Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Re-thinking bread service in restaurants


Rarely does a restaurant make its own bread for lunch or dinner service. And even more rarely is it good. For the most part, bread is outsourced from massive bakeries who generally do a decent job, considering the hundreds of pounds of bread they make each day. I have only worked at one restaurant that made its own bread very well, and that was The French Laundry, and it wasn't technically made on the premises, it was (is) made at Bouchon Bakery down the street. Per Se does make its own bread, and it is good from what I hear.
Some restaurants will keep their bread in a warmer, and while it is certainly nice to eat warm bread (although you are supposed to wait for it to cool down before you eat it... but who can wait really?), it kills it to be sitting too long in that environment.
Recently there was an article in the New York Times, in which its restaurant critic suggested that restaurants start charging for bread. And the reasoning behind this is that, not everyone wants bread and most of it goes to waste. If you charge for it, those who really want it can get it and it is one less major expense for the restaurant. I am not sure if I am sold on this idea, but I agree that most people eat the bread just because it is there. Which is also not a good idea from a chef/owner standpoint, since bread is a filler and might discourage people from ordering more food.

In any case, I think there are many opportunities in this area. Why just serve bread when it can become something very special? This is the first posting on restaurant bread service and I plan on many more to follow.
This actual item is plain white bread (house made obviously), baked in mini loaf pans (1" wide x 6" long). There is something trashy about white bread, but there's also something wonderful about its simplicity. I don't know of any other bread, except brioche, that has its particular texture when it is toasted: crispy outside and soft and chewy on the inside.

Once these mini loaves were baked, I let them cool down and sliced them, and then lightly toasted them. The idea is to serve a large amount of these mini-toasts to the table, with a very good butter that is so soft it is ideal to spread, but not too soft that it melts, along with a coarse grain salt (in this case black Hawaiian salt).

1 comment:

  1. Ah, brilliant suggestion. The one memorable bread experience I've had in my short dining-out past was at Everest in Chicago--I doubt it was house-made (Red Hen, perhaps?), but the bread was fabulous. They avoided the bread basket problem by having a waiter bring a basket of options to you, and then you pick what you want.

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