Let’s Begin Dinner By Carb Loading: A Dozen Delicious Restaurant Bread Baskets

There’s a reason why it’s called “breaking bread.” Offering up bread at the beginning of a meal is an age-old gesture of hospitality, a way to make guests feel welcome as soon as they sit down. Rather than simply offer soft rolls and hard butter, plenty of restaurants are offering boss breads. We’re talking the likes of crème frâiche biscuits, Gruyere-laced popovers, and jalapeno cornbread muffins. The kind of stuff that makes you forget you’re on a carb-free diet. Here are a dozen delicious restaurant bread baskets (with apologies to our gluten-free diners – look away!).

Birch & Barley, Washington, D.C.
There’s a word that always makes us smile when we’re dining out: free. The thing is, we would happily pay for this bangin’ bread board, but we’re more than happy to enjoy it on the house. The selections rotate regularly, but it might include a pretzel roll, a crème frâiche biscuit, and an olive roll.

Best Restaurant Bread Baskets

Barton G The Restaurant, Los Angeles, California
There’s a bit of magic at work here. When your bread comes to the table, you’ll probably think that the server accidentally brought out some dessert doughnuts instead. Actually, the rounds are savory, finished off with basil, cheddar, pink peppercorn, and black truffle “frostings.”

Best Restaurant Bread Baskets

Urban Farmer Steakhouse, Cleveland, Ohio
Hey, nice cans! The tin tubes are used to bake mini silos of cornbread for dinner service. During brunch, they hold zucchini bread, which gets a shower of freshly grated chocolate when served.

Best Restaurant Bread Baskets

Andiron Steak & Sea, Las Vegas, Nevada
Meet the pop stars of the bread basket world. These Gruyere-laced popovers boast a crackly crust. The warm puffs arrive with whipped butter dusted with black Hawaiian lava salt.

Best Restaurant Bread Baskets

Chauhan Ale & Masala House, Nashville, Tennessee
Chef Maneet Chauhan serves an Indian-inspired bread basket. Freshly baked naan is accompanied by a selection of seasonal chutneys, sauces, and butters. Selections in the past have included spicy pineapple chutney and traditional raita.

Best Restaurant Bread Baskets

Osso Steakhouse, San Francisco, California
A boule of sourdough topped off with rosemary and garlic is very nice. It’s even better when it arrives in a small cast iron skillet brimming with a creamy chorizo sauce. And it’s even better still when it’s finished off with a shower of cheddar cheese and quickly baked. Certifiably addictive.

Best Restaurant Bread BasketsContinue Reading

Table for One: The Art of Dining Alone #hackdining

Our recent revelations about solo dining continue to captivate media and diners alike. To continue the conversation, we’ve asked contributor Nevin Martell, a frequent solo diner to share his insights and tips for a terrific dining experience for those who do so with a bit of trepidation. Here are his insights on the art of dining alone. 

“Table for one, sir?”

I get this question a lot. As a food writer, I dine out constantly to try new places and revisit familiar favorites. Though I love breaking bread with family, friends, and colleagues, it’s oftentimes not often possible to line up our schedules with my ever-present deadlines. And so I’ll find myself alone at the host stand.

While many restaurants, especially those recently highlighted on OpenTable’s Top 25 Restaurants for Solo Diners list, are thrilled to welcome solo diners, not every host makes it easy. Perhaps you sense they’re giving you a look of pity as they pick up a lone menu and lead you off to a table tucked away in a dark corner, which they think is what you want since they incorrectly assume you’re ashamed by your singleton status.

Despite any minor speed bumps that can come with solo supping, I enjoy it. The solitary time allows me to slow down for a little while, concentrate on the food, and maybe catch up on some email or make progress on my reading. It sounds oxymoronic, but it’s nice to get away from people in a room full of people. It’s the same reason why I go to bustling coffee shops packed with chattering hordes to get away from distractions when I’m writing.

However, for a long time, I didn’t like sitting across from an empty chair. I would spend most of the meal looking around nervously to see if people were staring at me, eat as quickly as possible, and oftentimes invent stories for the servers as to why I was dining alone. “My friend had to unexpectedly work late. He’s a surgeon. He’s probably saving someone’s life right now.”

It took me years to realize it, but there is an art to eating alone. Here are six ways you can maximize your experience as a solo diner.

Don’t let people make you feel like you’re a social outcast.

You’re choosing to dine by yourself, so be proud of it. Own it. Think of the meal as some quality me time. If the host asks you the most judgmental of questions – “So, it’ll just be you?” – smile widely and respond, “I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather be with.”

