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Bye-Bye, Free Bread

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Bread has enjoyed a wildly varying reputation at restaurants over the past decade. It’s been banned from the table (in LA, as low-carb diets swept the city). It’s been canonized (at NYC's Bouley, where the bread cart has been stacked with more than twenty varieties). It’s been taken even further than that at Chicago’s excellent new L20, where chef Laurent Gras creates an amazing mini-bread tasting inspired by the petit-fours service in fancy dining rooms (there’s a name for such small bites in French, mignardise). But no matter what, it's always been free. Now, though, as restaurants turn to extreme comfort food menus and cost-cutting measures that don't sacrifice quality (or at least that don't seem to sacrifice quality), bread has found a new place–on the appetizer list, with a price tag. At Manhattan’s Ssäm Bar, David Chang serves a baguette with two butters: sea-salt butter from Vermont and St. Helen’s Farm goat's butter from Britain (there’s invariably a provenance next to the butter and sometimes the salt, but never the bread). It’s exceptional enough that Frank Bruni called it out in his recent three-star Times review of the place: “Ssäm  charges $8 [for this], rightly wagering that if you really value bread and butter, you’d rather pay for something superior than get something ordinary for free.” In Brooklyn, Clover Club serves a terrific brunch on weekends, and the mandatory starter is toasted baguette with little bowls of brandied orange marmalade, butter and salt for $5. (Incidentally, if you’re wondering where to find the city's best bartenders on a Sunday afternoon, look no further than Clover Club – the place is packed with them.) The trend has even spread to the West Coast: Spring Hill in Seattle serves three warm, soft rolls with cultured butter and sea salt (from kauai), at a cost of $3.

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