That being said, I was recommending a restaurant to someone recently purely based on a terrific salad it serves, and it got me thinking: what if I ranked my favorite NY salads? Woman cannot live by bacon alone, amiright?
While there are hundreds of run of the mill iceberg with a cherry tomato and a curl of carrot house salads being hurled at tables all over our state daily, there are also a few chefs giving a little more love and attention to rabbit food. Let's take a tour...
5. 1st Thai Basil in Endicott - side salad with peanut dressing. I suppose this is not an Earth-shattering dressing. It is, however, the single salad I ingest most often, and it's one of my favorite things on the menu at Thai Basil. The peanut dressing is both sweet and savory, and I suspect this one is made not with commercial peanut butter, but with fresh ground peanuts, maybe some palm sugar, plus soy and probably a little rice vinegar. It's also served warm on the cold salad greens with wedges of tomato and discs of carrot - so the temperature differential is a little confusing (in a good way) on the palate. I like a lot of the dressings served on Asian salads around town, but this is my favorite.
4. Art's Jug in Watertown - antipasto. This is not the most authentic Italiano antipasto you'll find, but Art's has a balanced, not-too-acidic vinaigrette that really sings when paired with mild genoa salami, provolone cheese, and roasted red peppers. That dressing is just a wee bit sweet while also punching through garlic and salt - it's fabulous. They don't try to get too fancy with mixed greens, because anything more delicate than iceberg and romaine would collapse under its hearty ingredients. I don't go for the cherry peppers or pepperoncini, but that's what my Dad's there for. This is an Italian-American masterpiece, not even a little gourmet, and totally a taste of my childhood home.
3. Enoteca Maria in Staten Island - insalata di finocchi. Here's your authenticity, folks. This salad was a complimentary amuse bouche our nonna in residence brought us the second time we dined at Enoteca Maria this year. Comprised of thinly sliced raw fennel, which is crunchy, astringent, and just slightly sweet, with grapes and supremed orange segments all dressed in a refreshing citrus vinaigrette. We were all nuts about it, and I've recreated it at home with a dressing made with orange juice, lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar, a drizzle of honey, and a fruity, light olive oil. This isn't your typical salad, but it is a taste of summer on a plate, and a wonderful accompaniment to heavier Italian foods.
This is the nonna who brought us the wonderful fennel insalata
2. PS Restaurant in Vestal - wedge salad. First off, I love a wedge salad. No matter how en vogue all your leafy greens may be, nutrition naysayers be damned, I remain loyal to the crunchy, watery blandness of iceberg lettuce. Don't judge me. At PS, Chef Rick takes the de rigeur blue cheese dressing a wedge demands and he upgrades it to a homemade, chunky Gorgonzola dream, just a bit sweeter than pungent, domestic blue. He also candies walnuts and throws them on top, with tomato wedges and real bacon crumbles - no measley bits 'round these parts. The result, especially due to the richness of those walnuts, is sublime. It's not a salad, it's a symphony. You should go there tonight and try it. Seriously. Get this thing in your mouth and then make fun of my iceberg penchant. I dare you.
1. BC Restaurant in Syracuse - lobster salad. Maybe I'm cheating to list all these salads topped with decidedly non-virtuous delights. I don't care, because this salad is so good, it actually protects me from anything mean people might say to me. Lobster, goat cheese, shiitake mushrooms, and lemon cayenne vinaigrette are a list of really weird things. But this silky salad is like a stay at a fancy spa - you actually feel pampered while eating it. The lobster is buttery and tender, the goat cheese creamy and mild, and the citrus dressing has a subtle heat that doesn't challenge the delicate seafood, but balances its inherent sweetness perfectly. The mushrooms have a similar texture to the shellfish, so they add earthiness without breaking up the lush feeling of each heavenly bite, and the cheese rounds out those rich and acidic flavors in the most brilliant way. If there's a better salad in the state, I've missed it so far.
You could be argumentative and claim that these salads are too far from the standard side to count, but if it's formed from an amalgamation of raw fruits or veggies, I think it counts. And if a person needs a little salami or lobster with her lettuce, why judge?
With the long slide into New Year's Eve that's about to be upon us - the season of decadence when you drink everything you can get your hands on and canapés become dinner, who couldn't stand to lighten up with a really great salad right now? So make your way up and down the 81 corridor and grab one of these plates of rabbit food this weekend - and let me know your faves! My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!