I’m not embarrassed to admit it: I love gifts. Picking them out, wrapping them, giving them, and, of course, getting them — it’s all absolutely delightful. Perhaps you can blame it on me being an annoyingly sentimental person (I’m a cancer, I can’t help it) but I appreciate gifts both big and small.
It’s probably why I’ve become enamored with restaurant takeaways — as in, those little gifts that some fine-dining restaurants give customers after the meal.
Restaurants don’t really talk about or advertise them; in fact, several chefs declined to answer questions about their takeaways saying they preferred to maintain an element of surprise for diners. But as anyone who’s been to more than a few Michelin-listed destinations knows, it’s not uncommon for the end of a white tablecloth, tasting menu, fancy-as-hell dining experience to end with both a hefty bill — and a little gift.
Often, it’s a small edible treat. Something like a box of mignardises, those single-bite desserts of delicate, sugar-crusted pate de fruit or a rich chocolate truffle. In the case of those sweet takeaways, the little candies serve to extend your meal a little bit longer. The next morning or perhaps the day after, you’ll see it on the counter and savor the memory of the full meal. It’s a nice gesture.
But truly thoughtful restaurant takeaways can do much more than that. Some restaurants go above and beyond with their gifts, giving customers a little surprise that can cement the meal in their minds — or at least, in my mind — for months if not years to come.
At Lazy Bear, the two-Michelin-starred dinner party-turned-tasting menu in the Mission, your meal includes a take-home bottle of cold brew iced coffee. It started as an a la carte after-dinner beverage — one made with Graffeo coffee, brown sugar syrup, milk, cream, and a little salt — but now, as a takeaway, it allows the restaurant “to extend our hospitality into the next morning,” a spokesperson shares. After a long meal and a long evening, I looked forward to waking up and treating myself to that small shot of creamy caffeine, which also comes with a seasonal coffee cake best enjoyed toasted and slathered in butter.
Atelier Crenn, star chef Dominque Crenn’s three-Michelin-star destination in Cow Hollow, once sent me home with a full bottle of house-made creme de cassis and a split of bubbles. Staff implored us to keep the party going at home by making a kir royale, the same French cocktail that inspired the first bite of the tasting menu, effectively bringing the whole experience into an elegant full circle.
Another new fine dining restaurant in the city ended their meal with a small beef tallow candle — made in an effort to reduce kitchen waste, the team explained — plus a Polaroid photo of your group. It’s stuck onto my fridge, a daily reminder of one of the most interesting meals I’ve had all year. Other memorable take-homes: made-in-house hand sanitizer from Kim Alter’s Nightbird, Carolina Gold rice porridge for breakfast from Smyth in Chicago, and a tin of granola from San Francisco’s Mourad.
The rational part of my brain knows these small gestures aren’t really gifts in the literal sense of the word. After all, by the time you push back your chair at most of these restaurants, you’ve spent hundreds of dollars (at least) and several hours of your time. But a thoughtful takeaway does add to the allure of the experience, to the transportive ability of a fine dining meal to allow you to pretend you have not a care in the world for at least a few hours. So, yes, I’ll continue to let myself be thrilled every time a restaurant ends the meal with a little gift. As if it were picked out just for me.