Deconstructing a Restaurant Dish

Have you ever dined out and thought “I’d love to make that at home?” Deconstructing a restaurant recipe is easier than you might think. Unfortunately for my friends, I do this at every meal. I spend a few moments with my fork lifting everything, looking at the construction of it, and taking tiny tastes of the individual elements before digging in to the whole thing. And now with the iPhone4 and the improved camera, I’m taking photos, too.

If you go so far as to take a photo of your food like I do, you might as well upload it to the iPhone app called Foodspotting. “Foodspotting is a visual guide to good food and where to find it. It’s the easiest way to find and share the foods you love,” according to their web site. It lets you describe and rate the dish that was just placed in front of you and let you Twitter and Facebook it to your friends. Go ahead and take a picture of the menu, as well, to help you reconstruct the dish once you are home. It will usually list some of the key ingredients. If you aren’t comfortable going that extra step, many restaurants post their menus on their web sites.

Houston’s in Cherry Creek North (now called Hillstone) is serving a Lump Crab Cake Salad. It’s risky for me to order crab cakes as not every restaurant knows how to pull them off and I become very disappointed. I took a chance, though, and Hillstone delivered.

According to my Foodspotting post: “The crab cake itself was a pleasant surprise. It was actually all lump crab meat that was moist and light with a crisp crust. There was a nice balance of flavors and textures: corn, avocado, red onion, grapefuit wedges, Pommery mustard dressing topped with måché”. This will be helpful in our reconstruction.

Let’s deconstruct and rebuild.

The salad, as I see it, is made up of a few major components: the crab cake, the dressing, the decoration and the salad. The crab cake itself is the foundation. We can cheat and pick up crab cakes at Whole Foods, Tony’s Meats, Marczyks or any high-end grocery store. Ask for ‘lump crab’.

The dressing is yellow so we could guess that it is mustard based. (According to the menu, the dressing is made with Pommery mustard, so we’d be right.) Most dressings include a vinegar. I’d assume a white or amber vinegar since the dressing is a bright yellow.  Apple cider vinegar is popular in dressings because it is sweet and tart. It has an amber glow. Another option would be a champagne vinegar. To soften the tartness, most vinaigrettes have a sweet component, so let’s just assume it includes honey or agave syrup. Now all we need is the oil. An extra virgin olive would be too strong and bitter. Restaurants love grapeseed oil, so let’s go with that. Add salt and pepper and, voila, we have a dressing. The restaurant version was thick, creamy, and clingy, so keep that in mind when blending your vinaigrette. That means more of the oil, mustard, and honey (the thick stuff) and less vinegar.

The decoration included skinned grapefruit wedges, corn kernels, and diced red onion – none of which were dressed, I noticed.  Did you?  The dressing was drizzled over the plate instead.

The salad consisted of a small mound of dressed måché sitting on top of the crab cake and a few strands of frisée scattered about.  The chunks of avocado were dressed and there was a lot of it. (Dressing the avocado was most likely to keep it from oxidizing.)  The finishing touch was a sprinkling of finely minced parsley and freshly ground black pepper – Tellicherry I’m betting.

That wasn’t hard.  Now go home, stop by the store and pick up the following:

crab cakes
1 package måché (in the lettuce section and looks like a lot of little green bouquets)
small head of frisée (looks frizzy with a ring of dark green and a white frizzy center)
1 avocado
1 red onion
1 bag frozen corn or fresh if available
1 pink grapefruit

These should already be in your cupboard:
Apple  cider vinegar
Pommery mustard
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

There you have it. Now get building!



  1. WOW! I think you have it! Thank-you so much. I am trying to copy-cat this recipe tonight and you gave me LOTS of great hints. You have a great eye for this. Very impressed.

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