How hard is it to make a decent salad?
Restaurant owners must not think it's very difficult, because they so often hire inexperienced cooks to assemble them. I may be wrong, but it's my impression that the salad maker is one of the lowest positions in a kitchen, just slightly above dishwasher.
Which is crazy, because salad is often the first thing in a diner's mouth.
Look at this picture of a deplorable salad, served at an upscale (although not high-end) place in Marin County. Absolutely no pride of presentation. Just a wet tangle of foliage tossed with a few chunks of avocado and some white beans.
It tasted terrible. Really terrible. Bitter!
I know radicchio is bitter. I know blue cheese can be bitter. But they should have been mitigated by the sweet crispness of the Romaine, the plump mealiness of the beans, the smooth butteriness of the avocado.
Nope. Just bitter.
What a waste of ingredients.
Stand-out salads — and I'm only talking about leaf-lettuce salads, not any other creation made from fruits and root vegetables and all — are such a rarity in restaurants that I can remember only a handful, going back a couple of decades.
I'm thinking of one now: It was on Martha's Vineyard back in the '80s, a plate of perfect limestone lettuce leaves dressed with a slightly garlicky emulsion of lemon juice and olive oil. Couldn't have been simpler, and it certainly wasn't trying to be fancy, but it was just right. I tried to find that restaurant again just so I could taste the salad one more time, but the place had closed.
I'm not asking for much. Please, I don't need the candied nuts in my salad, and I'll forego the croutons, too. Festive colors are not necessary, so leave out the carrot shavings. You might skip the frisee, too, because I can't stand the feeling of a scrubbing pad in my mouth.
All I want is pristine lettuce (I can't believe restaurants actually send out slimy black leaves, but they do) and a balanced dressing. Taste it! The one in the photo tasted like a can of scouring powder got tipped into the mix.
I also wouldn't mind if the salad was temptingly arranged on the plate, instead of looking like it was flung with a ladle.
I'm gonna go all girlie here: Listen up, restaurants. Ladies (and that might be half of your paying customers) like salads. Good ones.