Need Fresh Dinner Inspiration? Read a Restaurant Menu

We don't talk about or review restaurants here at The Kitchn (we're all about the home cooking) — but that doesn't mean that we don't visit them or enjoy them! And we also get a lot of inspiration from restaurants, especially when we get stuck in a dinner rut. Why not turn to a restaurant menu for inspiration?

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Sometimes as the seasons change I get stuck in a pattern of repeating myself with dinners. It's always interesting to turn to a favorite restaurant and see how they are reflecting the current season in their menu. It's always interesting, too, to see how a chef arranges a menu, and what side dishes are placed with main courses, and so on.

Now, do I cook like a chef at a restaurant, with formally presented dishes and copious amounts of butter? No. Do I have all the resources of a high-end restaurant at my disposal? Absolutely not. But it's interesting and sometimes educational to peruse a weekly or nightly restaurant menu — I am often struck by fresh combinations of ingredients I wouldn't have thought to put together, or by an ingredient I don't know anything about.

But why wouldn't you just read a cookbook, you ask. Well, sometimes the sheer unknown quality of a restaurant menu is the most interesting aspect. (So mysterious — those leeks with bottarga. Whatever are they doing with those two ingredients, I wonder? Etc.) You are free to imagine what that dish might actually be like.

A few restaurants I like to check for inspiration:

Lucques - Especially the Sunday Supper menus. In Los Angeles.
Chez Panisse - Always interesting yet fresh, and with the cookbooks to refer to, educational! In Berkeley.
Rigsby's Kitchen - Local to me, and always comforting yet delicious.

I also keep up with quite a lot of restaurants via Twitter, which is one genuinely useful way to use Twitter. As restaurants and chefs tweet last-minute specials, inspired by the markets and the season, I often get inspired.

Do you ever check in with certain restaurants or chefs to refresh your cooking inspiration? If so, where do you like to look?

Related: Aperitif Cocktail: The Bittercup

(Images: Flickr member monkeycat! licensed for use under Creative Commons; Lucques website)

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Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.