The Kitchen's Hugo Matheson thinks small...with a big list of starters

Categories: Cafe Society

The exquisite Gioia burrata at the Kitchen Denver.
Talk about coincidence: Long before this week's review of The Kitchen Denver came out, I began mulling over the reasons for the restaurant's starter-heavy menu. Economics? (People order more of them, driving up the bill.) Grandstanding? (A place to strut local, organic and seasonal ingredients.) Mission builders? (That whole "community through food" thing, since bar snacks buy time for folks to sip, chat and make friends.)

See also:
- The Kitchen's Hugo Matheson on escapism, a contrary vegan and fair wages
- Attention to detail would safeguard the Kitchen's brand in Denver
- Behind the scenes at The Kitchen Denver (slide show)
- New Cafe critic Gretchen Kurtz dishes up a few words on her philosophy

So my curiosity was piqued when Pete Wells, restaurant critic for the New York Times, sparked a debate around the same time with "The Big Problem with Small Plates". In it, he laments the fact that small plates are A) unappetizing after they've been split four ways and B) sources of frustration because the last bite you really want is already in your friend's tummy. Small plates, the argument goes, are simply too small to share.

With all this jostling around in my brain, I went straight to the source: Hugo Matheson, chef/co-founder of the Kitchen. A soft-spoken, thoughtful man, he kindly took my call after preparing breakfast for his boys on a day off from school.

"Being able to eat without having to commit or feel guilty for spending sixty dollars on a full meal, that's the reason behind the starters," he said. Besides, he added, "you can have fun with them as a chef and a customer."

Some might interpret that through a cynical lens, seeing the starters as a moneymaker and little else. I can be a cynic myself, but in this case -- knowing what I know about the delicious and amply-portioned peach bruschetta, mussels and merguez -- I'm prone to take Matheson at his word.

Are you?

Location Info

The Kitchen

1530 16th St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

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Denver Dave
Denver Dave topcommenter

Well, because I used to work in the restaurant/catering biz I cast a pretty cynical eye on the small plate phenom.  I'm pretty good at estimating food cost and what I am seeing in most (especially higher end) places is that appetizer (small plate) portions have remained small indeed while their prices have crept up to pretty close to entree prices.  Your better value is to share entree sized portion especially if you are sharing with more than one other person.

Mantonat topcommenter

I've never understood the logic behind the idea that small plates are great for sharing. If a small plate is good for sharing, a big plate is even better for sharing. Places like Root Down, Linger, and (the M.I.A.) Argyll have (had) great small plates, but sharing with more than one person is basically impossible for the reasons you quote from Wells. Sharing is fine if it's a bowl of olives or spreads or dips (or dim sum), but when it's a 2oz portion of Moroccan lamb belly with a couple of flavor-packed accouterments, get your own.


It's basic economics: a restaurant can make more money selling a half-sized portion at two-thirds the price. Despite this, I enjoy small plates if it's just me or if I'm with just one other person because I can taste a variety without feeling screwed. 

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