Ignore Bourdain. He can devour his sirloin—I’ll take his serving of overpriced restaurant salad. You should too. These salads are everywhere from Michelin-starred tasting menus to tapas-style hot spots and while Bourdain scorns them as bowls of leaves, other chefs are realizing that cooking with vegetables is healthy, cheap and delicious. Salads are transforming from an overlooked side to a must-order main.
At The Breslin, April Bloomfield’s gastropub and homage to meat in New York’s Ace Hotel, the salad boasts all the distinguishing marks of her cooking without the side of lethargy that comes with meaty entrees. You can’t blame diners for gawking at the lamb burger, served so rare it oozes blood. But while the burger stars in Yelp reviews, the subsequent food coma goes unmentioned.
The salad will keep you sprightly. And it testifies to Bloomfield’s characteristic excess. At first glance, it appears that you’ve just spent $14 on a tub of butterhead lettuce that a CIA extern threw into the large, low white bowl in an artful-but-careless manner. But then you rustle the leaves to reveal large chunks of supremely salty and creamy feta interspersed with more sunflower seeds than hide in gourmet granola. With a sprinkling of fresh mint and a generous douse of bright herb dressing, this salad will keep you full until breakfast.
For those who grew up haunted by the squirmy boiled eggs that lurked beneath salad bar sneeze guards, the phenomenon of too-big-to-finish salad bowls might come as a shock. While the popularity of vegetarian and so-called clean eating diets helped popularize salads, they also offer a green counterpart to brazen burgers. Photos of salad bowls overflowing with tomatoes, avocado, and candied pecans are the vegetarian equivalent of cheeseburgers spilling their guts. With the rise of salad chains like Chop’t and Sweetgreen, this phenomenon ceases to be the niche domain of healthy living bloggers and becomes mainstream.
Keith McNally is another restaurateur who has realized the potential of including craveable greens on his well-curated menus. While a nicoise salad might seem like a boring bistro basic, the version at Cherche-Midi hits all the same creamy-salty-crunchy buttons that engineers use to engineer craveable eats. Each bite combines the crackle of perfect lettuce with slick roasted peppers and soft potato salad. These aren’t leftover ingredients thrown into a bowl. Instead, the combination demonstrates the same thought and attention demonstrated to the pricier prime rib, only in the composition as opposed to the cooking.
Cataloguing New York’s salad renaissance would demand thousands of words. Reviews laud Carbone’s theatrical Caesar salad. City Bakery’s kale salad helped make kale cool. Taim deserves praise for its balanced (but overlooked) Moroccan carrot and marinated beet salads. Sorry Bourdain, the age of the burger is over. Salad is cool.