April 21, 2017
“Have you ever dined with us before?” It’s the newest catchphrase in dining out. When the waiter asks, be prepared for suggestions on how to eat your meal. It means it won’t be coming out in an appetizer- entrée-dessert format, and it won’t be just your meal.
With Miami’s obsession for small plates, shared food, and family-style “communal” tables, traditionalists—for whom meals consist of three courses—are faced with lobbying for their favorite foods, having meals decided by consensus, and occasionally dining with strangers. But will Miami foodies tolerate someone else’s fork in their food or the invasion of their personal space?
Don’t ever assume you have permission to dip a spoon into my hot-fudge-drenched profiterole or that I will tolerate your fork harpooning my herb-crusted halibut. In the interest of full disclosure, fried chicken makes me weep with joy, but it cannot be served with guests because I hijack the wings and my plate looks like a graveyard.
So sharing just isn’t my thing, and neither is dining with strangers. The vivacious Julie Milroy, Miami territory manager at Southern Wine and Spirits, entertains constantly for business and says, “Communal tables work better after a few drinks,” adding that “Miamians are guarded and not particularly responsive to strangers.” James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz experimented with a family-style table at The Raleigh, which he then discontinued. “It’s one thing for people to know they’re dining that way—Harry’s Pizzeria has ticketed family-style evenings with a guest chef—but to get stuck at a communal table when you’re not prepared doesn’t work,” he notes. Pubbelly Restaurant Group’s founding partner and managing director, the charming Andreas Schreiner, feels that “Miamians don’t like to commingle,” though he has one center table at PB Steak and says it’s catching on. Sometimes when there’s a craving, I’ll take whatever seat I can get.
While family-style tables are not to everyone’s liking, small and shared plates are on the rise, offering a delicious taste of a little bit of everything. Curiously enough, this repast revolution seems to help tech-centrics temporarily disconnect and reconnect visually with each other; Schreiner says shared meals require “eye contact, a smile when reaching a mutual agreement, and a discussion about who gets the last bite.” That would be me! I guess the positive side of this is that with the explosion of eclectic restaurants and food themes, it just means we have to order that much more.
In the midst of it all, wait staff tend to download a lot of yada yada as part of the introductory rundown; if you don’t like the spiel, the adroit Milroy says, “just cut them off.” One thing is certain: All this double-dipping and mutual decision-making may require world-class diplomacy and etiquette advice for last-bite rights. After a day of Pilates and Crossfit, I just want to dig in and enjoy my spicy crunchy tuna roll!
ILLUSTRATION BY PAUL DICKINSON