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Oct 7, 2007 12:07 PM

My Theory [moved from General Chowhounding Topics]

I think you can tell how good a restaurant is going to be by the salad course. May not work all the time but here are four things that indicate that the rest of your meal is not going to be good:

1-Iceberg lettuce

2-Too much vinegar in the dressing.

3-Dressing on the side.

4-Salad not cut into bite size pieces.

That is all.

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  1. What's wrong with dressing on the side? Not all of us want to have our salad swimming in a dressing of any sort. Personally, I'd be seriously pissed off I didn't have the option of ordering my dressing on the side, and I've sent salads back for them being sent out dressed.

    1. You want your greens cut into bite size pieces? Not me.

      2 Replies
      1. re: KTinNYC

        I personally don't mind larger greens if they are plated on a large enough serving plate to accomodate me plying my utensils. The large (uncut or un-torn) leaves of romaine or iceberg stuffed into an undersized bowl are incredibly awkward to eat. Forget any graceful cutting, given the cramped bowl and the weird angles necessary.

        While I'm on my snit about too large/awkward, may I mention the hard, crisp quarter tomato plunked atop this little bowl of salad? Or, instead, the hard cherry tomatoes that no one could be bother to halve? (Those things can become projectiles while trying to eat them in an overdressed salad and all sort of comic mayhem can ensue.)

        I guess if I am having larger sized salad components, I would like a decent sized plate on which to eat them. If I have the typical little side salad bowl delivered to me, please, kitchen, think more in terms of bite-sized, a la composed salads. Diners should not have to do battle with an unruly salad.

        <grin> that felt good.

        1. re: cayjohan

          Awesome post cayjohan! The only good thing about doing battle with unruly salads is that finally dinner can have a winner! Couldn't resist. I stole that from the webcomic full frontal nerdity,

      2. I guess I agree that many salads are mostly mediocre, good at best; rarely excellent.

        1. Iceberg lettuce in wonderful in certain contexts. The question is the overall salad context.

        2. Yeah, Americans are partial to too much (bad) vinegar in their salad dressing.

        3. Well, dressing a salad properly is a lost art in many places. Very lightly salting the salad (the reason salad gets its name) before tossing is invariably forgotten, it seems. I am very impressed if a place has just the right amount of dressing on ingredients that have been properly prepared to receive it. But that is, unfortunately, something many restaurants get wrong. There are a handful of places that make a show of preparing a caesar salad - with coddled egg - at the table; done well, it's a great lesson in salad making.

        4. Having the greens torn is even lovelier. Some salads are designed to be cut (wedge salads, for example). Others are meant to be eaten by finger (like the classic caesar salad)

        14 Replies
        1. re: Karl S

          I did not know that caesar salad was meant to be eaten with the finger! How interesting! That explains why the caesar salad at Zuni Cafe in SF came in whole romaine leafs.

          1. re: Miss Needle

            Caesar salad is NOT intended to be eaten with the fingers. There may be variations on a traditional Caesar's salad served in certain eateries that are intended to be eaten with the fingers, but the orignal, created impromptu by Caesar Cardini in his Tijuana, Mexico, reastaurant, was intended for the fork. The man has prepared it for me himself. He proferred a fork.

            1. re: Caroline1


              As much as jfood's head snapped back when he saw Karl S' comment as well, a little research once again proves him correct. If you look at number 3 in the recipe directions on the attached URL you will see those words "the salad was eaten with the fingers..."


              1. re: jfood

                Yes, the version where the small heart leaves are left whole was intended to be eaten with the fingers. It's a lovely thing done that way, far better than torn leaves. You have to dress the salad in a way that doesn't coat the entirety of the whole leaves, which I've done.

                1. re: jfood

                  Well, the website you cite just presents one of many many many variations on the origination of the salad. Caesar's story was that movie stars -- I forget which ones -- came in late as the kitchen was closing and he was out of food, begging for something to eat. He created the salad out of what was still on hand.

                  As does Julia Child, I also have a sharp memory of the raw egg. Don't recall anything about coddled. But in today's world of rampant salmonella, I've put my original Caesar salad recipe aside, unless I find out friends raise their own chickens, then I'm a beggar!

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    there are pasteurized eggs in shell at the grocery now.
                    caesar salad is my favorite, too.

                    and, Karl S, based upon what evidence do you assert that Americans (as a group) are "partial to too much (bad) vinegar" in dressings?

                    1. re: alkapal

                      Based on the dressed salads I had in southern Europe when I've visited. The vinegar note in our salads is comparatively harsh in terms of comparative pattern; it seems to me that's why the balsamic craze took on in very sugary ways as well - we tend to like our flavoring coarsely bold (I personally attribute it to the palate distortions created by eating so much processed food, as well as an increase in congeston-causing allergies; though apparently aging is likewise a factor). Obviously, it's a trend comment, not a comment about each instance.

                      1. re: alkapal

                        "there are pasteurized eggs in shell at the grocery now.
                        caesar salad is my favorite, too."

                        Bless you! I didn't know that. Egg Beaters just don't cut it for me. I guess I've been so busy looking for free range organic brown eggs I've missed everything else! They're on my shopping list.

                      2. re: Caroline1

                        I remember that same story, except it was some president, with nachos.... that's how nachos started in Tijuana Mexico...... Think it was 'The secret life of...' I saw that....

                        1. re: mariekeac

                          same as Cobb Salad, which originated at Brown Derby in Hollywood.

                          1. re: mariacarmen

                            Yeah, I heard the same story about the Cobb Salad.

