typically, i do not notice the "sides" on a menu. i look at appetizers, main dishes, that sort of thing. shouldn't a dish come with its own built-in sides?
the first time i ate at hearth, i was directed beforehand to partake of two particular sides, and this opened my eyes to this sometimes forgotten part of a menu. at hearth i had hen-of-the-woods mushrooms (also called maitake mushrooms, i think) and some lighter-than-air gnocchi. i think you really should not eat there without getting these two dishes. craft, as i understand it, makes a whole menu of sides.
i recently ate at ouest for the first time. since i was at the bar, and not wanting to get carried away (and since this place is a little pricey), i went with two sides. a few months ago i ate with some folks at lavagna, and watched jealously as my tablemate ate scrumptious looking sides of polenta and sauteed spinach. remembering that evening, i ordered the same at ouest.
at lavagna the polenta was rustic and italian looking, a deep yellow. this polenta at ouest is really more like a bowl of butter and cream--somewhere between cheese grits and cream of wheat. it was pale and smooth, and utterly delicious. the spinach, too, was just right (bright green and garlicky).
so, next time you go to a restaurant, don't forget the sides.