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salad talk

One of my friends, always, no exception, when eating in restaurant, asks for salad dressing on the side. Any kind of restaurant - Babbo to coffee shop. This seems somewhat off to me since part of the experience of eating somewhere is tasting the food as they serve it. In her home she serves salad 'undressed' and places variety of bottled dressings on the table (yikes!).
This seems to me to be anti-food-electual. I don't get the idea that this is about dieting, she adds or messes (dips) with the dressing while she is eating. Does anyone else think her habit is annoying or inappropriate?

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  1. I really don't have a problem with it. It may seem unappetizing to you to watch, but a person has a right to have a salad served dressed or undressed. A lot of restaurants have the annoying tendency to toss salads with way too much dressing, which not only drowns the fragile salad ingredients, but renders what should be a healthy plate or bowl of greens, a fattening soupy mess. At bar & grill-type places, my boyfriend frequently orders side salads with creamy dressing on the side. He gingerly dips each forkfull in the dressing and is proud of himself when he only uses half the container provided, or less. He figures that he can have his unhealthy dressing, but in moderation. It's admirable. He just wants to be in control of the quantity. I, on the other hand, tend to go for more vinaigrette-type dressings. Most of the time, I let the restaurant do the tossing. I may switch to the boyfriend's concept, though, because the last time we were out, I ordered a Greek salad without the feta (watching my weight). The salad came with a simple red wine vinaigrette, made with very little oil, which made me very happy. The only problem was, my salad appeared to be swimming in dressing. I nearly choked on all that vinegar. I used my boyfriend's now-empty side salad bowl to POUR OFF the dressing. There was no less than a full cup (8 ounces!!!) of dressing that came out of my bowl. I can't imagine what happened in the kitchen. I will return to this place because my boyfriend likes to eat wings and watch sports there, but you'd better believe that I'll be asking for my dressing on the side from now on when dining there.

    As for eating at home, I make all salad dressings from scratch. My cooking is very lean and based on quality organic ingredients. I use oils and fats only sparingly. I dress and toss salads before plating them. This works well for us because we already know we like the dressing. He trusts me to use the right amount for both of us. I don't use bottled dressings, but for families that do, I don't think it's a crime to offer a variety at the table and allow each member (or guest) to select his or her own favourite and dress (or even mix different types, then dress) accordingly.

    You think it's an insult to the restaurant not to allow them their artistic license when dressing and plating a salad, but I think it's an insult to my tastebuds for a restaurant to over or underdress a salad, or over or underseason a salad, so I'd rather sacrifice a little bit of presentation to have the salad I want, especially if that salad is my main/only course. I'm sure you have your own dining quirks. Why pass judgement on your friend's behaviour. I'm sure you wouldn't want her to give you a look of horror if she noticed that you eat your peas one at a time, or that you pick raisins out of your food. LOL! Both my parents will pick scallions out of the miso soup. My dad will drink his carefully so as not to ingest a single speck of wakame. Are they odd? You bet. I just take their onions and quietly drink my miso soup. My boyfriend will gladly accept the extra wakame. We try to turn a blind eye to each others' eccentricities and outright pickiness. It's food. We all have a right to enjoy it on our own terms.

    2 Replies
    1. re: 1sweetpea

      Am in total agreement that he overdressed soggy salad is an affront. I'm having that friend for dinner tonight and skipping the salad. I serve salad here as you described is your custom.
      Yes, lots of quirks out there, middles torn from bread (yes, I do that). I tend to go to places with this friend that have reputation for excellent food and wonder if you can know the experience is you are reconfiguring the dish (hold the garlic, etc.)

      1. re: 1sweetpea

        I agree with 1sweetpea about places that drown their salads in dressing. I will often ask for dressing on the side at casual or chain restaurants because I can't count the number of times I've gotten salads that were either soaking in dressing or had been dressed hours before and the greens had gone completely limp. It ensures you're getting something a little fresher. (I try to avoid places that pre-dress their salads in such as way but sometimes you don't know if you haven't been there before). A lot of people prefer it on the side so they can control the amount of oil and calorie intake as well. Of course, if I know the kitchen and they have an able hand with the dressing, I'll let them do the mixing, particularly at higher end establishments.

