Thursday, April 25, 2024

What Even is a Caesar Salad Anymore?

Giggled when I read Ellen Cushing's 'What Even is a Caesar Salad Anymore?' published in The Atlantic on April 17, 2024. Truly. What even is that anymore? Many fine-dining restaurants don't even serve that, unless they want to be labeled as 'boring'. This is such a good read, and fun too.

A 'classic' Casesar salad I remember from my childhood, has become my favorite all-time salad as an adult. Mostly because of the greens used. I generally prefer romaine or butterhead lettuce in salads. I'm not a fan of mixed greens or rocket at all. And I don't like it to be all kale and baby spinach either. 

Isn't it just really, romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, and croutons, dressed in a slurry of egg, oil, garlic, salt, Worcestershire sauce, and citrus juice?

It's also the easiest salad to whip up at home. And if you really want, toss a grilled chicken breast or some baked fish atop for a seriously filling meal. A kale salad with pickled red onions, lots of nuts and dried fruit or olives drizzled with some savory dressing isn't a Caesar salad. It gets worse if a restaurant adds cheap synthetic truffle oil or crème fraîche to it.

We are living through an age of unchecked Caesar-salad fraud. Putative Caesars are dressed with yogurt or miso or tequila or lemongrass; they are served with zucchini, orange zest, pig ear, kimchi, poached duck egg, roasted fennel, fried chickpeas, buffalo-cauliflower fritters, tōgarashi-dusted rice crackers. They are missing anchovies, or croutons, or even lettuce. In October, the food magazine Delicious posted a list of “Caesar” recipes that included variations with bacon, maple syrup, and celery; asparagus, fava beans, smoked trout, and dill; and tandoori prawns, prosciutto, kale chips, and mung-bean sprouts. The so-called Caesar at Kitchen Mouse Cafe, in Los Angeles, includes “pickled carrot, radish & coriander seeds, garlicky croutons, crispy oyster mushrooms, lemon dressing.” Molly Baz is a chef, a cookbook author, and a bit of a Caesar obsessive—she owns a pair of sneakers with cae on one tongue and sal on the other—and she put it succinctly when she told me, “There’s been a lot of liberties taken, for better or for worse.”

Restaurants said that in the menu's salad section, a Caesar sells the best, especially if tweaks have been done to it. Nobody wants a salad of rocket leaves or kale. But put random greens into a bowl and sell it as a Caesar? People will order it. 

If I'm hungry but I don't have a craving, I'll just order a cheese toastie (likely brunch or lunch) or a Caesar's salad (in the nights). Most cafes and bistros have that riiiight? It's a super friendly salad. It's savory and to me, fairly hearty. I usually ask for the dressing to be placed at the side because not all cafes do a good one. I'll skip the brainless and eeky Thousand-Island Dressing; I don't even want Kewpie. I'd appreciate a properly tossed anchovy dressing.

To me, a Caesar's must have romaine or butterhead, anchovy dressing or anchovies within, and an egg. And properly grated Parmesan, not the highway diner powdered crap. The kitchen is free to play around with everything else. 

Besides, the more you learn about Caesar salads, the more you come to realize that pedantry is useless. The original Caesar was reportedly made with lime juice instead of lemon. It was prepared tableside and intended to be eaten by hand, like a piece of toast, “arranged on each plate so that you could pick up a leaf by its short end and chew it down bit by bit, then pick up another,” as Julia Child and Jacques Pépin explained in their version of the recipe. It was meant to be dressed in stages, first with oil, then with acid, then with a coddled egg (to coat the lettuce leaves, so the cheese would stick to them), not with the emulsified, mayonnaise-adjacent dressing common today. Crucially, it didn’t have whole anchovies.

As soon as the recipe began showing up in cookbooks, in the early 1940s, it started changing: Some recipes called for rubbing the bowl with garlic, or adding blue cheese or pear vinegar or mustard. In her headnotes for one of the earliest printed versions of the Caesar recipe, published in West Coast Cook Book, in 1952, Helen Evans Brown described the Caesar as “the most talked-of salad of a decade, perhaps of the century.” She then went on to note that “the salad is at its best when kept simple, but as it is invariably made at table, and sometimes by show-offs, it occasionally contains far too many ingredients.” The Caesar is forever, which means it’s forever being manipulated. For better and for worse.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Brand New GRUB Pasta Kitchen at Bishan Park

What joy it is to have GRUB Pasta Kitchen set up a sheltered al fresco area that is pet-friendly! The bistro is finally back at the beautiful Bishan Park, and it's lovely to sit down for dinner in its new space. 

I'm sooooo appreciative that this outlet took the effort to secure a SFA Pets-Allowed licence, and even have a sheltered spacious outdoor patio where the floofs could be, and we dine in relative comfort with a few overhead fans. I only hope floof owners be responsible for their tables and keep it clean, neat and at a safe distance for everyone.

They have a pretty decent pasta menu that made me go wheeeee. I wanted to eat every item! I love it that they didn't include spaghetti in the choice of pasta. What for, right. Let's hope that the Bishan customer base won't revolt against this menu, take away everything that I like, and reduce this to yet another inane cafe menu with crap food.

In the end, the uni tagliolini got me. I can never resist uni done this way with chives, pickled shallots, ikura. Also shared a grilled seabass with the man. At $22 for a fillet, this isn't a branzino. But at least it's a local seabass and not some weird dory. The tarragon grilled chicken with charred broccoli was delicious too. 

Love this space. Bishan Park is a 20-minute drive from home. But, I'll be here at GRUB Pasta Kitchen often, on week days. I have this thing about supporting flood-friendly restaurants that has good food. Oh, and the wine list is super decent. Hehehehe. Of course I had to get an easy bottle of red for the evening.🍷

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Watching the Rain Fall

No thanks to this weather and rumbling thunder, Smol Girl is in this state of perpetual anxiety these two weeks. On many days when she's home alone, her anxiety is heightened. Her current coping mechanism is to rip mats. So be it. At least it doesn't hurt her paws or gums/teeth too much. Still, I'd prefer her not to have to do this; that's on us, her pawrents to reassure her.

The man and I have to tag-team to be with Choya during these frequent spells of rain and thunder. That morning, he popped out to the gym for a heavy BodyPump class to de-stress from a mad period at work. I took the Smol Girl and went for coffee.

The rains weren't that bad. The thunder was nothing much. We had a spot away from the wet, and Smol Girl scooted under my chair immediately. Smart Girl. Her butt was against the wall, and she was quite happy there. Brekkies and coffee at dearborn worked for me so well. Smol Girl is fine and manages better outdoors, even with thunder. 

Sitting there in the cooler (but no less humid) weather watching the rain fall, I was content. A lot less traveling, a complete readjustment of my daily schedule, and a greater responsibility in my life to keep the dog happy and balanced. This is a choice I've made to have Choya in my life. And here she stays with me.