We can probably all agree that butter is one of the best parts of going out to eat. Who doesn’t love slathering slices of warm, crusty bread with perfectly softened butter before a meal? It’s an indulgence we’re increasingly ditching in our daily lives, swapping buttered toast for chia pudding and green juice, making it even more of a treat when dining out.
At many of the nation’s top restaurants, though, butter is creeping its way to, well, almost center stage. Although compound butters, made by flavoring the fat with other ingredients, have been around for a long time (who hasn’t seen a medallion of herbed butter atop a steak?), chefs are now creating inventive varieties to complement their dishes. Here are seven delectable flavored butters at some of the nation’s best restaurants.
At his eponymous restaurant, Kevin Sbraga weaves modern techniques and accents through his seasonal American menu, creating an accessible yet exciting experience for his loyal Philadelphia diners. Sbraga’s spaghetti with king crab is a perfect example of his style, saucing tender house made pasta and succulent shreds of king with decadent tomato-chili butter.
To make the butter, Sbraga and his team prepare their own tomato paste, then add in Calabrian chili flakes and butter, before folding in melted shallots and finishing with salt and pepper. Just shy of al dente, the pasta (with a splash of its cooking water), is added to the flavored butter, then finished with fresh king crab, for a super-savory take on spaghetti all’Arrabiata.
Jams, New York City
Thirty years after its original opening on East 79th Street, Jonathan Waxman’s temple to seasonal cuisine re-opened in 2015, celebrating the breezy California cuisine that made it a favorite in the eighties. Although Waxman has created an updated, kale-ified menu at Jams, he’s thrown a few classics back in, like the signature “Jams chicken”, which remains a favorite, just as it was decades ago.
While the original chicken was finished with herb-laced salsa verde, Waxman’s updated preparation is coated with an herbal, tarragon-infused butter that keeps the meat moist and highly flavorful.
Catch, New York City
At this eatery in New York’s buzzy Meatpacking District, the focus is on seafood, prepared with a number of global culinary inspirations. From decadent towers festooned with shrimp, king crab, and lobster to tricked out sashimi and indulgent scallop pasta, Catch offers a range of elaborate dishes that keep the elite eaters coming.
Their super-popular “MRC” sushi roll (named for building’s original iteration as the Manhattan Refrigeration Company) is an explosion of seafood, stuffed with poached shrimp and avocado and topped with seared tuna and crunchy tempura flakes. The entire roll is drizzled with a house made Ponzu butter—nutty brown butter finished with citrusy Ponzu sauce.
Ink, Los Angeles
Top Chef Winner and famed chef Michael Voltaggio prizes himself on exploring Los Angeles’ diverse ethnicities through his refined yet playful culinary preparations. Ink has been much lauded by publications and critics across the country for its style of cuisine, which is known as “modern Los Angeles.”
Voltaggio’s radish toast shows this hybrid culinary approach, featuring soft butter flavored with Japanese ingredients miso and togarashi, a spicy chili blend. The umami butter is spread on toast, then covered with very thinly sliced radishes and finished with grey salt.
Girl & the Goat, Chicago
Stephanie Izard opened Girl & the Goat in her birthplace of Chicago in 2010. Izard and her crew focus on globally influenced family-style dishes, from local-inspired favorites like sweet potato bleu cheese pierogies, to esoteric main courses like wood oven roasted pig face.
The menu draws on Asian flavors in its grilled shrimp dish, which starts with a base of caramelized red onion butter, made from infusing the fat with the fragrant, long-cooked alliums. The shrimp is coated with the butter, flavoring the entire dish, then topped with yu choi, a crunchy Chinese green, red onion pieces, and crispy shallots.
610 Magnolia, Louisville
Located in the heart of Old Louisville, Chef Edward Lee’s farm-to-table restaurant features organic ingredients, all sourced locally from the Kentucky/Indiana region. The four and six course tasting menus feature interesting proteins including squab, venison and smoked eel.
As it turns out, Southern components pair extremely well with French and Asian influences, as seen in a seared scallop dish which sits on broken Carolina rice, alongside grapefruit segments, pepitas, pickled seaweed and gratings of miso cured egg yolk. The seared scallop is topped with an unctuous combination of uni (sea urchin) and butter, for a slightly funky flavor that permeates the entire dish.
AL’s Place, San Francisco
Winner of Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant of 2015, AL’s place serves up highly creative cuisine in the culinarily-saturated Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. Vegetables, often grown specially for the restaurant, take center stage, and are prepared innovatively, like their French fries, which are brined for 96 hours, then fried twice.
In his “snackle” section of the menu, London pairs white-and-pink breakfast radishes from local Blue Dane Garden with orangey preserved bergamot butter, and a dash of sea salt on the side.
Leah Bhabha is a cookbook co-author, recipe tester, and food writer who has written for numerous publications including Food & Wine, Marie-Claire, The Guardian and Food52. She chronicles her cooking and eating experiences on her blog, OneHungryPickle.com.