Sit where you want, not where they want you to sit.

All too often, single diners are relegated to an end seat at the bar by the service station or the most undesirable table in the restaurant. If you see the host is leading you to one of these desolate hellholes, politely ask for another seat. This is the perfect time to enjoy the view, so ask for somewhere you can admire your surroundings or do some serious people watching.Continue Reading

5 Top Restaurant Complaints + How to Prevent Them from Ruining Your Meal #hackdining

It’s happened to all of us. You’re out to dinner and something goes wrong. Maybe it’s something minor like the server accidentally bringing you a Chardonnay instead of a Chablis. Or perhaps it’s a bigger issue that threatens to derail your entire evening. No one wants to spend good money to have a bad time. So, how do you confront these problems to rectify the situation and ensure you have an enjoyable experience? From overdone steak to underwhelming service, we look at five top restaurant complaints along with tips from hospitality experts for preventing them from ruining your meal. 

Young people eating lunch in a bright modern restaurant, a waiter is serving hot food. Natural light.

You’re seated at a table you don’t like.

It’s by a drafty door, so you keep feeling a chilly breeze. Or it’s next to the bar, which is particularly loud that evening, and you want to have a quiet date night. For whatever reason, the table just isn’t right for you.

Speak out immediately, advises Jonathan Crayne, the senior captain at Marcel’s in Washington, D.C. “You have a chance to save your night or ruin your night,” he says. “Just remember you’re never going to be happy if you spend the evening thinking, ‘Maybe we should have moved.’”

If you feel uncomfortable asking for a new table, use this graceful line from Antonella Rana, co-owner of Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina in New York City. “I’m so sorry; you work here and you are used to this beautiful space,” she says. “However, it’s my first time and I truly would like to have the best memory of it. I don’t feel so comfortable at this table, could you bring me to your favorite?”

As they say, flattery will get you anywhere – including the best seat in the house.

The guests near you are behaving inappropriately.

There’s a couple next to you in the middle of a loud, profanity-laced breakup. Or the parents at the next booth brought their two-year-old son to dinner and he wants nothing more than to be a human catapult, so mushy French fries keep landing on your dinner plate.

It’s definitely not your job to police the situation. Sit tight and flag down a server or the manager. “We don’t want guests going to another table; that’s our job,” says David Fascitelli, general manager of Bourbon Steak in Washington, D.C. “We would like to intercede and make the situation right.”

Rana has another tactful line to use when you get the eye of a staffer. “Unfortunately I have a terrible ‘teacher’ syndrome,” she says. “Could you please help us and quiet this chaos next to our table before I do so myself?”

Your dish isn’t prepared properly.

The steak you requested medium rare is well done and your dining companion’s salad is packed with the tomatoes he asked the kitchen to hold. How do you politely send the food back?

“People are worried about making the chef upset or looking like they don’t appreciate his or her food,” says Fascitelli. “But the chef wants to make it right, too.”

Being open is your best bet. “It’s very easy to over-salt something,” says Crayne. “We sometimes don’t know it’s happened until we’re told. So, don’t hesitate to send something back.”

The food is made correctly, but you just don’t like it.Continue Reading

When Restaurants Google You, Is It Creepy – or Cool?

Here’s something you may or may not know: Many of the best restaurants in the world research their guests online prior to a shift, with a view to learning something that will help them give those diners truly personalized, exceptional hospitality.

We were curious how people might feel about that, so we decided to ask U.S. OpenTable members, “When restaurants Google you, is it creepy or cool?” More than 6,000 chimed in with their responses, which led to the following interesting findings:

“Creepy” trumps “cool”

While many people aren’t bothered by the notion of being Googled by restaurant staff, the number of people who consider it “creepy or intrusive” outweighs the number of people who think it’s a good thing.


Many of the 5 percent who answered “other” seemed baffled by the notion. “Not sure about that. What will they really get?” wondered one respondent. “Too much of a ‘Big Brother’ feeling,” commented another. “These must be expensive restaurants!” reasoned a third.

Diners in some cities are more creeped out than others

When we looked at the data by metro area, we saw a fair amount of variation. The most relaxed about this practice were our diners in Dallas, which was, in fact, the only city where those who think it’s a good thing (34 percent) outweighed those who consider it creepy (23 percent).

Meanwhile, respondents from cities farther north (think Boston, Chicago, and Minneapolis) were a lot more suspicious of being researched by a restaurant at which they were about to dine.Continue Reading