Family-style eating means pass the platters and dig in

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      There’s boisterous chatter and the bustle of movement around tables in restaurants throughout the city as family-style eating becomes increasingly common. This way of dining is characterized by reasonably priced plates of food that are large enough to accommodate the appetites of crowds of family and friends.

      Chinese restaurants have been the initiation for many to this happy type of sharing. At Lok’s Chinese Restaurant (2436 West 41st Avenue), big groups—made up of parents, uncles, grannies, and booster-seated tots—face each other as they use chopsticks to reach for the many dishes on the lazy Susan.

      Owner Irene Lok sums up the Chinese way of eating: “It’s a warm family dinner all together. It’s like being at home.” She sits amid hanging red lanterns and beckoning lucky cat figurines, and chats about the benefits of family-style eating versus individually plated meals: “Because you don’t want the meal to be so boring with only one plate. This way, everybody can taste a little bit of each dish.”

      Lok relishes the variety of delicacies that can be had in a Chinese feast. She recommends ordering a soup and roughly eight dishes for a group of 10 people. Her picks include stir-fried gingery lobster atop sticky rice with corn niblets and Chinese mushrooms ($26.80 per pound of lobster) and Peking duck done two ways ($29.80), one dish consisting of crispy skin for wrapping in flour pancakes, the other being lettuce wraps with minced duck meat, Chinese mushrooms, and bamboo shoots. And of course, she adds, braised yee mein with oyster sauce ($9.50), and seafood fried rice ($14.80) to finish.

      George Siu, co-owner of Memphis Blues Barbeque House (various locations), was inspired by his own Chinese family dinners as well as barbecue culture when designing platters. “We did go through a phase when people found it a bit odd. The western food culture isn’t built on sharing,” he explains during a phone interview. It didn’t take long, though, for diners to catch on to the collective meat orgy in a big way.

      The platters begin with the Memphis Feast ($39.95), which feeds about four people and includes ribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, farmer’s sausage, half a chicken, and rib ends, as well as coleslaw, potato salad, baked beans, corn bread, fries, and plenty of barbecue sauce. The group meals then get exponentially larger with the Elvis platter ($69.95) for five to six people (an upsized version of the Memphis Feast) and the Priscilla platter ($135.95) for 10 to 12 people, which adds buttery shrimp and deep-fried, cornmeal-coated oysters and catfish to the insane amount of food. The plated result isn’t pretty, but for those with a big appetite, it’s as close to a Picasso as food can get.

      Another culture that sees food (and lots of it) as the star of any gathering can be experienced at Kerkis Greek Taverna (3605 West 4th Avenue). By phone, owner Julia Bonofas describes family-style eating as quintessentially Greek: “It’s a traditional thing. They have platters and eat. That’s a Greek thing.”

      Groups of two or three can imagine being warmed by a Mediterranean breeze (or is that the ouzo?) as they sup on the Kerkis platter ($48.99), featuring chicken souvlaki, roast lamb shoulder, calamari, dolmades, deep-fried and breaded aginares (artichokes), Greek salad, rice, roast potatoes, and tzatziki. Also popular are the Samos platter ($52.99), which comes loaded with items like charbroiled lamb chops, beef souvlaki, keftedes (ground-beef patties), moussaka, and spanakopita; and the Pythagoras seafood platter ($52.99), which includes calamari, baked scallops and prawns, and lemony salmon and halibut.

      Without a lazy Susan, this bounty of food can sometimes get unwieldy, but judging by the animated faces of diners digging in together at Campagnolo (1020 Main Street), the passing around, commenting, and taking of helpings are part of the experience. “There’s a lot more talking points, as opposed to, ”˜I get my plate of food and you get yours,’ ” says Alvin Pillay, chef de cuisine, during a phone conversation.

      The Italian spot’s sharing option is open to groups of two or more for $30 to $50 a head, depending on your budget. There’s no need to preorder; just show up with your appetite. For $50 a person, a group of four would start with four antipasto dishes, such as deep-fried chickpeas tossed with spinach and arugula. They’d then have a platter of house-made salumi such as sopressata, a spicy Italian salami, before moving on to two pizzas, such as a salsiccia one with fennel pork sausage, chilies, and Parmigiano Reggiano.

      Next would be tagliarini (a flat egg noodle) with pork ragí¹, wild venison and fontina cheese lasagna, and porcini mushroom and thyme risotto. And yes, brace yourself for more: there’s flatiron steak with pan-fried cauliflower; braised pork belly, roast loin, and ribs with pan-fried Brussels sprouts and squash purée; and lingcod with roasted parsnips.

      End with Nutella tart, blood orange panna cotta, and pineapple upside-down cake and you may swoon after such a meal, but at least you’ll have family and friends around you to share in the satisfied groaning.

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