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.
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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.