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What's your favorite free food to be served before a dinner at a restaurant

I was having a discussion on this topics with some friends at a seafood restaurant. Many people say freshly aked bread, but I find its too easy to fill up on. My personal fave is still warm sweet potato chips. While in peru, we always got oiled corn kernels which were pretty good too. Thoughts?

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  1. Any artfully presented and tasty morsel, aka amuse bouche. Of course, that's only in upscale restos. If bread is served, I like either good, slightly salted butter, or a nice herb-cream dip.

    1. In Taiwan and the PRC you usually get little dishes of pickled cabbage, boiled peanuts, cucumbers in sauce, etc. There may be a small charge added to the bill but it's more than worth it.

      1. Hush puppies or red potatoes boiled in crab/crawfish boil spiced water

        11 Replies
          1. re: LaLa

            hush puppies ftw with honey butter

            1. re: emmaleeb

              My daughter and I vacationed in NC this summer. We consumed so many hush puppies with honey butter, we could not eat our dinner. I would love to have some RIGHT NOW!!!

              1. re: six dower

                Oooh hey, you mentioned Bar Symon earlier ....

                I have found that Mitchell's seafood in Eton Place has vair vair good hush puppies, and I'm not one for "fancy"-type fried stuff. But these are legitimate. And the butter is pretty much to die for.

                1. re: Scargod

                  Must be 'cause they're "decadent." I have taken more than my fair share of honey-drizzled croissants (still warm) before a meal.

                  If fresh baked bread is involved, I love it with butter or a dunk in some garlicky white bean dip (as served at La Tavola).

                  Even more fun in the free food category is when I am rewarded with a free dessert just for being me! It does happen and it is always a delightful surprise. :) My last surprise was tempura-battered pineapple chunks. Yum!

                  1. re: kattyeyes

                    Croissants before a meal? Breakfast, yes? Can't imagine them any other time.. For me they ARE a meal. When in Paris, they start their day later than we do, so we would have to buy them the afternoon before. Otherwise had to wait til after 9am.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      Nope, they come before lunch or dinner and I NEVER resist them! Though I would be happy to eat them with breakfast, too.

                2. re: emmaleeb

                  ftw = For the weak? For those wondering? WTF?

            2. At my nearby peruvian restaurant, the fried, salted, blue corn kernels arrive as hot as rivets, and I have to wait a few minutes before the munching can begin.
              In Mexico, I enjoy the home made corn chips and fresh salsa or pico de gallo. The range of salsas, green (chile or tomatillo) and red, plus some that are still a mystery, is fun.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Veggo

                Agreed about the chips and salsa in Mexico. I am not a fan of free bread unless it is absolutely exceptional, and I rarely (and unfortunately) have the chance to eat at a restaurant that might serve an amuse bouche.

                In Mexico, the different salsas really give a great kickstart to a meal. It's fun to to test their different flavors and heat, with cold beer in hand.

                1. re: alanbarnes

                  I'm going to have to go with Korean banchan too - although its usually served with the meal. And ofcourse, nothing beats a good bread basket!

                2. Warm house-made potato chips while sitting at the bar.

                  1. And of course there's nothing free.... In Austin, many places (and even in Middletown, CT) have taken to charging you for the second basket of chips and salsa.
                    One of my favorites is Gougeres.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Scargod

                      In nicer restaurants in Rio, they'll automatically place the "couvert" on the table and unless you send it away, you'll get charged for it.

                      I like a little antipasti, maybe tiny bit of bruschetta.

                      1. re: Scargod

                        No, second basket of chips was still free in Middletown. It was the gluttonous 3rd basket that would've netted us a charge, 'member? ;) And I forgot about gougeres! Those trump most breads AND the honey croissants!

                      2. +1, +2,..... on chips and salsa. Thick or thin, spicy or not, fresh or cooked, some good, some not so much so. A real treat when they bring a spicy black bean dip or the occasional bowl of queso. When it's good, I could make a meal of it.

                        1. Some Italian places in NYC just serve the most amazing bread in the world. La Villa in Mill Basin, anyone who has been there can attest. I could eat that bread for an entire meal it's so awesome.

