The trouble with salad

The above headline is misleading. There is not merely one trouble with salad. There are many, and I will proceed to catalogue them. I will stop only when I hit my word limit.

One. Salad in a restaurant, before an entrée, exists only to appease you. Its sole purpose is to keep your fork busy until your table's main courses, grudgingly and reluctantly, make their way to the heat lamps, where they will wait until you finish your salad.

Two. Salads always sound better than they are. I rarely order them, but recently had one that promised farm mixed greens, heart of palm, strawberries, goat cheese, and honey macadamia nuts with a strawberry balsamic and olive oil. It was actually lettuce with fruit syrup. While most menus describe lots of juicy ingredients along with the lettuce, they invariably turn out to be tiny and insignificant bits lost among the leaves.

Three. They are a waste of money. The last restaurant salad I ordered, the aforementioned strawberry extravaganza was $18. Granted, I was on vacation, and seduced by the menu description (and a large Mai Tai), but it would have been a better use of greens to take a $20 bill and light it on fire.

Four. The god-awful "entrée salad." To justify its steep price, restaurants will toss some chicken breast or steak on lettuce leaves, often with cheese, a bread loaf's worth of fried croutons, and creamy dressing. This completely defeats the purpose of a salad. Whatever happened to a delicate mélange of seasonal vegetables, tossed in a subtle vinaigrette? Which leads me to ?

Five. What ever happened to salad dressing? I had a perfectly serviceable spinach, bleu cheese and dried cranberry salad ordered for lunch today, courtesy of a very kind defense firm that is trying to crush my client's spirit with a barrage of needless discovery and baseless motions. But the salad came with a jiggly container of something red and fruity that I believe was intended to garnish cheesecake. It lulled me into a dispirited afternoon deposition performance.

The great French chef Jacques Pepin, waxing rhapsodic about delicate Bibb, oak leaf and Boston lettuce, admonishes only a light oil and vinegar or a cream dressing. He and Julia Child describe how stronger lettuces can stand up to garlicky dressings, as Julia describes Romaine with a classic Caesar made with excellent olive oil, lemon, one-minute eggs, fresh grated parmesan, and ground black pepper.

For her part, M.F.K. Fisher describes how she likes to put "tomatoes, sliced onions (preferably those pretty rose-blue ones), garden greens, fresh chopped herbs, some anchovy fillets or a boiled sliced potato or a hard-cooked egg into a bowl, sprinkle them with salt, freshly ground pepper, vinegar, and oil, and toss them around lightly, the Italian way, the way hungry Venetian waiters on their days off from the big restaurants in San Francisco do it for themselves at places like La Tosca, while the juke-boxes throb 'Return to Sorrento' and 'Now is the Hour.'"

Sounds dreamy, and beats sitting in a restaurant today, listening to the latest top 40, pouring raspberry cheesecake sauce on your spinach, and wondering why you even ordered a salad in the first place.


Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine in Ann Arbor. you can follow him at @nickroumel.

Published: Mon, Jun 06, 2016