One of my favorite activities in Los Angeles is going out to dinner. There are countless new restaurants opening every week, featuring entrees and appetizers with flavors I never knew existed. Naturally, these L.A. restaurants with buzz cost a decent amount so heading to a reservation every weekend just isn't an option. Instead, I've found a new way to enjoy restaurant meals, all from the comfort of my home:
Obviously, this is the most important step in the meal planning process. It's essential to pick something out of your comfort zone but not entirely out of your skillset. By searching through restaurant cookbooks, you'll quickly notice what is completely off the table (think a bone marrow recipe from Bestia).
My go-to cookbooks are from Bestia, Gjelina, Malibu Farm Cafe, Tartine, and Sqirl. For this exact meal, we settled on the Tuscan kale salad with radish and ricotta from Gjelina and the Margherita pizza and homemade pasta with basil oil from Bestia.
It's also important to approach a restaurant recipe with a strategy. When looking at the list of ingredients, there will undoubtedly be several obscure items, so be willing to supplement it. If you're not sure what could be a replacement, Google it! Odds are someone has found a hack to your problem already. Additionally, cut out ingredients that feel superfluous (and expensive), take shortcuts like buying pre-bought oils or pie crust, and adjust to what you already have. Your meal is never going to be identical to the restaurant version, so putting your own spin on things keeps the process manageable.
For this meal, we decided to buy pre-made crust from Eataly to avoid the pizza dough that takes days to make (because truly who has that time??) and supplemented the tomatoes with canned ones we already had at home.
Your meal will feel like fine dining if you invest in specialty items. I always make an outing from grocery shopping: Research a new market, stroll through the aisles looking for items to enhance your dish, and grab a few items you're excited by (for this meal we just went to Eataly, which is mainstream but delicious)! I also love investing in good cheese and wine—it truly makes the meal feel more like a date or a night on the town. As I've mentioned before, I budget shop for the rest of the basic ingredients in order to save on the bill, but you can truly find everything in a luxury market!
During a normal dinner, I would never make pasta from scratch or whip up a cocktail. These are all restaurant luxuries. However, the first time my fiancé and I made homemade pasta together, the dinner instantly felt more rewarding. We learned something new, spent a considerable amount of time together, and the final dish ended up being much more similar to the restaurant version in the end. Consider baking bread, making your own pasta, or even pickling vegetables the next time you approach a restaurant meal.
Whether it's your partner, a friend, or a neighbor, find someone to approach this daunting task with you. If you're trying to manage it all, you'll probably get overwhelmed and never want to do this again. We split up the tasks based on skill and make sure to have music playing and talk the whole time. It's quality time spent effectively.
Sometimes the best part of a restaurant is the ambiance. If a place is cute and has decent food, odds are it will be relatively successful. For the home meal, I try to set the table in a unique way (instead of the plate and paper napkins that make up the weeknights). Recently, all my decor has been fall-inspired (can you tell I miss the East Coast??). I've been on the lookout for self-timed candles, a new table cloth, and glass vases to hold my favorite fall-scented candles, but I'm trying to take it slow before it officially hits Halloween.
Nothing you make at home will be an exact replica of a restaurant meal. Unless you are blessed by divine culinary powers, there will always be some slight difference. Instead of being harsh on the meal, enjoy the difference. Ask yourself what you liked better and what you'd change next time. For example, as delicious as our pizza was, it honestly looked pretty unattractive. Our pasta looked closer to the real deal, but it still was very much homemade.
Do you have a favorite restaurant recipe you like to recreate? Let me know in the comments! x