                          1. Homemade, perfectly salted tortilla chips and salsa

                            www.thelunchbelle.com

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: LeahBaila

                              The chips and salsa are the main reason I go to Mexican restaurants. That and the Margaritas.

                            2. Bread. And I prefer the restaurant to offer to refill the basket throughout the meal. Or, better, simply to refill without asking.

                              1. An Indian restaurant near me almost always sends out little cups of a delicious soup right after you order. It is only a few sips but oh so yummy and beats bread (in my book) any day.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: pickledtink

                                  papadams and mango chutney are good

                                  1. re: smartie

                                    mmm...now I am craving Indian food!

                                2. Color me old-fashioned, but nobody mentioned a "relish dish" with carrot/celery sticks, pickles, olives, and radishes. There are very few restaurants which put out one of these but I'm always delighted when I see this.

                                  I also go out of my way to thank management of Chinese restaurants that put out the pickled cabbage/daikon bowl instead of the cliche chow mein noodles and duck sauce.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: shaogo

                                    My favorite Chinese restaurant serves fried wonton skins and a plate of pickled cabbage, carrot, and cucumber, which I love. Their takeout orders come with free chicken wings but when I get an order to go I always ask for the pickled vegetables instead.

                                    1. re: shaogo

                                      my favorite local place does celery and carrot sticks in a glass and a carfe of water when you sit down...I love it.

                                      1. re: shaogo

                                        That brings back memories of the Pink Elephant Restaurant in Prarie du Chien, Wisconsin. Their relish dish also had pickled herring on it which it one of my absolutely most favorite foods.

                                        1. re: shaogo

                                          Yes. Fresh and or pickled vegetables are what I crave and enjoy the most. I have been served a fresh fruit crudite in Hawaii a couple of times which I also emmensely enjoyed.

                                          1. re: shaogo

                                            You must've loved The Monopole back when. I believe their "relish dish" also contained cottage cheese. Please mind the gap as you step off the nostalgia train. ;)

                                            1. re: kattyeyes

                                              Well, the Original Pantry in downtown LA used to have a bowl of celery and carrot sticks on every table, until the Health Department put a stop to it. I think the problem was the bowl pretty much sat there all day and just got topped up when it ran low...

                                              Good bread and good butter will make me pretty happy. Spongy leather-crust bread and frozen butter will not.

                                          2. There's a Hyatt near us - very upscale in a resort area. They used to give you a a little shot glass of a fruit smoothie. With the recession they're no long doing that.

                                            1. scarpetta in manhattan has some killer house-made chips at the bar.
                                              the crudo at the tiny bar at le bernardin is maybe best setup i've had anywhere in the world.

                                              1. Freshly deep fried torilla chips with a healthy shake of salt and enough hot cilantro laden salsa to top each and every chip in the basket and then some.

                                                Or

                                                Really good crusty warm bread and that inauthentic oil balsamic herb goo to plunge it into.

                                                1. another vote for chips and salsa. thin chips, spicy salsa.

                                                  1. Anything "free" is worth what you pay for it." I too appreciate a crudite platter as a 'starter'. Bread only if it's house made, not bought rolls.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: KiltedCook

                                                      >>"Anything "free" is worth what you pay for it "<<

                                                      Check out http://www.chow.com/stories/10122#. The worthless items pictured there include things like Gabriel Kreuther's chilled sour cherry consommé with vodka cream, king crab, and Yellowstone River caviar; Wylie Dufresne's sea urchin with pickled heart of palm, strawberry, daikon, and mustard green; Michael Mina's lobster trio, and Dennis Leary's house-cured salmon.

                                                      >>"Bread only if it's house made, not bought rolls"<<

                                                      While I like good house-made bread as much as the next guy (and could eat my weight in the aforementioned Dennis Leary's brioche rolls), there are few restaurants that make crusty bread as well as a great artisan bakery. I'm not going to turn my nose up at a bread basket just because the contents came from Acme.

                                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                                        Alan, I just don't agree about freebies. They're not worthless, nor are they free! Anything they give you affects their bottom line. The fancier they are the more everything else costs. Thus prices could be less if they didn't "give away" stuff. I surely look at the bottom line of the bill and decide whether it is comparable to other places I like to eat at, but I don't fool myself with "free" amuse bouches.

