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Do try this at home: your favorite Boston "restaurant hacks"?

As a chowhound who dines out a lot, I was pleasantly surprised to discover an interesting side effect: I've become a much better home cook as a result. Whatever restaurant I visit, be it a tiny ethnic hole in the wall or an exorbitantly priced food science temple to Western excess, I tend to leave with ideas to bring into my own kitchen.

My questions: what are your favorite "restaurant hacks" from around Boston? What menu items or taste combinations have you successfully reproduced at home? Have you made any changes to a restaurant dish to make it more to your liking at home?

A few I've changed a bit:

* Roasted beet and goat cheese sandwich from Cafe Kiraz - although I love the generous size of the one Cafe Kiraz makes, I make mine a little daintier, with less of each ingredient, and the beets more thinly sliced. I also drain the ingredients a touch more to reduce the sogginess, and tend to use a baguette instead of focaccia slices.

* Hot lobster roll from Neptune Oyster - a dinner party favorite. I really like Neptune's idea to use brioche (homemade is best when I have the time, but the brioche rolls from Iggy's are quite good), but I cut down on the overwhelming amounts of supplemental butter. Often, instead of putting any extra butter directly on the sandwich, I like to serve it with a small cup of clarified butter for dipping instead.

* Ahi tuna tacos from Ole - I swap out the tomatillo avocado sauce for plain old homemade pico de gallo.

A few I've happily left intact:

* Indian-spiced egg dishes from Punjabi Dhaba

* Homemade veggie burger from Christopher's

* The entire sandwich and salad menu from Hi Rise

* Most of the egg dishes from Sound Bites

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  1. While I can't say I've been able to successfully replicate any particular menu items from Boston restaurants, I can make great tacos now based on a trip to Tijuana and due to dining a Clio, I am much more conscious of the texture of the food I make it home, whether it's throwing a few coarsely chopped nuts into a dish or the Canadian bacon just so on my eggs benedict to add some chewiness to the the crunch of the toast and smoothness of the eggs and hollandaise.

    Also, thanks to Misty at Green St and Ryan and Ben at No. 9., I'm much more daring with cocktails both drinking and making, often to good results (the making part, I'm still a cheap date, but am willing to venture into the heretofore off limits realm of scotch and bourbon).

    Great thread topic, BTW.

    1. not specific to any particular japanese restaurant in town, but i have been able to successfully reproduce katsu don at home.

      5 Replies
      1. re: coookie

        Me also -- I avoided fried foods for 20 years but now I've gone wild. Last night I made katsu-curry, yum.

        1. re: coookie

          Can you both post recipes-- curry and don-- on home cook?

          1. re: madisoneats

            I got scolded for my very basic curry recipe when I posted it last, and so I'll give you applehome's very good advice on this:

            "Buy the roux blocks - S&B, House Vermont, and of whatever heat you like (Golden is ok, but the hot stuff is better). But don't use water. Take the time to make a decent stew - brown some chunks of meat (beef, lamb - even pork, although that's better as katsu - or a cutlet), cut up some onions and carrots, and cover with beef stock, let simmer until the meat is tender. Then, and only then, should you put the roux into the water and let the stew thicken up. Serve on Japanese (calrose) rice.

            The better the stew the more flavorful the curry (kare). Just water would be really bland - no Japanese household would be caught dead with something like that.

            Even when I'm making katsu kare - where I bread and deep-fat fry the pork or chicken - I will make a decent kare sauce by pan-frying the carrots and onions to start, and using a beef or chicken stock, add the roux to thicken, and then ladle it over the sliced katsu.

            Make sure you have plenty of tsukemono on the side to eat with the kare - I like benishoga (red plum pickled ginger) and takuwan (sweet yellow pickled radish)."

            For the meat, I'll pound the pork or chicken, season with salt, sprinkle some flour, egg wash, bread with kanpyo bread crumbs, and fry in canola oil (at medium high on my stove). You can also pre-season the meat with soy sauce, just blot dry before the rest of the process.'

            One other comment I'll make is that I have a small Le Creuset pot (7" diameter, 4" deep) which is great for frying. I just leave it on the stove top all winter and change the oil every week or so depending upon how much frying I've done.

            1. re: steinpilz

              Yeah - when I posted that, I forgot all about the potatoes. There's a step after you put in the meat and let the stew simmer (how long is based on what kind of meat you used - a more tender cut, like sirloin tips could be ready in 10 minutes, where stew meat from the chuck takes 30-45). But then, you need to put in your chunked up potatoes and let that simmer for 15-20 minutes (depending on the size of the chunks) until fork tender, and then you put in the roux chunks and stir until thick.

