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61 of 64 people found the following review helpful
`Big Small Plates' by northern California restauranteur / chef / cookbook writer, Cindy Pawlcyn, assisted by her restaurant co-owners and co-chefs, brothers Pablo Jacinto and Erasto Jacinto needs just a little explanation on its title and contents. The contradiction in the `Big Small' is explained by substituting `seriously delicious' for `Big' and `appetizers' or `hors `d'ourves' for `Small'. `Plates' obviously doesn't mean crockery, it meats a dish of food.

On reading the introduction, I was looking forward to a book on the Mexican analogues to the Mediterranean `little dishes' or tapas from Spain, `hors'd'ourves' and `amuse bouche' from France, anti-pasto from Italy, and Meze from Greece and Turkey. It turns out that over half of the dishes in this book are from this very same Mediterranean `appetizer central', augmented by a number of dishes from south Asia (India), southeast Asia, (Thailand and Vietnam), and east Asia (China and Japan). When the dust settles, the Mexican dishes are in a distinct minority.

This does not mean this is a weak book! It only means that if your bookshelves are already creaking under the weight of cookbooks from the Mediterranean and the Pacific rim, there may be less new material here than you may expect. On balance, I suggest that no matter how many Italian, French, Spanish, Indian, Thai, Chinese, and Japanese cookbooks you already have, if you do not have a `go to' book on appetizers, this volume may be your answer.

Another thing is that this is definitely a foodie book. There is not even the pretense of `fast' or `easy' or `cheap' cooking here. Since these are `starters', few of the dishes are difficult, but virtually all of them, except for some of the desserts, require some definitely serious culinary skills with techniques such as grilling, deep-frying and dough making. A second symptom that this is a foodie book is the number of unusual ingredients called for in many of the recipes. Over half of the recipes will require a trip to the Latin American, East Indian, or Chinese grocery store or a very well stocked megamart. Most of these unusual ingredients such as lemongrass are becoming more familiar, but others such as Kaffir Lime leaves are still very hard to find. I was just a bit disappointed with the list of sources, as almost all of them are in or around Napa Valley. Of course, all do Internet or Mail Order business, but still, the author could have been just a bit less Napa-centric.

Very important is the fact that this book has that ephemeral quality so eloquently described in `Cook What You Love' by Bob and Melinda Blanchard. The authors are totally in love with what they are doing, and they succeed in passing that enthusiasm on to the reader. That means the book is simply fun to read, which makes it that much more fun to look for interesting recipes.

Since the book is all about appetizer recipes, the organization is a bit unusual, dividing the dishes up into the means by which these little bites would be eaten. The chapter headings are:

Chapter 1. Sticks, Picks, and with Fingers (obvious enough)

Chapter 2. Dressed, Not Naked (Salads and dressings)

Chapter 3. Bowls and Spoons (Soups, nicht wahr)

Chapter 4. On a Raft (Crostini, Bruschetta, Biscuits, and other bready platforms)

Chapter 5. Knife and Fork (or things needing end-user cutting)

Chapter 6. Something Sweet (largely `assembled' quick desserts).

The book has one of my favorite features for a 200-recipe book. That is, it's table of contents gives all the titles of all the recipes right up there in the beginning of the book. That, combined with the organization, makes a perfect way of picking three dishes with the right combination of eating techniques.

One does need to know, however, that hidden among these `main' recipes are quite a few supplementary recipes for things such as aioli, tartar sauce, and miscellaneous other condiments. A separate chapter for these is the usual way to go, but that can be annoying too. Good compromise may have been a supplementary listing of supporting recipes.

This book also has the distinction of being the very first one I have found which uses corn mold as a recipe ingredient. I became aware of this while watching the very first `Iron Chef America' match between Bobby Flay and Rick Bayless, when Bayless pulled it out of his wrapping of day-old `Chicago Tribune' pages. The authors say one can find this stuff in Mexican groceries. I leave it to you, fair reader, to try this one out and report back!

As `restaurant books' go, this one is superior to most as both a good read and a good source of very well-written recipes for entertaining, although you will not, as in a Thomas Keller book, be treated to a lot of teaching on new techniques. Rather, it will be up to you to know your way around the kitchen and a well-stocked pantry.

Highly Recommended.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2007
Cindy Pawlcyn and her colaberators have done it again. Their latest book is a gem. The recipes are approachable by all and share ingrediants you can find easily even if you don't live in produce rich Napa California. The flavors are as luxurious as Laurie Smiths photos.Cindy and team always manage to pull you in to the culture, the feeling and the way of life that the cooking conveys. Many authors publish books of their recipes but this book takes you on the journey and doesn't dissapoint. The food is great, the recipes are rock solid and you can't go wrong with this one. If you love "Mustard's" or if you were a fan of Miramonte you will love it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2008
I was tired of buying "pretty" cookbooks just to find out that the recipes were only average. So I checked this book out at the library and tried it out. The recipes are wonderful. Every single thing I have cooked has been outstanding...way above average. And I am by no means a good cook. Cindy's Back Street kitchen is one of my favorite restaraunts and I am always happy to bring some of their dishes into my home. My mom even went out and bought the recipe book after tasting a few of the meals I made. You won't be disappointed if you buy this book. (Also, it is a beautiful book!)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2007
A friend, who is a fabulous cook, recommended this book to me. I bought one for myself and one for my daughter. We both have been extremely happy with the recipes. I find that eventhouugh it is tltled "Small Plates" these recipes serve well as dinner entrees. Last night I went to my friends for dinner(the one who recommended the book),she fixed the Lamb Chops and Shrimp Cocktail with avocado. They were absolutely declicous. I would highly recommend this book.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2007
I am the executive chef for a catering company, and the trend for our menus is to have both fusion food and small plates. This book was great on both counts. It was great just for getting me thinking about our food in new ways.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 16, 2009
The book offers some nice ideas, though some recipes require locating a few items difficult to find in my small town.
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on May 15, 2012
What's not to love about this book? I'm a fan of Cindy's Napa restaurants and have made at least 10 recipes from this book in just two months and every one has been a winner! Her recipes are just complex enough to make you look like a star in the kitchen without actually working that hard, and some are easy enough to do for weeknight dinners. Most of the ingredients she uses are easily accessible, at least in California, and are bold or surprising enough to make the dish really stand out. This book is truly about an experience of food, from gathering fresh ingredients, to working with bringing the flavors together, and sharing them with friends and family. Love this book!
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on January 16, 2014
This book doesn't just give recipes and great pictures, it gave me insight into Cindy, what she's going for, and how a non-professional can cook to impress w/o making yourself crazy. I haven't tried many, but liked what I did. She gives a lot of substitution suggestions in case you either don't have access to some of the less known/available ingredients so you don't feel like you wasted your money. For me, it was well worth the money. Actually met Cindy last year and she is just as sweet, helpful and caring as she seems on TV.
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on November 29, 2014
A great addition to my small meals collection of cookbooks. Love it!
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on March 26, 2015
Love the Cafe & Book
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