Who remembers "those tiny little tea leaves in Tetley Tea!"? It was the terrific taste of "Tiny is tastier." I have one of those elephant memories. I can also sing the Peak Freans song, but it sounds better at a party.
Of course tiny is not always tastier, but lately that old jingle has proved true. In NYC I went to a lot of tiny restaurants, in one I outstretched my hands and it measured no more than a few inches from my fingertips. (I'm 5'5"!) Sometimes small can be the selection on a menu, sometimes it can be spoon sized bites, often it's an item meant to be one bite, un-shareable and can make your eating partner jealous because they got something else. An "amuse" is meant to be little-- a taster to start your mouth off for the great adventure that's to come. Canapes at a catered function are purposefully meant to be no more than two bites as you are usually holding a glass in the other hand, don't want to smear your lipstick and want to look graceful when flirting with the boss's husband.
Oysters are considered one swallow. When drinking a shot we are trained to open up our throat and let all the liquid enter swiftly. And the cherry's stone makes it hard to have more than one in our mouth at a time. Somehow with the small things we savor them differently. They spend more time with our tongue. Eency weency food intrigues, delights, puzzles.
A tiny restaurant inspires the young cook. "I could do this," the sentence is emitted as the eyes glaze and look at nothing in particular on the horizon. Restaurants with few seats are owned by humans, people who might have a life one day, big houses are places that might hire us, but small ones are places we might one day open and own.
I was nicely surprised to eat at more than one eatery in NYC that had fewer than 20 seats, my favorite having no more than 40. One of the reasons why I love Portland (Oregon) so much is that the city feels friendly, welcoming and encouraging to small business owners. Every neighborhood has more than one off-the-wall specialty store, cute restaurant, or bakery making the person exploring feel that they have always discovered something. It is a giddy feeling like finding a toy in the sandbox.
NYC eateries worth making a trip for include Lassi on Greenwich avenue just up the block from 6th ave. A long elegant hallway of a space with chalkboards for lassi flavours and daily specials, Lassi is a prettily decorated space with culinary details, like jars of put-up lemons and limes. You may take your food to go or sit at stools along a dark wooden counter. The owner is Heather Carlucci Rodriguez and although I've not met her I like her; she's a pastry chef too.
Another is Chikalicious, a dessert restaurant on east 10th street right off second ave. It seats 19, is open from 3pm- 10:30 pm (or until they sell out), and is closed Monday and Tuesday. In a one month span I came here 3 times and would go once a week if I lived in NY. In fact I met an NYU student who, in 4 months had been there 9 times, always bringing new people and increasing her friend population tenfold. I will be writing a more extensive review down the road, but mentioning it twice won't make it any less outrageously delicious and profoundly inspiring.
Another restaurant I plan to review is Prune, first street between 1st and 2nd avenues. If Lassi is a penny and Chikalicious is a nickle then Prune is a quarter. The bar seats 4-5 people and it's a good idea to be interested in the conversation of those around you. It's lively, Parisian-feeling, unpretentious and the food has the Zing of a Jazz band of old cats with great suits. In 10 days I had two meals here that were fabulous to the point of wanting to cry, the food was so good. Plates and bowls stayed on the table with no more than a few bites because we were all afraid to make them disappear. The chef is a real person with a sense of humour and some of the staff has been with her since day one.
And lastly, my current favorite small bite can be purchased at The SF Ferry Plaza Farmer's market on Saturdays from Happy Quail Farms. All you have to do is shell out $6, heat up a cast iron pan til it's real hot, splash some extra virgin olive oil in there and throw these tiny green babies in. Saute until scorched on a few sides, toss with good salt, eat. I'm talking about PIMIENTOS de PADRON. Today I bought a bag even though I had one in the fridge, because I was nervous to have only one. In about 4 minutes I can eat them all. Sometimes I share. Sometimes.