Mark Fiorentino's masterful baking is apparent in Daniel's impressive array of breads. From roasted tomato focaccia, to rustic sourdough, to olive rolls, to walnut raisin, and more, one look at this spread feels like a visit to bread basket heaven. Though Fiorentino has perfected the crunchy crust and splendidly soft interior, the textures from bread to bread don't vary too much. Still, we were impressed with the diversity of this bread basket—indecisive eaters beware!—and would come back to Daniel just to make sure we got a taste of them all.
The breads available in this basket were nearly bite-sized, offering customers an interesting display of what we categorize as "snacky" breads. Crust-lovers will enjoy this individually sized and baked selection because there's a higher crust ratio. While the basket didn't have any sweeter breads, it has stand-out fun pieces such as the seed crust (with poppy and sesame seeds), pretzels, the bacon sauerkraut, and our favorite, the onion roll.
"It's like mochi meets bread," one taster commented about the unique texture of the pandebono that made up Calle Ocho's bread basket. Pandebono is a Colombian white cheese bread, served here with a pureed black bean dip. Though this restaurant does not seem to fit in with many of the others on our list, one bite of the pandebono's warm chewiness and you will make the trip to the Upper West Side (well, or to Queens!) just for a fix.
There was a hands-down winner in this bread basket: the stromboli. The layers of smoked mozzarella, salami, basil, and cherry tomatoes carried it leaps and bounds beyond its carb counterparts. Another noteworthy addition to this basket was the three condiments with which it was served, including butter mascarpone, a citrus-herb infused extra virgin olive oil, and eggplant caponata (stewed eggplant with capers, tomato sauce, and a little anchovy). They were fun to try with the other breads and especially delightful with the whole wheat focaccia, but were not even necessary with the stromboli, which could stand its ground untainted. (Though I have no doubt it would be the perfect sponge to sop up the sauce in their famous tomato and basil spaghetti.)
Del Posto's bread basket is notable not only for its small loaves, but for its incredible accompaniment: lardo! Whipped lard (pork fat) with rosemary is presented with the mulitgrain bread (flax, sesame seeds, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, oats), Kalamata olive bread, focaccia with thyme, filone (white bread), and crisp bread sticks.
The only bread basket to feature cornbread, this warm Southwest classic is the perfect compliment to the rest of Bobby Flay's menu at Mesa Grill. It is not just any cornbread, it's a blue corn and yellow corn savory muffin, and it's been a staple since the restaurant opened in 1991. Its components are blue corn meal and yellow cornmeal, freshly diced red and yellow peppers, jalepeno, cilantro, and whole corn kernels. While there are few options in this bread basket, the choices are solid. If you time your visit right, you will also get the sweet potato herb bread (only with dinner service on Wednesday through Saturday).
Blue Ribbon has a secret weapon: a bread oven in the basement of their Downing Street location that has been there for over 140 years. It was grandfathered in when the bakery opened in 1998 (it is no longer legal to build one in New York City) and reconstructed with layered volcanic ash and brick by an Italian family. The result is outstanding bread. Every item in the basket truly masterful, from the classic country white to the bacon and onion flatbread. You will never taste a fluffier raisin walnut bread or a more addictive nine-grain bread with oats. It comes with butter; you won't even need it.
Honorable Mention. We had to give Balthazar's "Le Panier" an honorable mention although it is neither complimentary nor available with dinner. The sticky bun with pecans and the Valhrona chocolate bread guarantee a sugary start to the day—but if it's something a little less sweet you crave, there is the fruit focaccia with almonds, croissant, orange brioche, or cranberry walnut bread. It is all baked next door in Balthazar's bakery, and it's all delectable.