Ikea represents more than a big box retailer at the edge of town. It’s more than an ode to Sweden or contemporary design. Or the continuously cost-cutting enterprise flagged in yellow and blue. It’s the firm that put the buyer into their factory.
You might argue that unassembled furniture is much more compact. And that efficiency of space lowers the cost of goods sold. But an artist’s mind is at work. By inviting it’s customer to join in on production, they secretly secure pride of ownership.
Through the act of turning the screw or fitting the peg into the hole, a new furniture owner fastens their own identity into the product. They shall remember dancing through the instructions and watching their functional sculpture emerge.
This pleasure is precisely the melody at play with many appetizers. Take for example the tuna taco plate at South Congress Cafe. Easily those nimble kitchen hands could stuff the tortilla full.
Instead the plate arrives like an aerial view of a farm. Each ingredient beautifully prepared and arranged like fields of strawberries, spinach, corn. A masterpiece of composition visible at low altitude.
Joy lies in the manual assembly. The diner choose the density of tuna in the taco. Whether to pipe the guacamole heavy or light. To scatter or abandon the shredded cabbage. And how much to sauce up with chipolte mayo.
The sampler plate from Pieous, too, arranges her bounty on simple brown paper. It foils the curled, house-made salame, cold chickpea salad, cheese and hearty Tuscan toast.
Yours is the decision to bite through the dish ingedient by ingredient of find combinations of two, three or more flavors. Beginning, middle and end. The narrative is of your own choosing.
11 Plates dots her cheese plate with artisan treasures. Cured almonds, quince paste, pitted olives lie in wait. Golden crostini stacked like firewood. And the ambrosia-laced apricots, heady with spice. All serve as paint on the pallete. How might your painter’s hand create flavor images in your head.
Goat cheese alone. Then cheese with fruit and cracker. Maybe an olive to cleanse the palate before diving into the Manchengo.
Shea turns Bahn Mi from a spectator sport into full contact. Every ingredient treated with the finesse of a Japanese chef. Ready to eat. A delight for the eyes. Chicken, pork or beef grilled with a maple kiss. A cornucopia of possibilities.
Grab your french bread and begin a masterpiece of your own design.
Dahlia’s Lounge treats its fish appetizer in the same way. Small ramekins floating on ice. Each contain a microcosm of flavors. Together a universe in orbit of your desire. Ignite the evening with the smoked fish. Tiptoe onto boiled shrimp. Over to raw tuna. The symphony build note by note.
Zocalo Cafe trips the imagination with their sampler pate. Diners explore the landscape of central Mexico from the crunchy forest of flautas, to the swamps of Campechana to climbing the mountainous empanadas. Or spashing in the lake of queso which looks more like hummus than velveeta.
You can get lost in their map. Shut down the street noise of the mind. And shuttle across the plate enjoying well balanced flavor and texture images. Or by sheer will cross pollinating. A tree in the lake. Where the swamp hugs the mountain.
The point is this: there are times when the last mile of the cooking happens with your guests. Give them freedom to paint their own landscape. Give them the material to sculpt their own journey.
While some assembly may be required, instructions are not. Intuition will take over. And you can fade into the back row and watch the play unfold.