Chestnut Street Inn

Fritter on a white plate, garnished with white sauce and herbs

Frustrated Vegetable Lover

Dear Restaurants,

I have a serious beef with many of you. It seems as though you are ignoring the salad course. You treat it like an after thought rather than an important component of your menu. You skimp on ingredients and try to plate it as cheaply and unimaginatively as possible.

First of all, iceberg lettuce in a bowl with a slice of cucumber and a packaged dressing is not a salad. In fact, we should basically call it hydrating as iceberg lettuce is made up of almost entirely water. That being said, I like iceberg lettuce. In fact I use it sometimes on sandwiches because it gives good crunch. Just don’t call it a salad.
Second, please stop drowning your greens in dressing. I don’t care how great your house dressing is. If you totally submerge the greens in it, the greens are overwhelmed and no longer crunchy. You might as well drink a vinaigrette soup.
Third, please add some pizzazz to your salads. Even if it is just some nuts and maybe a fruit of some kind, give me something besides just greens.
Next, a salad should not be limited to just greens with toppings. Any vegetable can be turned into a salad. If there is anything I have learned from the Mediterranean cultures of the world, it is that salads are as varied and individual as people are. You can have hot salads, cold salads, creamy dressings, light vinaigrettes, arranged salads, tossed salads, you name it. There is no boundary. Some of my favorite salads in fact don’t even have greens in them. Asparagus, roasted beets, brussel sprouts, roasted peppers, eggplant, radishes, oranges, you name it, they make great salads.
Also, if you use cheese on a salad, please make it delicious cheese. I don’t even necessarily mean make it yourself, just make sure it is a star. The salty and fatty composition of the cheese is intended to accentuate the greens and complement them, not overwhelm them. And by all means, please no processed impostor posing as cheese.
Finally, I applaud the fact that there are a myriad of “baby greens” mixes that are now commercially available. And I’m ecstatic that restaurants use them. But don’t forget, there are a ton of other spectacular options out there that many don’t even know about that can accentuate your salad, like arugula, radicchio, claytonia, beet greens, radish greens and baby kale. These are not only delicious in flavor, but many offer super health benefits. Incorporating them into salads is one of the best ways to sneak them in and kick up the nutritional value of your salad.
Call me kooky but when I get a great salad, it can be the highlight of a meal for me. To me the ultimate test of a chef isn’t if they can prepare a good steak or grill a chicken breast. That involves nothing more than proper temperature and knowing when to pull the meat off. The true test of a chef is how they can transform a vegetable into something fantastic and one of the best arenas for this kind of artistic expression is in the salad department.
P.S. Battering and frying said vegetables doesn’t count.
Frustrated Vegetable Lover

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