Large Successes

Tapas of distinction at Small Plates restaurant and wine bar

Scallops atop black sticky rice; behind, beef satay and baby greens

One tapa might suffice at lunch, perhaps partnered by a glass of Di Lenardo Pinot Grigio ’06 ($7) and consumed outdoors on the terrace on a soft afternoon. Consider choosing the New Bedford seared scallops surmounting a plop of black “sticky rice,” with caperberries ($11). The sweetness of the scallops, the nutty flavor of the rice, and the briney crunch of the multitudinous caperberry seeds combine in a culinary medley of tastes and textures that is astonishingly good. This dish is a fair advertisement for what Small Plates means to achieve with all its tapas, each a little symphony of carefully considered orchestration.

At an explorational dinner, two or three tapas may be required per person, so that a table of four might have 10 or 12 plates brought from the kitchen and set before them. The usual drill is to share. Beware. A feeding frenzy may ensue in which everyone forks a piece of every plate competitively, lest it be speared by another feeder—they are small plates, remember—and pushes food down the mouth at speed. This is unseemly and leads to complete confusion of the tastebuds. One must choose one’s dinner companions cautiously. None must ever have lived in a boarding house.

Proceed gracefully and one will savor 10 or 12 discrete delights. Among those enjoyed on a recent outing were baby greens with eggplant, a slice of roast pear, and a masterly pear vinaigrette ($6); a delicious mess of mushrooms (mostly oyster, with shiitake and others) in basil oil, with hits of poached garlic ($8); thin-sliced summer squash posing as fettuccine, with a thick tomato romesco sauce ($8), served warm, not hot; beef satay with peanut sauce and a few enlivening bites of bright yellow, apple-and-saffron chutney ($8), which could have been rarer for some carnivores at the table (tell the waitress what’s hoped for); spicy grilled prawns and a roast jalapeño pepper, their fires cooled by smoked corn ($11); and a petit filet mignon with a merlot demi-glace, served with a mash of root vegetables ($11) and agreeably accompanied for one participant by a glass of Luigi Bosca Malbec ’05 ($7). The steak can be had in tapa size or as an entrée ($22), as can sesame seared salmon ($11 or $20) and grilled lamb chops ($11 or $22).

Paella for two is on the menu as an entrée ($24), and Small Plates offers a cold and a warm platter for two “à partager” as starters ($12 each)—cold roast vegetables with chèvre, warm brie and port-soaked apricots, and so forth—to get guests in the mood for sharing.

For dessert ($7 each), how about ginger peach bread pudding, which three out of four of us thought fine, and one too bready; or the good almondy goo of a pear frangipane tart; or a crème caramel that was far, far above average?

Small Plates is off the street, down a passageway between buildings, in a space where Iruña satisfied for decades. The décor is simple: pale yellow walls accented by bold red and gray stripes, big mirrors, plain wood floors. The staff is friendly. And—a huge blessing—the acoustics are such that one can carry on a conversation, perhaps about the crawfish étouffée in puff pastry ($11) that one means to try next time.

Small Plates

56 JFK Street, Cambridge


Sunday-Monday, dinner only, 5-10 p.m.

Tuesday-Saturday, lunch and dinner, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Terrace dining

Read more articles by: Christopher Reed

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