Little Pleasures 

Missoula embraces the small-plate trend

When Missoula’s legendary chef Ray Risho first agreed to let his teenage son, Abraham, work in his restaurant, he gave his boy one condition: “I will teach you to cook if you promise me one thing—you won’t make a career out of this.” Much to the delight of several thousand fans of his global approach to creating exquisite small plates, Abraham didn’t hold up his end of the bargain.

His restaurant, The Silk Road, (co-owned with his brother Sam Risho and sister-in-law Elise Winston-Risho) has been offering adventures in small-plate dining for more than four years, and several other Missoula restaurants have also recently joined the trend.

click to enlarge Beef Medallions, Top Hat Lounge - CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • Beef Medallions, Top Hat Lounge
“Ray calls it ‘gastronomical diplomacy,’” says Sam about the popular Missoula restaurant’s constantly changing dishes that reflect cuisine from all over the world. Their current menu incorporates flavors from France, Japan, Egypt, Austria, and even features a killer crab dip from the U.S. Northeast. They also sell a line of spices they’ve developed over the years, culling flavors from all around the world.

“You get a huge variety of stuff without getting full,” said one Silk Road diner on a recent busy Friday night.

“It’s like going to a wine tasting, only with food,” added his companion, spearing a fried ravioli stuffed with lemony ricotta and goat cheese.

The Latin version of small-plate dining, tapas, is enjoying some major success at Missoula’s Top Hat Lounge. Erin Crobar, the Top Hat’s chef and epicurean mastermind, has been drawing a packed house every weekend with his traditional, Spanish-based tapas menu ever since the longtime Missoula landmark reopened last spring, fully remodeled and ready to rock.

“We’ve developed more than a hundred dishes in seven months,” he says. The venue’s opening menu, which he spent several months researching and creating in test kitchens, listed 32 dishes. He has since rotated the entire menu twice.

Crobar, like the other Missoula chefs who specialize in small plates, draws his ingredients from local sources as much as possible. But for his traditional tapas recipes, he keeps it authentic, using serranos, olive oil and chorizos from Spain. He develops all the dishes on his own, giving everything a bit of a twist that reflects his background in French and Pacific Rim cuisine.

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