Samo suggested in an earlier post that I probably detested salad. I have no idea why anyone would think this. Samo, why would you think that? I love salad. I adore salad. The holy trinity of the great single home-cooked meal is: parchment-baked salmon, mashed yukon gold sweet potatoes, balsamic vinagrette over good wild greens.
BUT: I do rarely mention salads in posting, because I have a hard time beating getting some greens from the good stall at the farmer's market and dressing it with a little artisinal balsamic. (Bay Cities is my current in-town supplier for this little expensive habit.) I can't really justify spending what little lucre I have on salad outside, just like I can't justify walking into a bar and getting a good single malt. Have yet to have a salad at any continental joint that can match what I can whip up at home. (Maybe I would get a salad at Chez Panisse).
A FURTHER BUT: There is one exception (though I am willing to entertain others, if there are any suggestions). I am mad about the salads you get in Japanese restaurants. Always: crappy, very crisp iceberg, and then the most delightful dressings I've ever had. Sometimes miso-based, sometimes sesame based, I've never been unhappy by a salad in a Japanese place, as long as it isn't a truly depraved American place. (The only bad Japanese salad I've had in recent memory was at a joint in San Diego where, for tempura, they served frozen-fried-fishsticks-style-breaded-imitation-crab with tartar sauce.)
But what are these mysterious things on Japanese salads? I can't recreate them at home. So:
1. Where are the best Japanese salads in town?
(my current preference is for a cheap dive on Sawtelle, some single door in a recessed parking lot a few buildings north of FuRaiBo, where the salad comes with some al dente noodles with some kind of sweet miso-y substance - A SECOND DRESSING ON A SINGLE SALAD.
2. What is the secret of the Japanese dressing?
3. How do I make it at home?
4. Are there any decent brands I can get at a Japanese grocery?
Here are a couple of recipes. This first one is Nobu's recipe from Matsuhisa:
1 cup lemon juice, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 3 cloves garlic chopped fine, 2 tsp. salt, black pepper, 2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1-1/4 cup grapeseed oil. In a blender combine everything but the oil and then blend that in at low speed. Good for up to a week in the fridge.
Here's another one from a westside restaurant that is especially good:
1/8 cup mirin, 1-1/8 cup rice vinegar, 1/4 cup water, 3-3/4 cup soy sauce, 1-1/2 cup olive or grapeseed oil, some chopped white onion, chopped carrots, a little chopped garlic and a squeeze from half a lemon and half an orange each. Mix all except oil, carrots and onions and then add vegetables. Lastly, add oil.
Three points and I'm out.
The salad at Blue Marlin is not based on iceberg lettuce. It's one of those mixed greens things sold at Ralphs in a plastic bag. (BM forages locally. Cf. the pickled ginger at Niji-ya if you need proof.)
The salad at Campanile is excellent. When are we going?
Did you read what Amanda Hesser wrote about Jeffrey Steingarten's attitude toward salad? I simply think of you as a slender, hiphop Jeffrey, hence my error.