Living in New York City, I eat out at restaurants frequently. Sometimes, too frequently. While I love a night out at a fun restaurant, my waistline and wallet prefer I cook at home. But why not enjoy my favorite restaurant dishes at home?
In 2014 I started a video blog dedicated to recreating many of my favorite restaurant meals at home, and I picked up a few techniques to make the process easier along the way.
1. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
Chances are your favorite restaurant’s lamb bolognese sauce has similar components of a standard bolognese recipe — start by researching recipes that sound close to your dish and think about differences and similarities. If the recipe calls for cream, for example, do you remember the sauce being creamy or was that perhaps omitted?
A similar recipe can help provide the framework for cooking techniques and take some of the guesswork out of a type of dish you might not have tried before.
My attempt at NYC’s famous Levain Bakery chocolate chip walnut cookies – Looking through similar cookie recipes helped me get very close to the original
2. Ask questions.
It never hurts to ask the restaurant if they’re willing to share their recipe. If they won’t go for that, try asking specific ingredient questions like “What is the spicy flavor?” or “What gives the dish the crunch?” If all else fails, ask for a list of the ingredients, perhaps hinting of a food sensitivity so they’ll be inclined to include everything (not that we’d advocate fibbing, of course). Many restaurants are used to catering to food allergies and will be able to give a rundown of ingredients.
Asking questions at The Breslin helped me figure out how to recreate their signature lamb burger at home
3. Google it!
You’d be surprised at how many restaurants and chefs have published their recipes, whether in a cookbook or as part of a feature on a morning talk show. I was delighted to find one of my frequent brunch spots, Bubby’s, had published a cookbook a few years back and their recipe for my favorite banana walnut sour cream pancakes was included — I had no idea of it before a quick search online. Also, if you’re searching for a nationally popular restaurant you’re also bound to find copycat versions that can get you fairly close.
My at home version of NYC’s brunch spot Bubby’s banana walnut pancakes
4. Accept 95% accuracy.
Chefs wouldn’t be in the business of dishing up food every day if their recipes were all simple and easy to figure out. Some may have a secret ingredient you just won’t be able, or willing — in the case of the astonishing amount of butter and salt typically found in restaurant cooking — to replicate. That’s OK. I’ve substituted lemon juice for yuzu in Nobu’s yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño and it tasted almost exactly like I’d tasted the dish in Nobu’s restaurant.
My version of Nobu’s yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño
5. Taste the dish — and take notes.
You’ll be surprised what you forget days, even minutes after tasting a dish and how helpful jotting down a few tasting notes can be. Do you detect a spicy component, for example? Is there a citrus flavor hiding in the background? Sometimes the cilantro garnish or a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese makes all the difference in recreating that restaurant dish feel you might forget as soon as you put your fork down. Snapping a quick photo at the restaurant helps as well.
Bonus points for ordering a second portion to take home to taste test side-by-side against your own re-creation. When I was trying to figure out the creamy lemon dill salad dressing recipe from one of my neighborhood restaurants, I ordered the salad to-go with dressing on the side. The version I’d created at home wasn’t even close when I tasted the restaurant’s version, and it helped me add ingredients until I got it right (and it worked!).
Tuscan kale salad with lemon dill dressing inspired by Isabella’s restaurant
Do you recreate restaurant dishes at home? What are your tips?
(Image credits: Stephanie Barlow)