This post originally appeared in the July 29, 2019 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
I lived above a Sichuan restaurant for eight years, and I came to notice three consistencies about it: a C health rating, a full dining room, and the most juicy, meaty, steamy, amazing soup dumplings. The soup dumplings were, without a doubt, the thing to get to kick off an awesome meal. Their baskets dotted every table, and locals and tourists alike laughed when hot broth shot out as they bit down or struggled as the fresh dough, slicked with condensation from their inner steam, slipped off their chopsticks.
The dumplings represented the thing I love most about dining out with others, not just at that restaurant but generally: enjoying the moments when you’re sitting down with friends or family for the specific reason to enjoy something special and delicious; the precious time spent face to face, not distracted by a phone or yelling a conversation down a hallway in between chores. The soup dumpling, as an appetizer — a precourse, an introduction — was built for moments like this, which is why it broke my heart each and every time a partner of mine would order this specific appetizer as his dinner, negating not just the functional but the spiritual purpose of the appetizer. The move is: Respect the appetizer section.
I love appetizers. Practically speaking, ordering an appetizer (or five) is a great way to try a variety of items on a menu, and they extend the dining experience beyond just the one-and-done ordering of a main dish. (I also totally acknowledge that people with smaller appetites might prefer the usually smaller portion size, and if that’s the case, I respect your truth.) But as part of a group-dining experience, appetizers kick off the communal aspect of your dinner. When you’re thinking about what appetizers to order for the table, you’re being conscious of everyone’s preferences and what dishes will enhance your shared experience. It’s a delightful game of strategy and consideration for others. You and your tablemates can fork, dip, hand out, spoon, or grab bites out of the same dish together. When the appetizer is ordered, the tone has been set: You’re there to enjoy each other’s time and company.
Whenever someone orders an appetizer as a main course, my annoyance isn’t just about not getting to consume that dish, nor is it that the item is taken off the playing field of items we might share. Ordering an app as an entree says to me, “I don’t care about our experience here together.”
Appreciate the appetizer, people! Life is short! Cherish the nourishing, celebratory moments with the people around your table by ordering a lot of them — as intended, as something to whet the appetite. If you’re not going to share the very best thing on the menu, the thing that was made to be shared, and if you’re not going to understand the grand significance of this small moment, your dining companions might decide to share their meals — with several built-on starter courses — with someone else.
P.S.: Speaking of appetizers, the trendiest one available in NYC right now would be difficult to order as a whole meal: fancy French onion dip.