Surprisingly smart and sophisticated, salads now have a starring role on menus all around Westchester.
Diners’ palates have been influenced by the success of celeb chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi, who breathes new life into vegetables and fans the widespread interest in healthful eating and global flavors. Restaurants have taken notice of changing tastes amid the opportunity for seasonal eating in the Hudson Valley.
“From a chef standpoint,” says Chris Vergara, owner of Harper’s on Main in Dobbs Ferry, “the standard mixed greens and dressing is one of the least interesting things you can do. This bounty of fruits and local cheeses, it just begs to get tossed together. You can play with fat, texture, sweet, and salty. It’s a great delivery system for all of those experiences.”
Vergara’s apple-and-cheddar salad, which combines gala apple, Cabot clothbound cheddar, shaved beets, endive, mixed organic lettuces, and maple vinaigrette, epitomizes salad’s evolution from iceberg lettuce, tomato, and carrots.
Consumers, in part due to the farm-to-table movement, seem more inclined to try different vegetables presented in novel ways. At Aesop’s Fable in Chappaqua. creativity is apparent in the grain salad, an artful mix of farro, arugula, walnuts, New York apple, aged Gouda, chives, and apple vin encircled by slices of cucumber. As people become more willing to try more ingredients, chefs are allowed to play more, going beyond
Beautiful organic root vegetables, available year-round from local suppliers, are a central ingredient in Aesop’s colorful Bunny Food salad: shaved local fennel, heirloom carrot, arugula, Kalamata olives, mint, grapefruit and citronette.
“It’s become the way people want to eat,” says Ben O’Connell, general manager of Red Hat on The River in Irvington, of salad. “Not just garden salads,” he continues, “but people want more flavor, more cooking technique: roasting, caramelizing, and grilling.”
Last fall, prompted by customer requests, Red Hat adapted its popular Brussels-sprouts-and-fried-egg salad. Now, house-smoked shiitake mushrooms provide a meaty complement to the warm tangle of Brussels sprouts, wild rice, red quinoa, sweet potato, pine nuts, and lemon-mustard vinaigrette, instead of bacon, which can be added upon request. “People are looking to eat vegetarian meals a little bit more often, for health reasons. They want it to still taste good,” says O’Connell.
But meat still has a place at the table. Red Hat’s Asian marinated steak salad features skirt steak, spiced cashews, carrots, cucumber, sweet piquante peppadews, bibb and romaine lettuces, brightened with basil, cilantro, and mint. It’s an inventive mix of flavors and textures.
Customers “want to eat healthier, so I adapt the menu,” says Rafael Palomino, chef/owner of Port Chester’s Sonora. “Now, food is like technology: It is moving so fast, and you have to be very creative, open-minded, and be able to create not one dimension but many dimensions.” His complex roasted Brussels sprouts, cranberries, and quinoa saffron risotto cake with agave vinaigrette (“adds a nice finish”) does just that.
At Wood & Fire in Pleasantville, owner Mike Ferrara layers raw, shaved Brussels sprouts with oven-roasted tomatoes, toasted hazelnuts, shaved Manchego cheese, pancetta, red onions, and interestingly, cabbage-beet purée, topped with creamy herb vinaigrette. “They’re not the most exclusive ingredients,” he says, “but it’s what we do with our ingredients that make them special,” citing the beet purée and the shavings of Manchego cheese. Ferrara believes presentation is key. “It’s art on a plate.”
Bonnie Saran, chef/owner of Little Mumbai Market, also in Pleasantville, says salad is now ordered as an entrée more frequently by health-conscious customers who ask “what’s gone into the dressing, if the cheese is processed, et cetera… questions that 10 years ago they would not have [asked]. It’s a very good feeling.” Her lentil salad includes French green lentils, baby cauliflower, carrots, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, onions, croutons, blue cheese, and house-made roasted-garlic sherry vinaigrette.
Sometimes the refresh of a classic is all that is needed to reflect modern tastes, as with the Southern wedge salad at The Barley House in Thornwood. Chef Mike Boulos says, “When I look at a Cobb salad with 12 ingredients or a tuna Niçoise, that’s not what I’m seeing new chefs put on their menus. If they are, they’re saying, ‘We’re going to tear this salad apart and reinvent this in a whole new way.’” So he did, smoking slab bacon, using buttermilk-ranch dressing in place of the traditional blue cheese, adding pepper-jack cheese, pickled onion and cornbread croutons to the iceberg lettuce. “I wanted to have fun with a classic idea.”
Liz Susman Karp is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and two sons in Briarcliff Manor. Ironically, for someone who grew up hating most vegetables, she now enjoys eating and preparing salads.