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"Grazing"

Some menus call them "small plates" or "global tapas." Others come right out of the closet and admit what they are: grazing menus -- collections of artfully constructed, smaller-size dishes (sized as large appetizers or miniature entrées) meant for sharing with tablemates. This was all the rage in the '80s, when chef Cindy Pawlczyn popularized it at San Francisco's Fog City Diner, Monterey's Rio Grill, et al. Now grazing's back, and that's good news. The revival may stem from great wine-country chef Thomas Keller and his seminal restaurant, the French Laundry, where he serves prix-fixe dinners of 9 or 11 tiny courses. His theory is that the taste buds stay alert only during the first two or three bites of any dish. Whether that's true or not, lots of little nibbles make a meal big fun. You get to make your own "chef's tasting dinner," amassing as many flavors as the chef can produce and you've got appetite to try. Among the latest to go "grazing" (full-time or as an option) here: Axis (in Del Mar, chefs Michael Almos and Henry Friedank), Cuvée (La Jolla and Del Mar, chef Chuck Samuelson), 910 Restaurant (La Jolla, chef Michael Stebner), and W Café (Hillcrest, chef Chris Walsh).

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