      2. In my experience, everyone that does this is watching their weight. it's a trick they teach you in Weight Watchers and everyone I've known who does it has either been in WW or learned the trick from someone who does.

        Many people might only want to indulge up to a certain amount at a meal and the dressing is something they could do without. Salads can have 50-100g of fat simply because of the dressing (the greek salad at panera is a good example) and leaving it on the side and dipping your tines in the fork with each bite is a way to really control how much dressing you put on, while still enjoying the taste of it with your salad. I know if I'm going to eat a big pizza or pasta meal, I'd rather not add onto it with 50g of fat in 2 tbs of dressing, I'd do the dip thing too.

        1. Not at all. Some people don't like a lot of dressing on their salad. I know I don't... if I get the salad pre-dressed all I can taste is the dressing rather than the ingredients, and it spoils the experience (not to mention adding umpteen bazillion unwanted calories to my meal!) I've been known to eat my salad naked if I didn't like the dressing that came with it.

          1. Not at all. I tend to go for vinaigrettes, but in many cases the dressings have a really strong vinegar flavor that just overpowers everything if there is too much of it on the salad. These days, balsamic is huge and some of the balsamic vinaigrettes out there are just too much for me. If I use any of it at all, it will be a tiny drop or two. It's one thing if you have a light/refreshing salad dressing, but when the flavors are bold, I think tastes can differ dramatically.

            I also put out a variety of dressings when I have people over and serve salad. Not everyone has the same tastes in dressings or dietary restrictions, so I'd rather them be happy than dress to my taste and have people not eat it at all.

            1 Reply
            1. re: queencru

              While I generally agree that in high end, excellent restaurants, it's best to trust the creative whims of the chef and his or her crew, I'm of the belief that most kitchens have no qualms whatsoever about using untold amounts of fats to make their foods glisten, gleam and taste so rich that you'll rush back to taste their decadent treats again and again. This may result in repeat business for them, but for a calorie conscious gal such as myself, I have no qualms about requesting that cream be left out of dishes, cheese or meat be left off of salads or that the chef "go easy" on the oil or butter in the preparation of my dish. I'm aware that this marks me as a type-A control freak in the eyes of the kitchen and staff, but I'm just looking out for number 1. Lord knows, they aren't.

              Oh, and to rockandroller1, I've never been a Weight Watchers client, but after losing 100 lbs on my own, then putting a few (much needed ones) back on, I'm hyper-aware of what goes into recipes. I'm also an eminently able chef in my own home. My food is testament to the fact that it's possible to create extremely healthy and delicious dishes without all the extra fat and empty calories. I'll willingly splurge now and again, especially in those excellent, gourmet restaurants, but I just like to do it on my own terms.

            2. Now, in a very fine restaurant, one would hope a salad would be properly dressed (that means every leaf is dressed, but not drenched - the standard is between the typical poles one finds in the USA).

              That said, salad can be far fattier than, let's say, a piece of beef. It's even worse if it's a vinaigrette than a creamy dressing (because oil is 120 calories a tablespoon, whereas the things that make for a creamy dressing are typically less than half that per tablespoon), and a large salad can swallow many tablespoons of dressing.

              So, requesting dressing on the side has become natural for almost anyone watching their calories.

              Adding the dressing as she needs it is not necessarily inappropriate. Most restaurants do not plate salads appropriately, so one can only neatly dress as one goes.

              The dipping thing, however, not necessarily appropriate - you'd need to describe what is being dipped and how.

              Most importantly, of course: you are not supposed to observe anyone else's dining habits but your own. That's a basic requirement of good guests, however often it is only honored in the breach.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Karl S

                Having dressed far too many salads in my lifetime, I've noticed that the sides of dressing I give out on the side contain more dressing than if I was to dress the salad myself.