Chef advice: How to get the most out of small plates dining

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave
Caramelized Halloumi at The Crest

Columbus is familiar with menus dedicated to shared-plate dining, in which diners are encouraged to ditch the one-entree-per-person approach and instead order multiple dishes and pass them around. But three restaurants have recently made strong commitments to this communal approach.

Two-thirds of the menu at Cameron Mitchell's Short North hotspot The Guild House is composed of dishes meant to share. The chefs behind The Crest in Clintonville have swapped the traditional app-entree format for a dozen small plates, alongside a few main dishes. And with new chef Silas Caeton at the helm of storied Rigsby's Kitchen in the Short North, there are promises of a menu shakeup with more dishes meant to be enjoyed by groups.

Whether you're a skeptic, newbie or seasoned pro to the small-plates concept, the chefs at these restaurants offer advice on how to get the most out of the experience.

1. Mix and match. "I like to get a mix of flavors and an array of different styles," Rough says. That applies to cuisine styles, preparation and hot-or-cold dishes. For example, at The Guild House, Rough will start at the top of the menu with something raw, like Tuna Ribbons with chili oil and yuzu dressing, then add the Carrot Salad. "The tuna has a little spice to it," he says. "The carrots have some citrus, so it'll offer contrasting flavor." On his second round, he'll work in richer dishes, like pork cheeks with tomato gravy, and look for different proteins.

2. Relax and order in waves. Rough will kick off a meal by ordering one or two dishes. When he's halfway through the course, he'll order a few more, making sure a copy of the menu is handy. "Keeping the menu at the table is key because, as you are eating, you might start craving something different," he says.

3. Ask your server. "When I go to a small-plate restaurant, that's what I do," says Caeton, who joins Rigsby's after two years with small-plates-centric Veritas Tavern in Delaware. Take one of the server's recommendations, and then order something else that piqued your interest. "Get their input-they know what's good. But at the same point, don't totally rely on them because their tastes may not be the same as yours."

4. Enjoy your company. "We want to create that interactive style of eating where you don't have 'your dish,' but instead are sharing with the table and you get to try different things," says Crest co-chef Justin Wotring. Feeling comfortable passing plates around the table will help create a better experience.

5. Dining with the small-plate-phobic? Take charge. "The way I've approached that in the past is I let them order, and then I order a couple of things for the table," Rough says. "I might order an extra entree or an extra small plate, and that's my contribution. I'll say, 'Give this a try,' or 'Give this a taste.' I'm not trying to change their ways or who they are, just open their eyes to style." If they still don't want to share? Order a few small plates for yourself, Rough says.

6. Be adventurous. "I guess that's the joy of small plates," Caeton says. "If you order something and it doesn't suit you, there are going to be other dishes you might love." If you see something you don't recognize (and odds are, on the new Rigsby's menu due out in June, there will be some unfamiliar fare), order it, he adds. "What's the worst that's going to happen? One-third of your meal one night of your life might not be as good as you want it to be?"

7. Don't expect leftovers. These are called small plates, after all. "We're not trying to give people huge portions they can take home," says Crest co-chef Julian Menaged. "We want diners to eat here, enjoy here and then come back.",,