                                                        I don't care where the bread comes from as long as it has no resemblance to Mrs. Baird's rolls (white bread rolls). I like it crusty and hearty.

                                                        1. re: Scargod

                                                          I don't think we're in disagreement. It's a safe assumption that the cost of an amuse is a small fraction of the restaurant's average profit on a meal; you're not going to get a complimentary taste of caviar in a place that serves $6 burgers.

                                                          That said, you don't really pay anything for an amuse (or for chips and salsa, for that matter). You pay a significant premium to eat in the kind of place that serves an amuse, and a small premium to eat in a place that puts out chips, but the final tab is exactly the same whether or not you take the restaurant up on its offer of a complimentary nibble.

                                                          Maybe I misread KC's post, but it seemed to be suggesting that "freebies" can't be any good because the restaurant would charge extra for them if they were. And while I'll agree that they aren't truly "free" - the cost is built into the cost of the meal - I think we can all agree that they are occasionally very nice.

                                                          1. re: alanbarnes

                                                            Reading this old thread and your comments made me laugh, Alan. There's a breakfast shop nearby (Phoenix) that serves $6.00 burgers. Really GOOD $6.00 burgers. And they have a free appetizer. No, it's not caviar. They always have a big cauldron of soup for anyone to help themselves. A few weeks ago it was bean and bacon (tasty) and yesterday it was clam chowder. Not from a can, homemade. SO goes there JUST for the soup and gorges.

                                                      1. Warm bread and seasoned olive oil....my favorite of the meal if made perfect and fresh!

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: six dower

                                                          I don't mind some nice warm bread but I dislike when it is served with cold butter.

                                                          1. re: toasted

                                                            I joke with my friends that if I am served with cold bread and cold butter....it is going against the wall!!

                                                          2. re: six dower

                                                            Last week I went to a French brasserie that offered complimentary olive oil tastings with their bread. They brought over several different bottles of olive oil for you to try with your breads. It was really interesting because some of it tasted like lavender and some with a little spicier kick but the tastes varied from where the olives were picked on the tree (or so our server said).

                                                            1. re: CreativeFoodie42

                                                              A restaurant in Mallorca offered different salts.

                                                              Meal had started with an amuse of an aubergine "crouton" - deep fried and crispy as bread and then spread with a meat and tomato paste.

                                                              Then the breads - olive, ciabatta and baguette. Only one oil. But four salts - sea salt and three flavoured ones - hibiscus flower, curry and something else that we couldnt place.

                                                              And, being Mallorca, the bread basket was refilled throughout the meal whenever we'd emptied it.

                                                              1. re: CreativeFoodie42

                                                                Love this idea! I would so enjoy an OO that tasted like lavender. Mmmmm!

                                                            2. There's a place in Montreal that serves you baguette, dill pickles and Cheddar Cheese before dinner, can be filling, but so good.

                                                              1. -fresh chips, fresh salsa

                                                                -warm olives at a tapas restaurant

                                                                -miso soup

                                                                -shrimp chips

                                                                -fresh naan

                                                                another little gem was the complimentary handroll I got recently at a local sushi place, wonderful little presentation, while I waited for my order. also the lobster amuse bouche recently. mmm.

                                                                I admit I like bread of most any kind, but especially local or variety breads.

                                                                and for afters, those little candied fennel (?) seeds that i'm sure are a hotbed of bacteria, but I can't resist, also the ouzo candies at greek places.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: im_nomad

                                                                  Ohhhhhhhhh! How could I forget? Since you mentioned sushi goodies, my favorite freebie starter is spicy/crunchy crab salad as prepared by my favorite sushi place in town. They know I love it extra spicy and always make it that way for me.

                                                                2. Lots of the old-line tex-mex places in South Tx serve a very good cup of vegetable soup before the chips and salsa come out. Usually cabbage, squash, tomato, onion and maybe a piece of corn on the cob.

