Let me be clear, this is not an article on how to live more cheaply or act affordably. I once, having saved up for months, blew $300 on an omakase dinner at a world famous sushi joint in Vancouver (and then I cried), a once in a lifetime kind of thing. I love good food and restaurants, so for me it's not about price point, it's about value and empowering yourself in your own kitchen.
Also: it's totes cool to judge me on aforementioned sushi. In fact, I’m judging me, right now. I am harsh.
The thing is, when I go out, I want something that I can’t get at home. Show me something new! Wow me! Show. Me. The. Honey. I realize that many people go out so they don’t have to cook at home, but I also believe they are sometimes intimidated by trying. Bottom line, the following items have ridiculously high profit margins and are a terrible value. I am often stupefied at the ridiculous cost of some of these items when you and I know what they cost to make yourself.
So, in no particular order, here’s what I’m never, ever, ever, ever ordering in a restaurant. Like, ever.
There is nothing a restaurant can do to a cut of meat that I can’t do at home. There isn’t a quality cut of meat that they can get that I can’t (and I have always loved this tutorial from America’s Test Kitchen on how to “age” meat like restaurants do. Bam, just saved you about $10/lb).
The best steaks have absolutely nothing done to them but temperature control. Don’t even get me started on places like Ruth Chris and other expensive steakhouses. If a chef is doing something fascinating to beef, awesome, but otherwise? Skip it and DIY.
I’ve talked about how to make steak before, but what about prime rib? You’ll buy it by the rib, figure a rib for every 2 people. You can season it a million different ways, but I like rubbing it with a paste of mustard, salt, pepper and garlic. Put it in a preheated oven at 350F, on a rack (you can DIY a rack by twisting tin foil into a coil). Cook until internal temperature is 130F, let rest for 15 minutes, then carve.
Additional trick: to make carving easier, when you buy the prime rib, ask the counter to cut off the actual ribs and tie them back on (you want the ribs, they add to the taste).
I know, I know. You’re thinking, who actually eats lobsters in restaurants except characters in movies?
Thing is, if you live in the right locales, and even if you don’t, lobster is relatively affordable (note the relative), easy to cook, fun to eat and ZOMFG delicious. We’ve been shoehorned into thinking about lobster as a frozen lobster tail -- both expensive and IMO, missing the best parts (like the claws), and not NEARLY as good as fresh lobster.
So hit up your local Asian market for lobster, this year ranging from 9-12$/lb (skip your grocery store, those lobbies tend to sit there forever and are really expensive. Asian markets=higher turnover, so fresher lobbies, better price). Pick up a 1.5-2lb lobbie (anything smaller is silly), and cook per my hysterical friend Tamar Haspel’s how to cook a lobster instructions here.
That’s right, 20-30 dollars, plus some butter, and you’re eating a lobster dinner. Lord only knows what you’d pay in a restaurant. Plus, at home, no one will judge you as butter drips off your chin. Except me. I am pre-judging you, quietly, right now. Here’s how to eat a lobster.
Plenty of people will tell you to never order chicken in restaurants, but, hey, sometimes restaurants are doing interesting, awesome stuff with them. What’s NOT awesome in a restaurant? Roast chicken. Well, it is awesome, but I can be awesome at home, and for far, far less. So save the bird for home cooking and venture into another area of the menu. I’ve covered how to roast a chicken before here but let's say you want to pump it up a notch -- consider brining your chicken first.
Take out a pot (big enough to fit a small child, but small enough for your fridge) and fill it with water and a handful of salt. Throw in a handful of sugar, then add peppercorns, bay leaves, and garlic. Add the chicken, and make sure it's completely covered with water; then let it sit for 24 hours in the brine. (If you don't have room in your fridge, use a cooler and ice.) Remove, cook as normal, it will be extra juicy and delicious. Want it to look like a restaurant chicken? Simply use poultry shears or a really hefty knife to carve your chicken.
Perspective: a wedge salad is ICEBURG lettuce (the "unemployed boneheaded stoner cousin who laughs at Tom & Jerry" of the vegetable world), with some blue cheese dressing, and perhaps, bottled bacon bits.
For the love of God, please don’t pay someone $8, $10 or even $12 for this. It's offensive. At home, slice a head of butter lettuce or romaine into quarters, place cut side up. Now top with some super thinly sliced red onion and real, you-made-them-yourself bacon bits -- maybe even go with pancetta. Some cherry tomatoes aren’t out of place here, and finally -- Roquefort dressing. Crumble real blue cheese, Roquefort, Stilton or Gorgonzola into a bowl, and mix with buttercream, a splash of vinegar, salt and pepper and then pour liberally onto salad. Crumble some additional cheese on top.
Broccolini is broccoli with a really good agent. While more expensive than regular broccoli, it's not a $12 side dish. It's a $3 vegetable. Buy it, wash it, trim the very ends off, throw into a baking dish with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt, and then place in a preheated oven at 400 degrees until the top of the broccolini is toasted and brown on top. Throw some Parmesan on top.
My people: flock to me and I shall share the great secret of our times: how to get those crispy roasted potatoes. Buy a bag of brown skinned potatoes, usually a few bucks for a bag. Wash them, cut into 2” chunks. Place in a microwave proof dish with a lid and 1” of water and a pinch of salt, and microwave on high for 8 minutes.
Carefully remove (the steam is a killer), drain, wash under cold water. Drain really well on paper towels, I have known chefs who used a hair dryer here. Throw onto lined cookie sheet, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 400 degrees until the potatoes have a great crust.
What restaurant dishes are a “sure skip” for you and why? Can you make an argument why I’m totally off base here (and I will not accept crustacean homicide avoidance as an answer -- nut up, ladies). Want to know how to make your favorite restaurant dish? Ask away; it's your turn, in the comments.