SYRACUSE Theres a neat new restaurant in downtown Syracuse.
Small Plates Detroit opened around Labor Day in the Armory Square district. The tapas-style restaurant originated in Detroit and is in expansion mode to major cities around the country. Syracuse is the first.
An area that a few decades ago consisted of shuttered factories and warehouses, Armory Square is a thriving neighborhood with interesting shops and eclectic restaurants. The space occupied by Small Plates is huge and a bit industrial-looking brick walls, original plank flooring, exposed heating ducts overhead which also made it seem a little impersonal.
The small plates concept allows you to experience a variety of cuisine and flavors.
The dishes are designed for sharing, so everyone can sample and enjoy a number of the menu offerings.
There are about three dozen choices, priced from $4 to $17 with choices like roasted-tomato bisque, fried green tomatoes, mushroom and tomato bruschetta, veggie spring rolls, calamari peppernata, mac and four-cheese gratin, barbecue pork sliders and chicken tostadas, all priced $10 or less.
Items made with more-expensive ingredients are priced over $10: pan-seared sea scallops, braised barbecue ribs, honey-glazed grilled salmon and blackened lamb chops.
Small Plates also offers Detroit-style four-corner pizza, a deep-dish pizza with a caramelized cheese crust, available in white, Mediterranean, barbecue chicken, sausage or shrimp and garlic. Salads, too: deconstructed Caesar, caprese, Pan Asian and their version of a chefs salad called Small Plates Maurice.
Here are the plates we shared among three of us and our thoughts.
■ Signature hand-cut fries ($4) with ketchup and chipotle aioli: We ordered these because our server said these fries were the best. They were good but not the best. They were nicely presented in an attractive pewter mug, but were way over-salted. They did have a nice crispness to them, which is not always the case with hand-cut fries.
■ Shrimp and garlic pizza ($11): This sure looked good when it hit the table, a square deep-dish pizza with a thick layer of gooey mozzarella topped with a good amount of small shrimp, cut into four pieces. The crust was a little too thick and doughy. The garlic was a little too prominent, probably powdered or granular, and detracted from the flavor of the shrimp.
While the pizza may not have been our favorite, we all agreed it would be a great choice if we were sitting at the stylish stainless steel-topped bar, watching a game on one of the TVs and throwing back a few pints of draft beer. There are 10 craft beers on tap and nearly 20 craft and standard beers by the bottle.
■ Lotus flower tuna ($13): A great presentation consisting of slices of sesame-crusted tuna over a mango and jalapeno salad, wasabi aioli and avocado, all stacked on top of a fried wonton with a soy reduction underneath. Without our being asked, the tuna arrived rare, exactly the way we expected it to be.
The wasabi aioli wasnt too spicy hot (as wasabi can sometimes be). The avocado and soy were nice touches that fit the dish, but the jalapeno wasnt really necessary and didnt add anything.
■ Chicken tostadas ($9): We liked this one, too. Pulled chicken, pepper jack cheese, mango and jalapeno salsa and Key lime sour cream on a fried tortilla made for tasty little treats. In this case, the jalapeno added an extra layer of flavor to the dish.
The sour cream provided a cooling contrast between the heat and smokiness of the chicken and the jalapeno.
■ Pretzel sliders ($10): This one was our favorite. Juicy and tender shaved Angus beef, caramelized onions, white cheddar cheese, smoky bacon and a smidge of chipotle aioli came on miniature pretzel rolls.
The slider roll appeared to be homemade. While pretzel led us to believe it would be a hard, salty roll, it wasnt at all. It was soft yet firm and worked perfectly with the ingredients in between.
■ Skillet peach cobbler ($6): This was a neat presentation, served in a little 5-inch skillet right from the oven. The cake was really, really sweet and maybe took away from the sweetness of the peaches. The vanilla ice cream was good, though. The skillet lended itself to sharing.
The entire menu fits on one side of an 8½ by 14-inch sheet of heavy paper. The other side is dedicated to wine, beer and craft cocktails.
We tried several glasses of wine from the Interesting Reds category.
■ Kaiken Corte Malbec, Argentina ($9): A red blend of malbec, bonarda and petit verdot. Full-bodied and full of big red flavor.
■ Smashberry Meritage, Central Coast, California ($9): I think we got this because it was fun to say Smashberry. It being a lighter red, we ordered it early on to go with the pizza and the tuna. It was just a little too light and fruity for our liking.
■ Juan Gil Monastrell, Jumilla, Spain ($9): We asked our server for something big, bold and red. This was his recommendation.
There are many wines coming from Spain these days that are very good and a very good value. This one we all loved dark, full-bodied with just a hint of chocolate on the finish.
All in all, the service was good with a couple of bumps in the road.
We waited a little too long for someone to some pour water for us, even though there was only one other table of diners when we arrived. (The restaurant, by the way, looks like it could seat close to 200 people.)
The wait staff is pretty well versed in the history of the restaurant and where it is headed. Our main waiter (a second one jumped in halfway through) was very helpful with the food descriptions and wine pairing. His recommendation of the Monastrell with the pretzel sliders was spot on. He had a casual yet informative, professional demeanor.
The other guy pretty much said what we wanted to hear, case in point being the peach cobbler dessert. We asked if the peaches were fresh; he said they were. But its pretty tough to find a fresh peach in upstate New York this time of year, so we were pretty sure the peaches were individually quick frozen. Nothing wrong with that, just tell us that.
He also tried to take our menus from us, even though the first server urged us to hang on to them so we could continue to order as we wished.
We did feel that our plates should have been replaced each time a new item came from the kitchen, but we found ourselves asking for clean plates more than once.
Our party of three was perfectly satisfied with the amount of food we ordered and shared. The bill for the food came to $57.24 before tip. The bill for the wine was the same amount, within a few dollars.
If Small Plates Detroit was closer to home, I think wed stop by and visit regularly, just for the sheer variety of tastes. Its got a real urban feel, the food is adventurous, the wine is interesting, the bar is inviting. A great destination if youre headed to Destiny USA and need a break from the mall mayhem.
Anyone flying from Massena or Ogdensburg on Cape Air will arrive at Albany International Airport.
Its a relatively small airport with limited food choices. I fly there occasionally and always stop at Villa Fresh Italian Kitchen. Its a small chain restaurant that turns out some really tasty food.
Their thin crust pizza is my favorite, but the deep-dish and stuffed pizzas always look great, too. They also serve ziti, calzones, mac and cheese and some good-looking salads. Service is quick and friendly.
For those in St. Lawrence County who cant get their Starbucks fix, theres a Starbucks just opposite the Italian Kitchen in the airport.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: email@example.com.
Small Plates Detroit
116 Walton St.
A new casual restaurant in downtown Syracuse serving tapas-style food
HOURS: 11:30 a.m. to 12 a.m. Monday through Thursday
11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
OUR PICKS: Lotus flower tuna, chicken tostadas, pretzel sliders.
If youre into bold red wine, try the Juan Gil Monastrell from Spain.