                                                                  1. We have had steamed and salted edamame served just after ordering. They are very addicting, especially with a cold beer. I also love chips and a good salsa at the Mexican restaurants.

                                                                    1. Our favorite Med/Mid.Eastern restaurant serves the best ever hummus with home made toasted pita bread. The owner, Sam, is a good friend, but he won't part with the recipe.
                                                                      Little does he know - I think I've got it down.

                                                                      1. One of are favorite restaurants presents tuna mousse, beautifully light & whipped in a small bowl served with lettuce leaves. Delicious.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                                          Is that from a sushi restaurant? WOW. Tuna mousse. I am envious (so is the cat on my lap)!

                                                                          1. re: kattyeyes

                                                                            Actually, the tuna mousse is from A CA MIA, Cape May. Italian.
                                                                            Under the original owner, sans cat. :>)

                                                                        2. i had dinner in Metulla, Israel and they served a small plate of hummous, olives and pita. so fresh and delicious!

                                                                          1. I love the delicious not-too-sweet cream puffs that are served before every meal at Thanh Bros. Pho in Seattle. It is inevitable that I order some to take home with me. Brilliant.

                                                                            1. Whereas I am a devotee of papads and various chutneys, a fanatic about chips and clever sauces, and freak on tidbits at a sushi bar including a brilliant miso soup... I am a bit shocked that banchan hasn't been offered up here.

                                                                              These are delicious treats that are additions, freebies if you will, when ordering korean. The better the banchan the better the restaurant. Or at least that is general consensus, Heres a list of examples for the possible unitiated. I will add some pics, too. And please add or correct this list of freebies:

                                                                              jorim: a broth laden with beef, quail egg, or tofu. Simmered with garlic and onion.
                                                                              bokeum: a stir fried and sauced dish. Could be kimchi, pork and i have seen some sort of squid before.
                                                                              jeon: usually pan-fried pancakes. Think egg with green onion, but there are others.
                                                                              namul: steamed, stir-fried, marinated or boiled dishes. Generally wewll seasoned vegetables or noodles. Look for my fav, miyeok muchim, a cold seaweed dish.
                                                                              kimchi: fermented napa cabbages. I like the baby kimchi. Can be seasoned many ways, but generally hot chiles and salt. If you are fortunate to live in a larger city with a Korean populus, you might have a Super H Mart. They have a huge selection of these in their kimchi bar.

                                                                              I am in no way an expert in Korean cuisine, but have taken to it in the last year, and try to keep notes. Adding here will satisfy the OP and my desires. ;)

                                                                               
                                                                                  1. re: DallasDude

                                                                                    He's pointing out that a couple people already did mention banchan. Did you read the thread or just jump to the end to post your own thing? (I do appreciate the description of the different varieties, tho.)

                                                                                    1. re: DallasDude

                                                                                      It's a "permalink" - it should take you to a particular post on the thread. But given how the site's been running lately, there's no guarantee it will work.

                                                                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                                        I did read the thread. lol, guess I am blind so forgive me if I passsed it. New contact lenses with my free shmear, pita chips and home made pickles at my favorite deli.

                                                                                        edit: ahhhh Alan mentioned it first. I must have skimmed past. thousand apologies and a jar of kimchi to the offended!

                                                                                        1. re: DallasDude

                                                                                          No apology necessary. I'll take the kimchi, though!

                                                                                  2. One of the better/more authentic Mexican restaurants here brings out this delicious, though elusive dip with thin slices of carrot and cucumber. I have no idea what it is, but maybe someone does. Gosh, I wish I'd had it more recently so I could explain it better. It's pooled on a plate, so not too thin, but it doesn't glob onto your veggie stick, either; and is creamy, light orange, not much heat, if any, um...... gosh, a bit sweet, tangy, flavorful, but I have no idea with what. Anybody had something like this? I should ask the restaurant about it. (I wish they gave you more!) (This is Los Equipales in Albuquerque, if that helps anyone tell me what's in this stuff!)

                                                                                    1. Similar topic here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/642788

                                                                                      And I'll say again here what I said there: the gribnitz (deep-fried chicken cracklings), along with two kinds of pickles at 2nd Avenue Deli in NYC.