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What I look for when rating a Caesar Salad

I have tasted hundreds of caesar salads!  Friends were convinced that was all I would eat.  But my attitude with Caesar's salad is this:  I will NOT prepare it for myself at home. Period.  Caesar's is the ONLY dish I will not prepare; it is my reason for dining out.  

Usually, my meals consist of a large caesar salad, an appetizer, and a fine glass of wine; a Pinot Grigio complements my dining experience well.  I prefer my white wines light and a bit dry.  But I've been told that Champagne goes best with a caesar: the lovely little effervescence titillates the taste buds just enough to open them up to a caesar adventure! 

For lunch, I skip the wine.... <sigh>..... 

The following is a list of my personal preferences regarding caesar salads:

Consistency:

  • cream base vs. oil based dressings; I've had creamy dressings that tasted like mayonnaise and oily dressings that reminded me of castor oil.  But I've had better luck with the creamy dressings.  Additionally, with the regular bottled dressings (not the diet ones), the sodium content seems lower with the creamy dressings, and less salt is better with me.

  • thicker, heavier dressings vs. light; sometimes I'm just in the mood for a salad drenched in a good caesar dressing; that's when I prefer creamier dressings or dressings loaded with bits of garlic or cheese (both make me happy :)

  • white colored vs. beige: it might be mere coincidence that I've had better luck tasting creamy (more commonly white), dressings.  But I've also had white, creamy dressing that I swore was just mayonnaise out of the bottle.  So sometimes the beige or clear dressing wins too... 

Flavor:

  • no single ingredient should dominate the flavor; I have returned salads for their unpalatability: too bitter, too salty, too vinegary,  "too anything" is not good.

  • fresh ingredients are key! If the individual ingredients are fresh, then I expect a burst of flavor on my tongue that lingers on my palate after I'm done.  I look for a complete flavor that dances with garlic, zesty cheese, hot pepper, and a warmth from distant anchovies.

Leaves:

  • dark vs. light green leaves:  Although many caesar salad purists often select the "heart of the lettuce" (the crispier, lighter green leaves), I prefer a mix with the darker, outer leaves.  I believe if the leaves are too crispy, they may hold water, which may "dilute my experience".  This can also be a result of leaves not having been dried properly.  

  • smaller leaves vs. large: I prefer my salad leaves torn to manageable, bite size pieces (...not very attractive, seeing bits of salad dangling from one's fork and mouth).  

  • fresh, unblemished leaves vs. bruised: leaves should always be fresh and unblemished; when one tosses the salad in a bowl, one should gently "roll" the salad from the bottom up, avoiding unnecessary  bruising.

  • whole romaine leaves: rarely have I had Caesar's served with whole romaine leaves set across the plate (traditionalists in this case might use their fingers instead of a fork and knife).  But when I did receive my plate this way at one restaurant, I didn't assume that the "other guests" knew about "traditionalist behaviors", so I used my fork and knife anyway... 

Condiments:

  • wine always complements well (I prefer white over red with my salad); champagne's effervescence is said to enhance Caesar's dancing flavors.

  • medium size croutons: too tiny are too delicate, and fall off the fork; too large are too big to fit in your mouth; 1/2 inch cubes suit me best.

  • fresh garlic on the side, served with butter and breadsticks (I adore nibbling on a fresh clove of garlic in between bites of salad); and please - remember to serve the butter at room temperature vs. frozen solid as a rock.

  • cheese should be grated in front of you, and preferably be fresh reggiano parmigiano.  However, lately I am becoming more fond of shaved cheese.   (fyi: my favorite grater is the zyliss rotary cheese grater.)

  • whole anchovies: not for me; I prefer anchovies mixed in the dressing.

  • appetizers and toppings:  I find if I have one good appetizer along with a nice glass of wine with my caesar salad,  I am satisfied!  And if there's room for dessert, so let it be!  As far as toppings go: unless I'm really hungry, I don't usually go for the extras.  But when I do, I find the "warm, freshly prepared" toppings more delectable than the standard, cold "throw-ons" (ie- a cold breast of chicken).  My favorite: grilled shrimp - cajun style.

Service:

  • tableside preparation: don't see enough of it....

  • fresh grated cheese and grated ground pepper: expected.

  • plates: large enough to hold and toss the leaves easily.

  • fresh, warm bread with fresh flavored dipping oil or butter (served at room temperature, not frozen from the frig): expected.

 

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