                          2. re: mariekeac

                            Not Tijuana. I think Piedra Negras, or maybe Metamoras. Anyway, some Army wives were shopping, got hungry, went into a little place where the only guy there to cook didn't speak English, but did understand they were hungry. His name was Ignacio someting-or-other. His problem was not much food on hand. He grabbed some tostadas, covered them liberally with grated/crumbled cheese, baked them until the cheese melted then topped each piece with a slice of canned jalapeno. The wives loved it, went back raving about "Nacho's" dish. Nacho is a nickname for Ignacio.

                  2. re: Karl S

                    I love when Rolmaine leaves are presented whole and I also love the looks I get from others when I pick one up with my fingers to eat. (I LIKE being the center of attention!) I eat asparagus the same way. If it worked for Emily Post, it works for me :)

                  3. Iceberg lettuce can be wonderful, and often dressing on the side is preferable to a nasty dollop of goop on my salad. I am easily able to cut my own salad, so that doesn't bother me, either.

                    On the other hand, too much vinegar in the dressing would be a problem and would tell me that someone is not even tasting the dressing before it's put on the salad. If the dressing isn't checked, perhaps other things aren't checked, either.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: jillp

                      Barbara Kafka once recounted that she has found in cooking schools that students often don't know how to taste the oils for vinaigrettes properly - they often choose over-powerful Tuscan olive oils with no regard for the ingredients. Kafka recommends using 50% non-powerful EVOO and 50% vegetable oil for the oil portion of a vinaigrette.

                      1. re: Karl S

                        Boy, do I ever agree with you and Ms. Kafka about olive oils. A really fresh olive oil is so strong that it will overwhelm just about anything in a salad.

                        Another point: why does it have to be olive oil? I make mayonnaise out of all sorts of oils, and also my salad dressings. Sometimes I don't want to taste olive oil; on occasion I want a subtle dressing, gosh darn it.

                        1. re: jillp

                          excellent point. some salads would be better served [pun intended] with oils that have more subdued/muted flavor.

                          although occasionally, stronger flavored oils fit the bill perfectly, [i.e. nut oils such as walnut, hazelnut, macadamia]. it's all a matter of the ingredients and flavors in the salad.

                          as far as the issue of dressing on the side, i prefer the option. in fact, i NEVER order a sald pre-dressed anymore simply because most places drown those poor vegetables, reducing them to a soggy, mushy mess.

                          and i agree with cayjohan. sometimes it's served in a dish that just makes cutting large, unwieldy pieces really which case it's nice to be given the option of having your salad chopped for you.

                      2. re: jillp

                        I nice big wedge of crisped high quality iceberg is such a great treat when set with a fine blue cheese dressing and some bacon bits. Throw in some small diced tomatoes and you basically have a great twist on the venerable BLT.

                      3. 1 - I think there are a lot of steak house that serve a great wedge of iceberg that might disagree
                        3 - There are many people who like their salad lightly dressed and others with a little more dressing. mrs jfood and i have different opinions on the amount so the dressing on the side is fine. This is good customer service. What I was disappointed in was a resto that when mrs jfood ordered her salad lightly dressed the server responded, we do not dress salads. And this was in a $30 entree resto
                        4 - i do not want my salad "cut", it should be torn. and if it is going to be cut versus torn, please give me a plate large enough for me to perform the task.

                        personally i have found absolutely NO correlation between the salad sourse and the remainder of the evening. every dish is different and great does not lead to bad and bad is not an indicator of a bad entree.


                        8 Replies
                        1. re: jfood

                          I have heard that diplomacy is like making a salad. You have to know the right amount of oil to put in with your vinegar.

                          1. re: jfood

                            I agree. Fancy schmancy salads can irritate me and iceberg lettuce in a wedge with a gloppy blue cheese on top can thrill me.

                            Lots more to find fault with or fall in love with in a restaurant, salads ain't one of them.

                            1. re: jfood

                              I, too, would be very disappointed if I did not have the option to have my salad dressed by the kitchen. I like my salad to be evenly coated with dressing which is hard to achieve at the table without making a huge mess.

                              And jfood, I like the third person person posts. It's your thing....bring it back!

                              1. re: Honey Bee


                                Option to have your salad dressed by the kitchen? So when you order any salad from a restaurant you expect that the server asks if you want the dressing on the side or not? Not a personal stab, just trying to understand the comment. I believe that if the customer prefers the dressing on the side, that is what must be done. No decent restaurant should deny that option.

                                1. re: cocktailqueen77

                                  I was commenting on jfood's post regarding a restaurant that told his wife that the kitchen does not dress salads. That would irk me a little as I prefer not to make a mess at the table (which is what happens when I try to dress it myself). If people prefer it on the side, more power to them. However, I should not be forced to eat it that way.

                                  When I order a salad, I assume it will come dressed. If the server asks if I want the dressing on the side, I reply that I prefer to have it tossed with my salad.

                                2. re: Honey Bee

                                  I usually prefer to have the restaurant dress my salad. My theory is that if I am paying the extra charge (most restaurants I dine at are a la carte) to add a salad to my entree I believe that they should take the time to accurately add the right amount of dressing. I do not like when salads come with a slop of dressing over the top of the greens. But, then again, we all have our wishes....

                                3. re: jfood

                                  I Love salads...all kinds.... and all kinds of dressings. But, I like to dress my own salad.
                                  The thing that annoys me is when I see someone using a knife to cut their lettuce.
                                  We were taught to use only a salad fork.

                                  jfood - I notice that all your reponses today are in the first person singular. You're not coming down with something are you?

                                  1. re: jfood

                                    i'd like to agree with you on that final conclusion, but my experience has occasionally proven otherwise. the sorry excuse for a salad that i was served at mastro's in beverly hills was a harbinger of things to come...the steak was just as much of a disappointment. and the service was awful to boot.