I Can’t Stop Thinking About This Restaurant's Butter Service
When bread and butter is brought to your table at a restaurant, it’s typically a snack before your meal. A few Parker House rolls to share while you chat about what to order; some slices of crusty sourdough, which you might reserve to sop up any sauces left on your plate. At Quality Bistro, however, the bread and butter isn't just a starter—it's also a main event.
The new Midtown Manhattan restaurant has a buzzy menu to begin with. Lobster toast with red curry hollandaise; cauliflower carpaccio with Marcona almonds, sultanas, and chermoula; filet mignon with roquefort and port pears. It’s all too easy to get distracted and miss the Butter Service Garni tucked into the “Pour La Table” section, as I almost did. But when the server came over and I heard the words “tableside” and “butter,” I knew it was worth a try.
The spread arrives on a cart wheeled up to your table and features a gigantic mound of butter stored in a blue and white crock. It’s pale gold and soft, piled so impossibly, precariously high that you can’t imagine eating that much butter in one sitting. You won’t—it’s merely the vehicle to bring the butter to the table. Instead, your server takes a generous scoop and spreads it on a nearby marble platter, where slices of Filone bread from Sullivan Street Bakery, tangy cornichons, and a bunch of radishes await. Once the butter’s in place, a sprinkle of chopped shallots, fleur de sel, pimente d’espelette, and freshly ground black pepper are added for even more flavor.
At this point, there’s already enough food for a few people to share. But as I said, this is no ordinary bread and butter situation, and the hors d’oeuvres that accompany the dish are just as delightful. Thin slices of jambon cuit, which chef-partner Craig Koketsu added because jambon beurre is one of his favorite sandwiches; soft little rounds of leek in a vinaigrette, the perfect acidic match to the creamy butter. There’s also a small bowl of mushroom duxelles, with larger pieces of mushroom than you’d typically expect, and vinegar for sharpness. And to round it all out, a little heat and savoriness from a hachée basquaise, made with chorizo, Parmesan, sherry vinegar, smoked paprika, honey, almonds, and raisins. In its entirety, the Butter Service Garni is practically a meal; even though I split it with two other people, we didn't even come close to finishing it.
Michael Stillman, the owner of Quality Branded—also behind Quality Meats, Don Angie, Quality Italian, and others—said the initial inspiration for the dish came from Restaurant Allard in Paris, where bread and butter comes on a trolley as part of the cheese service. They adapted that concept to focus more on butter, and beyond adding accoutrements to the service that would pair well with it, they also wanted to make the butter itself special. So they took cream from Battenkill Valley Creamery and introduced yogurt cultures to make it “more than just rich.”
“We thought, we need to make it special enough so that people are willing to splurge on it,” Koketsu said.
The whipped, tangy result is divine, and when factored in with all the fixings, certainly worth the $28 price tag. It may seem impossible to order entrées afterwards, but we managed to squeeze in an indulgent version of surf and turf called the À la Wallace Shawn and Long Bone Short Rib Chasseur. In the end, there were plenty of leftovers, and when we asked for boxes, we made sure to include the Butter Service, too. I've never brought home bread and butter from a restaurant before—but in this case, I'd gladly do it again.