Going out to dinner is a wonderful treat. You sit and relax as your meal is cooked and served, with the remnants whisked away when you’re finished. But dining out is an occasional experience, and meals must be prepared at home daily. That’s when you think of the delicious food you have enjoyed at restaurants and wish you could recreate those dishes at home. Now you can. Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek have written a fantastic cookbook, Secret Restaurant Recipes, that explains how to make tasty dishes found in a world-wide sampling of kosher restaurants. You will recognize many names as four restaurants are in Teaneck and roughly half are from the New York/New Jersey area. Eight recipes are from Israeli restaurants.
In the book’s introduction, the authors say they spent a year “picking the brains of the world’s best kosher chefs.” They got some of the recipes by going into the kitchens and watching the dishes being prepared. The book gives recipes for gourmet dinners for two, family fare and Shabbos and Yom Tov menus.
With beautiful photographs and a graphic design format that uses white space to keep you from being overloaded, Secret Restaurant Recipes instructs and entertains. Each recipe begins with something interesting about the restaurant, including some of the dishes it is known for, and after the recipe there are some “hacks” about the technique or ingredients used. Everything is indexed several ways for easy searching by location, category and ingredients. Even if you don’t make a single recipe, you’ll enjoy flipping through the pages and daydreaming about these wonderful restaurants that you may want to visit, perhaps visit again, or at least fantasize about.
I first received Secret Restaurant Recipes midweek, when I was thinking about what to make for Shabbos. After a cursory glance at the book, I decided on Gotham Burger’s chicken fingers with cranberry barbecue sauce. The cutlets, cut into strips, were rolled in seasoned flour, beaten eggs and seasoned bread crumbs, and then fried until crispy. Maybe my excellent results came from really following directions–like letting the pan get hot enough, and then letting the oil get hot enough. The topping was a mix of ingredients I always have on hand–barbecue sauce, teriyaki sauce and cranberry sauce–but had never thought of putting together. We loved the tangy sweet quality.
For Sunday dinner, I made Le Marais’ recipe for chimichurri sauce to accompany grilled steak. It was a piquant blend of herbs including mint, parsley and basil, with garlic, red pepper, oil and vinegar. The mint gave it a slightly sweet quality that offset the pungent blend of spices.
The following Shabbos I made Abigail’s popcorn chicken. Chunks of chicken are marinated in a wine and vinegar solution and then coated in batter and fried. They are glazed with a hot sauce, store bought, combined with lemon juice, olive oil and chives. The nuggets were delicious when I tasted after just making them. The chicken retained flavor from the marinade and the hot sauce complemented it nicely. However, the chicken lost some crispiness when reheated for Shabbos. I would make this again when I can serve immediately.
Last Sunday, we hosted a birthday party for my mother-in-law, and I made two dairy salads in the book. The Caesar salad from the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem calls for blending egg whites with the usual anchovy, lemon juice and garlic and then slowly adding the oil to emulsify. Croutons and parmesan cheese are added after the salad is dressed. It was an excellent Caesar salad and lighter than the mayo based version I had been making. The Rockport salad from Boston’s Milk Street Café is a satisfying mix of textures; greens topped with pear, red grapes, dried cranberries, shelled pistachio nuts and goat cheese with a honey, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and oil dressing. Both salads were completely consumed.
I look forward to making many more recipes, including the sea bass spring rolls from Teaneck’s Mocha Bleu and the praline brownies from Bagels ‘n Green in Brooklyn. And then there is the duck with a sour cherry reduction sauce from Mike’s Bistro in Manhattan. The best duck has crisp skin and a succulent interior. I have never achieved that result at home and stopped trying. But now that I have Mike’s recipe, I am going to try again.
By Bracha Schwartz