              If making katsu kare, you can skip the meat altogether, and just make the stew from either beef or chicken stock. But the potatoes are absolutely necessary in any case. Also - you can add carrots with the potatoes - especially if you are making the meastless version and do not add it first.

              Also, the recipe for oyakodon posted by nfo can be used for katsudon - just take the katsu (cutlets) and slice them into 1/2" thick, long slices and use instead of the chicken pieces. The basic ingredients are the same (dashi, mirin, shoyu, onions, egg).

            2. re: madisoneats

              As a quick and easy alternative (I prefer to avoid frying at home), I like to make oyakodon. In comparison, katsudon is quite a production, at least twice as much work.

              dashi (I just use the powdered stuff)
              sake (or mirin, depends on what I have on hand)
              soy sauce (a lighter, naturally brewed Japanese type)
              yellow onion (about 1/4 medium, sliced)
              green onion (about 1 stalk, minced)
              chicken (about 1 thigh or 1/3 breast, trimmed and diced)
              egg (scrambled)
              white rice (hot, freshly steamed)
              small pan and rice bowl, about the same diameter

              In the pan, combine equal parts (1-2 T each) of dashi, sake and soy. Simmer sliced onions for a couple minutes, then add chicken. Let it simmer for a few more minutes until it picks up some of the color from the broth and is cooked through the middle. Turn over all the pieces, add green onions, and give it another minute or two. Pour the egg mixture over, and help distribute it over the whole dish. When it's nearly set, turn the whole thing over onto a bowl of hot rice.

          2. Hey finlero, are you Jonathan Levitt of the Globe, or is he just a fan of yours? ;)

            http://www.boston.com/ae/food/article...

            BK

            2 Replies
            1. re: BJK

              No, last I checked, I wasn't Jonathan Levitt.

              Aside from the similar title (which I'm sure I wasn't the first to coin either), I don't see a lot in common. My eyebrows actually raised a little higher when I saw the Dig's recent Boston Slice Index (http://www.weeklydig.com/files/DigSli... as compared to http://www.chowhound.com/topics/406058 ). Then again, it's perfectly likely this was just an "Antz"/"A Bug's Life" moment.

              I did enjoy the article though. In particular, it reminded me of another favorite restaurant hack of mine: the potato pizza from Cambridge 1. I prefer mine without fontina, but with arugula and (brace yourself) thinly-sliced turkey. I know this last ingredient sounds weird, but it's actually quite a traditional Italian pizza topping, and goes wonderfully on this pie.

              1. re: finlero

                True, the similarity starts and ends at the title, though the Digg article has me thinking now ...

                :)
                BK

            2. I do a hack of Toro's corn at home. It's super-easy, just grill the corn (really char it), add butter, chili powder and Cotija cheese. It's not quite as good as Toro's, but for people who've never tried their corn they go nuts for it!

              Great thread finlero!

              3 Replies
              1. re: heWho

                Hey, that's right! I did this too the other day, although I have never actually BEEN to Toro. I did it based purely on the descriptions in Chowhound - I guess that's a chowhound hack.

                My hack was to boil the corn (not having a grill) then cutting off the kernels, and toasting them under the broiler until they were....toasted. Then added butter, cotija, chili and a squirt of lime juice. Wasn't fantastic, but a couple more tries should get it right.

                1. re: heWho

                  Love Toro's corn. They also use mayonesa (mayonnaise), so my version when I have access to a grill is to grill the corn, brush on mayo, roll in cotija cheese, and dust with chile powder (I like ancho, or chipotle). Serve with lime wedges.

                  1. re: heWho

                    Me, too, but I like to sautee a small clove of garlic in the butter, stir in a little mayo so it will adhere, then add chili powder, black pepper and lime juice before sprinkling with cheese.

                  2. I have tried on multiple occasions to replicate the lemon garlic chicken that has been a staple at Hammersley's since it opened and have yet to come close. If anyone has, please post your secret for success.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Northender

                      http://www.starchefs.com/GHamersley/h...

                      Made it many times. Never quite as good as at Hamersley's, but damn tasty.

                      1. re: Bostonbob3

                        Thanks - I will continue try and this will be very helpful...

                      2. re: Northender

                        The recipe is in the Hammersley's Bistro Cooking at Home. I assume that it is copyrighted, so I'm not sure I can post it. It is excellent.

                        Oops! I didn't read the above post. Sorry!