required so that they wouldn't drink on a full stomach. Bar keepers served light snacks on small plates that their patrons would carry around on top of their drinks. Hence tapas from the Spanish for top(1). Or they were used to keep flies out of your wine(2). I guess no one really knows. In any case, their original purpose may be long forgotten but in their modern incarnation they're a carefully evolved solution to the problem of what hat your wine needs to wear.
Fast forward several hundred years and tapas are one of the latest answers to the never-satisfied modern search for What's Next? Instead of a carefully evolved repetoire of items whose tastes are well suited to small portions you have chefs serving their own ideas just like before - only smaller. (Wikipedia:"They are often very strongly flavored with garlic, chillis or paprika, and sometimes swimming in olive oil." Sounds like something well suited to being enjoyed in small portions, no?) Instead of a munching on a snack while socializing with friends and throwing back some booze, diners are stacking up plates to make room and racing from dish to dish before they get cold.
Tapas, like mezze, izakaya snacks and dim sum are all delicious but each one has evolved inside of its own traditional service and when they're served some other way they're not likely to be enjoyed as much. Of course, Flying Fig has a bar so it's my fault for sitting in the dining room and eating six small plates while nursing a coke with my nonagenarian grandmother and her lonely big plate of cod. It's my fault but I don't think I'm the only one and I imagine there may be people wondering exactly why they aren't having fun like the lithe Andalucian model shown on the cover of Gourmet magazine holding a plate of olives perched on a wine glass. I've left Lolita on several occasions with a similar feeling but it's only after this recent meal that I think I've identified the problem. Restaurants, many at least, are struggling to adapt snack cuisines to the dining room and unfamiliar diners are confused.
I've only had small plates type meals a couple times and there are only a few restaurants that offer it in Cleveland so I'm speculating wildly. I welcome your correction or corroboration in the comments. Tapas and izakaya are certainly drinking snacks; however, what are the traditions that surround mezze?
Beef Carpacio and Braised lamb:
None of these dishes share any connection to any nation's traditional small plate cuisine that I'm aware. This isn't to say that they weren't very good. The short rib, for instance, was delicious.
Braised short rib and Fried tofu:
Next time I go, or when I try the small plates at Firefly, I'll get a couple small plates instead of an appetizer and then I'll order a regular entree. The short ribs are a regular entree at Flying Fig and I highly recommend that you go there and try them.
Molten chocolate cake: