ESSAY- Small portions: The meaning of the ping pong ball scoop

What the hell? I looked down at my serving of apple pie à la mode and thought I'd been punk'd. Where was the TV camera? Ashton Kutcher had to be lurking around, somewhere.

The menu said it was topped with cinnamon ice cream, so I'm picturing a scoop of ice cream. Now I appreciate that the measurement of "scoop" is probably not encoded in a national registry of weights and measures, but you know and I know that a scoop is not the size of a ping-pong ball. Can we all agree on this? I think we can.

And that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is what my apple pie was topped with: a teeny-tiny scooplet of ice cream which they must have formed using a melon-baller, rather than a grownup ice cream scoop. It was– I swear to God– the diameter of a ping-pong ball.

This moment of shock and disappointment took place at Zynodoa restaurant in Staunton. And a fine establishment it is, featuring fresh local food, prepared by a chef who used to sling hash at the famed Inn at Little Washington. 

My entrée was pork, and it was lovely. Hm, small portions, is what I was thinking, but heavens to Murgatroyd, it was good.

So, right in the middle of my meal, I was already thinking about the correspondence between portion size and the social class of a restaurant's clientele. 

The smaller the servings, the better the food, the more it costs, and, if I may be so indelicate, the smaller the waistline of the average customer.

I was feeling pretty smug about chowing down at such a high-class joint. The patrons around us were slim and appeared to be well heeled, and here I was rubbing elbows with them.

After I told the waiter I wanted the pie à la mode for dessert, I waited in happy anticipation, and my mind wandered to the apple pie we will all be presented with at some time or other over the next several weeks: 

That delightfully oozing triangle on your plate, crowned with a generous dollop of ice cream that melts and infuses the fruit and the crust with decadent butterfat and makes you glad you're not dead.

And then my dessert arrived. My first reaction was to laugh, then to look around for the jokesters.  

(Imagine serving these itty-bitty scoops the next time your family gathers around the table for a holiday feast. Try it: I dare you. In fact, I triple-dog dare you.)

I considered complaining to the waiter, but assumed that even noticing how small the portions were would mark me as someone who had no business in an establishment of this caliber. 

And what is my BMI, anyway? I looked around at the slimmer-than-me customers and decided the whole thing was my mistake. 

If I'm looking for decadence and calories, I should head for the Outback Steakhouse or, for some serious BMI among my fellow patrons, to the Golden Corral where you can make return trips to the food bar until they turn the lights off and lock you out.

The thing is, although a tennis-ball-sized scoop of ice cream would have been heavenly, I would have settled for a scoop the size of a golf ball. 

But a ping-pong ball? That is just wrong.


Janis Jaquith makes her home in the restaurant-free zone that is Free Union.