The Parisian family I lived with one summer served salads every night. They were plain little things, a few leaves of Bibb lettuce that their children and I rushed through on our way to the Camembert that was sure to follow. This was, after all, a traditional French family eating the traditional French way.
Not coincidentally, it was during dinner that I suffered the most homesickness. I grew up with a vegetarian mother, who taught me that while green salads with mustard vinaigrette had a place in the world, their station in life wasn't relegated to after the main course but before the cheese. They could be anything from an appetizer to a main course, too. See also:Behind the scenes at Leaf Vegetarian Retaurant
She taught me a similar lesson about a girl's station in life -- which can be pretty much wherever a girl wants it to be, a lesson I've tried to pass along to my daughters, but that's another story.
When I returned to the U.S. and found myself eating out more often, I was equally disenchanted with the leafy greens. Most were buried under Caesar or blue-cheese dressing, and the ones that weren't were still predictable, with chicken and tortilla strips or ground beef in a deep-fried shell.
All of which is to say, I've loved the shift in treating salads as jumping-off points for whatever chefs can dream. Rachel Best, executive chef of Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant, which I review this week, puts forth a particularly adventurous pearl couscous salad with sweet harissa tofu, figs, pistachios and feta.
Other salads I've enjoyed recently include the watercress-endive salad at Palettes, with pistachios, grapes and balls of lemon-scented goat cheese; the Massive Attack salad at Work & Class, with asparagus, avocado, tempura-fried broccoli and preserved lemon vinaigrette; and the kale-apple salad at both Acorn and Oak at Fourteenth, which isn't nearly as distinctive as it was a few years ago, but rarely disappoints.
Some loaded salads do, however. In my opinion, meatballs and romaine just don't mix.
Have you had greens that you rushed through on your way to something else lately? Or a salad to dream about? Share your thoughts below.
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