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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? ;)



            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 ...


            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


                      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!

                      3. I hack a bunch of Oleana's Ana Sortun's recipes!!! Then again I took the easy route and bought her excellent book "Spice" :)

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: joebelt

                          Ditto, that. The easiest to do is her simple but brilliant deviled eggs. I basically make deviled eggs the way one would, and then add in tuna and capers/olives. Deelicious.

                        2. I use tender stemmy cilantro as a salad vegetable, a la Chilli Garden.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Aromatherapy

                            I hack East Coast Grills tuna tacos about once a week, not quite the same but I use better quality tuna and a lot more of it.

                            1. re: phatchris

                              Strangely I never tried these but notice all the raves from the regular diners there. Would you please tell me how these are made?

                              1. re: Dax

                                They're very similar to traditional Baja fried fish tacos but with seared rare tuna. Fish, cabbage, creamy sauce, lime, tortilla, yum.


                                1. re: BJK

                                  Actually, the ECG version features jicama and avocado, no cabbage. The sauce is not creamy, and it's got tamarind paste in there.

                                  I've hacked these at home and still find myself missing the version at the restaurant. I do believe they put crack in theirs.

                                  1. re: yumyum

                                    Oh, CRACK, I knew I was missing something.


                                    1. re: BJK

                                      Crack. It's what's for dinner. Thanks for the laugh BK.

                          2. I love cooking from Gordon Hamersley's cookbook. Easy recipes, easy to find ingredients and really great results. My favorite are his short ribs. It's worth it to buy the book just for this recipe.

                            1. This is a great topic! I find myself borrowing more from Boston bartenders than chefs. For instance, I've long tinkered with my Margarita recipe, and borrowed one refinement from the bar at Tremont 647, which uses a dash of OJ in its excellent Margaritas. Details here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/436754

                              I also draw inspiration from places like ESK and No. 9, which have spurred me to tinker with unusual bitters like Becherovka in my own original cocktails, and to riff on the basic Manhattan/Brooklyn cocktail formula with a variety of aromatized wines, liqueurs, and/or bitters.

                              All-Star Sandwich Bar encouraged me to produce a homemade kummelweck roll; it's not perfect, but it's better than waiting till the next time I'm in Buffalo for a homemade beef-on-weck fix.

                              Caffe Umbra inspired me to make tempura out of thinly-sliced lemons, a great snack (though messy to make). ESK reminded me that roasted marrow is really a pretty easy, cheap, and decadent-tasting snack.

                              Black-Eyed Susan's on Nantucket gave me the idea to use leftover Thai green curry in a morning-after omelet.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                So how's that kemmelweck go? Is this a from scratch roll recipe?

                                1. re: applehome

                                  Lord, no, I'm not that much of a baker. The only yeast-risen bread I've mastered is pizza dough.

                                  This homemade kummelweck recipe involves gluing a mix of caraway seeds and coarse salt to the tops of store-bought kaiser rolls with a cornstarch wash, then baking briefly to cement them.

                                2. re: MC Slim JB

                                  Might I ask where you bought your Becherovka? Do you know if anyone around the South End carries it? The Metamorphosis is perhaps my favorite drink of all-time and I'd love to be able to attempt a recreation at home!

                                  1. re: emmyeats

                                    Wine Emporium on Tremont at Dartmouth carries Becherovka; Brix would order it for you. It's becoming increasingly easy to find. The first place I spotted it was the Wine Gallery on Rt 9 in Brookline.

                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                      Thanks! I picked some up tonight...can't wait to experiment!

                                3. I made Ming Tsai's shrimp tempura recipe the other weekend and it was excellent, though I'm still trying to get the tempura smell out of my house!

                                  Recipe here: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

                                  1. Yes, good topic. I hack often, always have (though it's usually more ideas than trying to replicate specific recipes). My favorite in recent memory was a platter of Khao Sarn's Miang Kum, right after the big spinach scare -- I had spinach from the farmer's market and I used that as a marketing ploy to get the guests to buy local. After some initial hesitation, the dish was a huge hit. That day I had also bought some "dragon" peppers from the market and used them instead of the usual bird chilies in my green curry....it turned out to be killer hot. I don't think anyone there was likely to buy such peppers from the farmer's market in the future!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Zatan

                                      Would love to hear about your green curry recipe on Home Cooking or otherwise. I am trying to learn how to make some curries.

                                    2. I often try to recreate a Chacarero sandwich at home: with green beans, steak or chicken, avaocado spread and hot suace, but without their bread i'm left with poor excuse on a pita. I'll keep tryin though