Studying Restaurant Menus Makes Me a Better Cook

A bowl of healthy vegetarian food

Whenever I’m in a cooking rut, I look at restaurant menus. Almost every restaurant with a website has them, and in crisp PDF format. I download, survey the font choices, the colors. Then I dive into the selections.

Sometimes I pick restaurants that I’ve enjoyed already. Like at Penelope in NYC, where my partner and I had such a delicious brunch that we decided to go back again the next day. My choice on both visits was the Penny Egg Sandwich:

Scrambled eggs with american cheese & pesto on a croissant or english muffin.

add ham, sausage, bacon, or soysage.

Add fruit on the side, plus English Breakfast tea with milk. This is pretty much my ideal breakfast. Easy to recreate at home, especially if you’ve already got pesto on-hand. And easy recipes are my favorite.

Another breakfast menu I think about often: Megs’ Aussie Milk Bar, in my hometown, Newport, RI. (Again, breakfast so good we had it twice.) The menu is a total treat to peruse, with all sorts of words that make you feel cozy: yoghurt, toasty, brekkie. Yes! I love all of these things. When we ate there, the owner (who was also the only waiter) urged every table to order smoothies because it was a hot day. And he wasn’t leading us astray – is there a better time during which to enjoy a cool, refreshing smoothie than on a hot summer day?

Tropical Daintree

Mango, pineapple, peach, passion fruit, strawberry, coconut & banana.

When I’m craving a burst of cold fruit, this is poised to be my go-to. Scanning through the menu, I also remember the Megs’ Muesli. Can’t go wrong with local yoghurt, seeds and fruit. Making a mental note to throw that together when I need an easy but healthy brekkie.

Sometimes I download menus from places I’ve never been, but would certainly like to eat at, if I had the opportunity. Like Honey Hi, in LA. Pretty much every single dish is drool-worthy. I dare you to resist:

that grain bowl

organic black rice, kale, roasted delicata squash, rainbow cauliflower, turmeric pickled onions, nettle tahini pesto, cashew buckwheat dukkah — vg

+ egg

+ faroe islands salmon

Yes, please. Reading this one reminds me that I love making grain bowls at home – so simple to throw together! And again, pesto is such a great staple. Although I’d make it simpler with whatever green I had on-hand (which has yet to ever be nettles – sorry nettles, no shade). Omit the pickled onions – not my thing. Definitely add egg. And hey, I already have half a bag of black rice from an old recipe, just waiting to be used up!

I’m also enamored with the menu at Jack’s Wife Freda, in NYC. Not sure why we didn’t go during our last trip.

Poached Eggs with Grilled Tomato and Haloumi

2 poached eggs, grilled tomato and haloumi, served with sourdough toast

I love halloumi (whether it has one L or two)! Why don’t I use halloumi more often? Also, poached eggs are so great – I always go lazy and fry ‘em, when really, I should get on the poaching train. And grilled tomatoes are truly one of the best foods in life. A delicacy, in my opinion. The grilled tomato is my favorite part of the traditional English fry-up.

One of my goals for 2019 is to create some of my own recipes – and there’s probably no better place to start than by studying other recipes. I love gleaning flavor ideas and ingredient combinations from other dishes, and then adjusting them to my liking. Putting only things you absolutely love together in a meal. Cooking purely for one’s own pleasure, am I right?

Do restaurant dishes ever inspire homemade meals? Would love to hear about your go-to dishes in the comments.