Bigger Is Not Better? A Look at Small Plates, High Prices

Are small plates worth their double-digited dollars?

'Pac Man' Shrimp Dumplings from Red Farm in New York City

When the number of digits on your check total outnumbers the bites it took to finish your dish, and you are left with a dent in your wallet and a hunger pang in your stomach, your rage is warranted. Ever it has been the criticism of high-end, hoity-toity restaurants that the high price tag does not coincide with the meager portion. But this disparity is no longer reserved for fancy fare and has now spilled over into the rustic-casual dining found in self-touting farm-to-table restaurants, as well as those who don’t even put on any airs about locally sourced ingredients.

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The arguments in defense of high prices are layered and can be dished à la carte or sampled and compiled into a (convincing?) poo-platter. The claims in no particular order: Our ingredients are of stellar quality. We’re organic. That cheese on your burger is from the mom-and-pop farm down the road. We grow those veggies right on our sustainable rooftop. Do you know how many hours it took to marinate that meat? Your individually sculpted dessert art takes mastery and technique. Eat local.

With "local" comes curiously perplexing logic. While you would be right to reason that cutting out the middleman in this direct sourcing of ingredients would decrease cost, the price you, the eager eater, pays often increases. Chock up the menu mark-up to the restaurants’ labor of love and food freshness guarantee. But when it comes to taste, we know all too well, there are no satisfaction (or satiety) guarantees. Sorry, no refunds or exchanges.

So where does the buck stop? At what point do we decide whether our plates are worth our countless coins? Our slideshow of demure dishes at pretty pennies from restaurants throughout the U.S. will compel you to assess whether the cost outweighs the risk. Consume with caution or eat dangerously.

REBEats: All you need in life is good food and good company. Follow Rebecca Kritzer on the road of eats.