Question: I would love more information about the 'little something' first course of a French meal. What is served/how it is served/how it is chosen in relation to the rest of the menu/what size are portions generally/any thing else that is important and of interest about this part of the meal.
Answer: Hi Janet,
I think the little something you are talking about is a mise-en-bouche (literally a put in mouth and distinct from the amuse-bouche, sometimes more coarsely referred to as an amuse-gueule, which is usually an appetizer served at cocktail hour).
It has become quite popular to present this small something nearly as soon as guests or restaurant clients have been seated. It is truly small - perhaps three bites. As with all good French eating experiences, it should compliment what is to come after. However, it is so small that I suppose just about anything could be served without negatively impacting the rest of the meal. At its best, the mise-en-bouche should get you excited about the meal to come.
Very trendy (actually it is probably starting to be passé, but I am not the most hip of folks) is the spoon. Verrines are also popular.
To get a fun visual idea of the mise-in-bouche, check out these google image search results.