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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