Ask Jane: For Starters

Our food editor solves another culinary quandary.

Why do restaurant appetizers so often taste better than the entrées?

Well, there’s no concrete answer, but having polled chefs and foodie friends, I do have a theory. Since appetizers are smaller, they offer some unique benefits. First, chefs can be more creative, layering powerful flavors that might exhaust the palate on a larger main course. At the same time, diners are more willing to try something daring, since they’re not betting their entire meal on it. (As in: “Sure, I’ll have the paprika-cured hamachi with sweet pepper and pickled eggplant to start…but for my main I’d really prefer a straightforward steak.”) Second, your taste buds can really tune in to the flavors, and have a chance to appreciate them. Research shows that after three or four bites—just about what you get from an app—you stop tasting as intensely. That’s why many top chefs, like the French Laundry’s Thomas Keller, serve only tasting menus, made up of nine appetizer-size courses.

Convinced? If not, there’s another, simpler reason: You’re a lot hungrier when you first sit down. And whatever you eat right then is more apt to satisfy.