Can you judge a restaurant by its bread? Maybe not, but I haven’t dined at a good restaurant that didn’t serve good bread. However, I have had good bread but not enjoyed the rest of the meal. I’ve also had bad bread, bad dinner. Whatever the correlation, bread starts so many of our dining experiences and can make or “break” a meal.
Last month while I was in New York visiting the Food Network test kitchens among a number of other activities on behalf of my U.S. Potato Board client, two of my colleagues and I popped into an Italian restaurant near our hotel on our way to a Broadway show. You can’t go wrong with Italian in New York, right? Wrong. The first sign of the pending bad meal was the reheated rolls. Don’t let “warm” fool you. These chewy – on the outside and inside – weirdly “peaked” rolls were far from freshly baked. I was immediately disappointed and thought “what a waste of a New York meal.” I’ve learned this lesson before: Never trust a hotel concierge for restaurant recommendations. Thankfully, the evening was far from ruined; (good company makes up for bad meals!) but I do wish the bread was better.
My most memorable bread-dining experience is Bouchon in Las Vegas. It was the first time I’d ever had epi, a delightfully crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside twist-like loaf. You tear the pieces off into individual mini-loaves. I was fascinated when they placed it on the table and more fascinated to find out it had a name. They actually sell epi at Trader Joe’s now. It’s not nearly as good as the Thomas Keller treat, but it’s a satisfying accompaniment for a home-cooked meal.
My local favorite is the cheese loaf at Rio City Café: indulgent and delicious. The bread I usually love isn’t served in a bed of balsamic vinegar or loaded with cheese, but this is heaven sent. I’d recommend a cheese loaf and a glass of wine on the river-side deck this summer any night of the week.