When I started out operating in restaurants 10 years ago, I commenced with salad. Every day, I’d sift through premixed baby lettuce leaves to hint at the assets of slimy rot and babysit vinaigrettes as they emulsified in blenders. I’d go to bed with the stench of Caesar salad clinging to my fingertips, a fishy odor that felt futile to do away with when I reapplied it at work. Every evening, I felt the edge of vinegar and lemon juice as it slipped into the crevices of my bleach-cracked hands.
And I’ve seen and made such a lot of Caesar salads in my existence, found out all of the little tweaks that chefs might throw at it to make the recipe “theirs,” even when most of them might shrug when I requested why it became at the menu. You gotta have a Caesar, they’d say. For customers new to the restaurant or the cuisine, a Caesar plays the relief of jogging into an antique pal at a party where you don’t recognize each person. That want for familiarity way you can get most effective stretch a Caesar to this point earlier than its essential reason becomes obscured.
Nigella Lawson might have pushed it too some distance together with her so-referred to as the Riff on a Caesar Salad, which features baked romaine wedges and eschews dressing for a squirt of lemon juice and a sunny-facet up egg as the final garnish. But I’ve seen other Bay Area restaurants mess around with it, too. In Mill Valley, the Mexican-inspired Playa serves a Tijuana Caesar ($thirteen) in a constructed-up shape encircled with the aid of shaved cucumber. Yoshi marries the cursed “oriental salad” with the Caesar, dressing its rendition ($11) with miso and tamari oil and garnishing with wonton chips. At Angler, chef Joshua Skenes’ version ($15) swaps romaine for long, yellow Coraline chicory leaves — visually, across among endive and frisee — and croutons for toasted breadcrumbs nestled in their crevices.
In a fashionable eating place, cooks stretch the salad out, but not an excessive amount. I could slice and bake frozen pancetta roulades at one eating place to make massive porky chips to place on the pinnacle of the Caesar. At another, I’d toss pinches of the floor and rinsed anchovy, minced preserved lemon, and poached garlic into the bowl with each order. “Two more sleazers,” the expediter could shout, and I’d reply in type. There’s continually a bit of jokiness inside the kitchen around the salads: It’s said that newbies to the salad station at Zuni Cafe are informed, “Welcome to Caesar’s Palace!”
It’s a consolation food at its center. And it’s been a part of the American meals scene for nearly 100 years now. Herb Caen added The Chronicle’s readers to the “dazzling” Caesar salad on Aug. 27, 1946, in a column approximately Los Angeles: “Hollywood is now dotted with some top eating places. … (T)here is one object featured at all of those locations which you must order to reveal that you realize your manner around the silverware.” As he recalled, the primary ingredients in the classic Caesar had been romaine, “some type of dressing in which coddled eggs discern prominently” and garlic croutons. At the time, it changed into traditional for Caesars to be made table aspect, with the salad chef geared up with “extra gadgets than Doctor Kildare might summon for operation within the final scene.
By then, the Caesar had already been well-installed. Its high-quality-known incarnation was invented employing restaurateur Caesar Cardini at Caesar’s Grill, the film industry’s favorite road-experience destination, in Tijuana, around 20 years earlier. In that article, Caen mentions that the salad is called the DiCicco salad during some locations, named after film manufacturer and alleged mobster Pat DiCicco. (More vegetable trivia: He became the cousin of manufacturer Albert R. Broccoli, whose circle of relatives claims to have reinvented the eponymous vegetable in Italy.)
Cafe Zoetrope, director Francis Ford Coppola’s Italian restaurant in San Francisco, purports to serve the same recipe because the unique: The menu ties it to a San Franciscan “Caesar’s Grill,” one of the building’s authentic tenants, a claim repeated by Chronicle reporter Jim Walls in 1959, although I could locate no evidence tying Cardini to that eating place. (According to my Chronicle archive searches, a girl posted a categorized advert in our pages stating that she misplaced her purse at Caesar’s Grill in 1911 when Cardini would have been a 15-12 months-vintage boy dwelling in northern Italy.)
Here’s a similarly worry: In a 1984 article in The Chronicle Food phase, reporter Barbara Hansen credits a girl named Beatriz Santini with inventing the prototype in Austria in 1918, six years before Cardini first served it in Tijuana. Her son emigrated to Mexico and ended up running at Cardini’s restaurant, where the salad quickly jumped from workforce meal to the menu. Santini had whipped up the salad to remind him of domestic. Even from the beginning, it becomes a comfort meal.
But what I can say about Zoetrope’s rendition, which is priced at $12, is that it’s, in reality, straightforward, with raw chunks of romaine leaves, the standard tangy dressing rendered creamy with egg, aromatic garlic croutons, and shaved Parmesan. But there are two deviations, the latter of which might have insulted Mr. Cardini: the salad is not tossed desk side, and you get the choice of adding anchovy fillets on the pinnacle. Even Zoetrope couldn’t face up to switching it up a bit.
How many approaches can eating places possibly “twist” a simple Caesar salad to allay both the kitchen’s and the visitor’s ennui? How a lot of individuality can one explicit via a few cheeky garnishes or unpopular inexperienced? You can throw pepitas on it, switch kale for romaine, “deconstruct” it or make it flashy in a few other manners. However, it’s still just a Caesar salad, an image of culinary conformity that appears on eating place menus with the air of a stalker hiding out of doors one’s window. Turn around, and you’ll see it lurking at your neighbor’s desk.
For one hundred years, garde manger chefs have long gone home with the heady scent of lemon and anchovies wafting from their clothes and fingernails, and possibly to be able to stay the case for a hundred years extra. Regardless of how trends have shifted, what new flavors were brought to the American palate — from miso to preserved lemon — you’ve gotta have a Caesar at the menu.