At a team lunch a few weeks ago, we all realized we'd ordered the wrong thing at Dune when Anne's meal arrived. Her Bocquerones Toast was piled high with anchovies, avocado, salsa, micro greens, and preserved lemon and looked like the perfect summertime meal. Just as I was making a mental note to order it next time, Leslie asked Anne if she could take a photo of the dish to make it for dinner that night. Though the impulse was natural to her, it never would have occurred to me. In the same position, I simply would have waited until the next time I returned to the restaurant (which is exactly what I did). I asked Leslie to share how she goes about taking inspiration from restaurant meals, and putting her own spin on them! xEmily
When Jonah and I first moved to New York, driving straight from our graduation ceremonies in Boston to a dorm on the Upper West Side for my graduate program, we arrived with a laundry list of food to eat. At the time, Kate Krader's, then Restaurant Editor of Food and Wine, Instagram was my favorite place on the internet. It was 2014 and her feed was full of that year's hippest dishes: Estela's gnocchi, All'onda's Uni Buccatini, $20 cocktails, and a lot of Ivan Ramen (images I could draw you from heart, I looked at them so many times). Our student budgets and entry-level jobs could barely cover our rent, let alone $100 meals, so we got into the habit of making our own versions of XO sauce and cocktails, shucking our own oysters and scooping our own uni (purchased from Chinatown fish markets), and simmering broth for homemade ramen. Don't get me wrong, in the two years we lived in New York, we ate at plenty of incredible restaurants, which we carefully saved for and looked forward to. But in between those meals, we learned to cook from all the dishes we weren't able to eat.
Whenever a recipe was available, we followed it—but more often than not, we had more fun forging our own. Instead of worrying about how the dish was supposed to taste, I focused on how I imagined it must. By the time we moved to L.A., the habit had been fully formed—and Jonah and I still frequently make restaurant dishes anytime we have order envy, see a beautiful dish online, or just want the challenge and fun of making it ourselves. Here are three simple tips for sourcing inspiration from restaurants:
1. Anytime you want to recreate a dish, take a photo of it! An image is the best tool for recreating the dish—it will remember the chopped Castelvetrano olives even when you don't, and exactly which lettuces went into that fantastic salad. When you're truly stumped—Google! Even if you can't find the exact dish, like Dune's Bocquerones Toast, you'll find plenty of similar recipes that can help inspire your own interpretation.
2. Mimicry isn't the goal. Unless you're a professional chef, you'll never be able to make a dish exactly like the restaurant does. The earlier you accept that, the more fun you'll have! Instead, use the image as a rough guide.
3. Buy the best ingredients you can afford. Because you aren't paying for a restaurant meal, you can afford to splurge a little! Buy a good loaf of fresh bread, a spread you've been dying to try, a good bottle of wine to drink with the fruits of your labor.
The resulting recipe can hardly be called a "recipe," but here's my very loose interpretation on Dune's Bocquerones Toast:
Good bread, like Barbari or a French loaf (ours is from Bub and Grandma's)
Olive tapenade, or similar (I used this, which I purchased at Dune)
Canned, oil-packed anchovies or sardines (I opted for sardines)
Halved Manzanilla Olives, or similar green olive
An Eastern Mediterranean sauce like toum or amba
Slice bread, then layer with tapenade, followed by avocado and canned oil-packed sardines. Dollop with toum or amba, then layer olives and top with a handful of microgreens.