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Most inventive / non-traditional "free" items at restaurants?

When I say inventive and non-traditional, I mean things that are not either a bread basket, or one of those ubiquitous amuse bouches.

For example, the one that immediately comes to mind is the pound cake that Bouley gives you as a "parting" present, or the chocolate goodies that Modern passes out before you head home.

Any others out there that you can think of?

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  1. EMP's granola!

    Craft also gives you a muffin or something similar.

    Jean Georges will give a small bag of chocolates, to the ladies, only, IIRC.

    Doesn't Per Se pack up your unfinished chocolates to go, as well?

    Clinton St Baking Co also will give away leftover muffins at the end of the day.

    Mermaid Inn has chocolate pudding and one of those red fortune telling fish.

    See also:

    4 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      It's funny, but I have never eaten the jar of granola from EMP.

      1. re: ipsedixit

        We have so many empty Bell jars from EMP granola we asked if we could give them back (they said no : ) ).

        1. re: Spiritchaser

          You can give them to me! I keep them—great for storing dressings, making quick pickles, etc. You can never have too many as far as I'm concerned.

          1. re: loratliff

            They are just standard pint mason jars right? You could even do regular canning with them.

    2. Louro starts you out with their "Portuguese butter" a spread with lard spices and pork, is quite delicious and something I've never seen anywhere else.
      Jungsik's amuses ,i.e. fried chicken is really good.
      Recette on Evenings with Jesse, gives you a cake much like Boulez to go home with

      1. The "parting gift" is about as ubiquitous as an amuse bouche at high-end places these days. The first ones I recall were Gramercy Tavern's breakfast muffins, but since then they've become de riguer.

        Probably the most interesting ones (at least in terms of not being a typical baked good or chocolate) are EMP's granola, and once (last year?) around X-Mas when Aquavit gave us, along with some cookies, little spice pouches to make Glögg at home. That was a fun idea.

        1. Bouley gave us a really nice wooden box with wonderful chocolates.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Spiritchaser

            That just reminded me that we got somethings similar from Danube (RIP) a while back, but it was mignardises and not chocolates.

          2. I went home with a bartender at SHO once.

            1 Reply
            1. Cucina di pesce -- or, as we call it, "Joe Pesci's" -- used to have a big pan of steamed mussels in tomato sauce out in the bar area for people waiting for their table.

              While the quality of the food there in general is surely debatable (I wouldn't know, haven't been back in many, many years), I thought this was one of the more interesting and quite tasty freebies I've gotten.

              1. Distilled, a new place in TriBeCa, gives you addictive cumin scented popcorn in lieu of bread.

                EMP's granola is incredible.

                1. We've received a really nice stollen from Blue Hill @Stone Barns around the Holidays.

                  1. Ford's Colony, Williamsburg,VA. c.1997. Side dishes 'passed' (by the waiters) around the dining room during service. Belgium Endive braised in veal stock and cream comes to mind....

                    1. I once got a saucy half lobster left on my shoulder while a waiter was clearing the plates.

                      In the new Khe-Yo they give you sticky rice with crazy delicious jeow

                      I have a major sweet tooth but I always feel that getting free cookie, muffins, etc after a big meal which included dessert is a total waste. Like Trip Advisor sending me a "I Travel with Trip Advisor" bumper sticker. How lucky one can get

                      And I know you said no bread basket, but the Scarpetta bread basket is an invention

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: Ziggy41

                        Every muffin/bread we have ever gotten has been proceeded with "This is so you have something for your breakfast tomorrow", every choclate/cookie type thing has been proceeded with words to the affect of "This is to remember us by". I never felt there was an intention of having it later on that night and I think it's a nice gesture regardless of what we wind up doing with it.

                        1. re: Spiritchaser

                          With the expectation that the gift will be consumed the next day, I still have a hard time understanding why "day old" muffins or bread is a great gift.

                          1. re: Nancy S.

                            You see "day old" and I see a nice parting gift, tomato/tomato, maybe I just tend to see the generonsity of the house for what is intended to be.

                            I am assuming everything you consume is less than a couple hours old?

                            1. re: Spiritchaser

                              Granola is made to last a bit, so that's good. Chocolates can survive as well. For example. I just find it curious that a restaurant of the type that offers a gift (which type, presumably, has been trying to operate on its highest level) would want its customers "final taste" to be one of stale baked goods.

                              1. re: Nancy S.

                                Baked goods don't stale that quickly, especially fat-heavy ones such as muffins or cakes. Fatty acids (in eggs and oils) counteract staling by coating the starch molecules and preventing them from realigning and degelatinizing.

                                Even bread, which contains no fats, with modern anti-staling agents has a much longer shelf life than it did in the past. 12 hours (from dinner to breakfast) is nothing for a muffin. You could keep it five days, maybe a week more than likely. It'll mold before it stales.

                                1. re: sgordon

                                  Well, I'm apt to disagree -- I have no interest in eating a day old muffin, especially when impeccably fresh and delicious ones are available, somewhere or other. For me, the difference in significant, regardless of the fat content.

                                  1. re: Nancy S.

                                    You'd be surprised if you knew how many "fresh baked" goods you've purchased were actually baked the night before... Or two nights before...

                                      1. re: Nancy S.

                                        Putting aside Nancy's impeccable ability to carbon date bakes goods, the only place that I'm aware of that gives away "day old" baked goods is Clinton Street Baking Co., and the're very clear about what they do. They put them in little brown bags on a table near the front of the restaurant, and people can take them or not as they see fit. (Oh, and they're not really day old. They're from that morning.) The high end places that give away baked goods bake them fresh that afternoon.

                      2. the candy box/cheese grater with secret drawers at Del Posto has been the most playful i've seen.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: coasts

                          Are the drawers secret? I thought they were rather obvious.

                          (But I do like the presentation... it's fun.)

                        2. I use to server black jelly beans with espresso. Not in the coffee just a small side dish, I thought the flavor, similar to black sambucca, just went well with espresso.

                          1. Not sure it really qualifies since it was a one off but a couple years ago we had a dinner at Corton cooked by Rene Redzepi and at the end of the meal they gave us a parting gift, they had made caramel using bone marrow and stuffed it back into thin slices of the bone and wrapped it in butcher paper. Still have the bones.

                            I do get that they aren't always necessarily welcome, I remember the first time we had lunch at Ko they gave us duck onigiri to take away, dead of summer, hot day, not going to be near a refrigerator for 8+ hours afterwards, they got donated to the New York Department of Sanitation.

                            A couple times since then I've politely declined the parting gifts when they didn't work for us and the servers are always a little bit taken by surprise initially but recover quickly (well, there was the one guy who went to great lengths to push them on us, going so far as chase us out of the restaurant when we left them on the table).