Shared dishes are nothing new in home or restaurant dining, from family meals with a sliced roast and bowls of potatoes and vegetables passed around to Indonesian rijsttafel spreads and tables chockablock with Spanish tapas and paella.
But this is the Bay Area, where restaurateurs, ambitious chefs, and trend-following eaters are known to takes things to extremes, from obsessions with farm-to-table sourcing, craft cocktails, hyper-local microbrews, and ramen to modernist manipulations of obscure ingredients with tweezers and foam to $400 tasting menus.
So it goes with shareables. We've seen the small plates craze infiltrate every kind of cuisine, and "family style" as a concept insinuate itself into the entire dining scene spectrum, from low end to high. Spotlighted here are five dishes or meals that in one way or another embody extremism, whether it's the portion size and the potential for gorging, the profligacy of combined items, or the perfect marriage of copious quantity and radical flavors. Supersized these menu pinnacles may be, but they are featured for their extreme excellence as well.
When a giant pan of paella, fideua, or arroz negro just isn't enough to satisfy your table's craving for a monstrous Spanish entrée, check to see if chef Paul Canales has the chuletón on his menu at Duende. It's a 48-ounce, bone-in, rib-eye steak from Piedmontese cattle, a breed originally from northwestern Italy that yields especially lean but extraordinarily tender beef. Canales usually cuts seven (instead of the typical 14) steaks from an 18- to 23-pound seven-rib roast procured from Shasta rancher Ken Silva. He cooks them, seasoned with salt and pepper, for 3½ hours in a circulator before searing them on a super-hot plancha and finishing them in the oven. Served with smashed braised fingerlings, a bright radicchio-arugula salad, sea salt, olive oil, and lemon wedges, this traditional Basque country steak is intended to serve four, but Canales has seen a pair of slightly built chefs polish off one together (preceded by pinxtos and arroz negro). One of Oakland's La Tropicana nightclub partners used to eat an entire chuletón all by his lonesome at the bar. 468 19th St., Oakland, 510-893-0174, DuendeOakland.com.
The Butcher's Dinner
At Anya Fernald's capacious temple of meat in Jack London Square, extreme measures have been taken to make carnivores comfortable with eating animals, starting with the organic, sustainable, transparent, compassionate, low-stress, grass-fed-and-finished farming practices on the company's 25,000 acre farm near Mount Shasta. Ethics might not help you clean your plate if you order the 16-ounce dry-aged bone-in rib-eye. So instead of giving away a few bites of one steak, why not go whole hog or steer by exploring the market-price possibilities of The Butcher's Dinner? It's Belcampo's twist on the old gimmick of picking out your own live lobster from a tank in the front of a seafood house. Mosey over to the meat case and have a butcher help you select the cuts of beef, lamb, or pork, steaks or chops, thick or thin, which the kitchen will then char-grill and plate up with Bordelaise and chimichurri. It can be like a little field trip for your dining party, culminating in a protein extravaganza. 55 Webster St., Oakland, 510-281-0998, BelCampo.com/restaurant/Oakland.
Ryan Farr built his business on chicharrones and cracklins and butchery classes before setting up his brick-and-mortar shop in San Francisco and expanding his 4505 Burgers & BBQ operation into Oakland's Laurel district. Because it might be terribly hard to decide what to order on any given visit, round up a posse of friends and indulge in what is probably the East Bay's most extreme shareable, The Presidential. For $115 this feast for six includes all of 4505's meats (pulled pork shoulder, pulled smoked chicken, beef brisket, and hot sausages), all the side dishes (cole slaw, red chili pozole, baked beans, potato salad, and tallow-fried French fries), and all the "fixin's" (spicy fries with chimichurri and lemon parsley aioli, 4505 chicharrones, 4505 cracklins, and Frankaroni — crispy fried mac & cheese with a hot dog inside.) If you want Humphrey Slocombe vanilla ice cream or chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies for dessert, that'll be extra. 3506 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland, 510-210-8235, 4505BurgersAndBBQ.com.
For the Table
It's all about sharing at chef Mark Liberman's high-end-but-casual, on-beyond-California cuisine restaurant, Mägo. That means you can order a few of the dozen or so "snacks" and "plates" at a time, then order some more, and maybe another craft cocktail, as you gauge your party's appetite. But keep your eye on the For the Table section of the menu. Like just about everything at Mägo, these shareable meaty entrées come and go according to what Liberman has scored from his vendors that week or day. On one visit, it was an audacious rib-eye steak; on another it was a crisply browned pork chop so humongous that it looked like a loin-chop-shoulder section. Recently, the $55 For the Table offering was a grilled beef tri-tip with cranberry beans, peppers, and Liberman's modernist riff on chilaquiles. And nobody makes an immoderate indulgence look more artful and appealing on a ceramic platter than Mägo. 3762 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-344-7214, MagoRestaurant.com.
Buccatini Chi Finucchiede
At so many new restaurants servers advise diners that the menu was designed to be enjoyed "family style." It doesn't get more family style than the vibe and the portions at Trattoria La Siciliana, the long- running family-operated old-school Italian hole in the wall in Berkeley's Elmwood district. For two decades, the D'Alo clan — founders Rosa and Giuseppe and their chef sons Jerry and Angelo — have made tables groan with shareable plates of rollatini di melenzane, spiedini alla Siciliana, zuppa, salads, and a panoply of meat, seafood, and vegetarian linguini, penne, rigatoni, and risotto dishes. What is especially extreme about the buccatini chi finucchiede is the constant rat-a-tat-tat of exuberant flavors that detonate in your mouth with each forkful of the muddy brown sauce clinging to the narrow tubular pasta. The commingling of fresh sardines, currants, sweet onion, anchovies, saffron, fennel, and toasted pine nuts is both boggling and habit-forming, to the point where some regulars cannot go a single visit to La Siciliana without a finucchiede fix. 2993 College Ave., Berkeley, 510-704-1474, Trattoria LaSiciliana.com.