Here is how restaurants can improve upon entree salads
Let's get something straight. If someone orders an entree salad, they are looking for something sensible to eat. The presumption is that the salad is not a calorie bomb. And they don't want to be left hungry. It's called an "entree" for a reason.
So why do so many restaurants offer such "weak" options? Weak being defined as a salad that is:
- Too small
- Not filling
- Calorie bomb
- Not tasty
- Too much dressing or bland dressing
- Devoid of good veggies -- real GREEN veggies. Too many salads have cucumber, carrot and tomato. LAME. These are fine but there needs to be much more.
- Too many caloric treats and not enough bulk
Are you familiar with Los Angeles restaurant The Ivy? Its "Chopped Vegetable Salad" has been famous for decades and inspired a recipe in Gwyneth Paltrow's recent cookbook, My Father's Daughter. Why the big deal? Because it's a salad that is hearty, tasty and still sensible.
What makes it special? Well when we had it over a decade ago, we loved the combo of cold, crisp greens and warm grilled vegetables along with a choice of high quality protein (mesquite grilled shrimp or chicken). The price was also $30 -- over a decade ago. And it was a BIG serving.
So what is the point? Restaurants could do a much better job with their salads. In fact, the only time I am super satisfied with an entree salad is when:
- The menu says the salad should be shared -- only then is it large enough.
- I order extra veggies (steamed or grilled) on the side and then add them to the salad.
- I am at Whole Foods or any other high quality salad bar and I build my own! It typically weights in at 4 lbs.
FREE advice to restaurants and cafes that offer Entree Salads:
- Serve it in a bowl and don't be stingy with the greens. A bag of arugula, spinach, herb mix etc. costs $1.99 at Trader Joe's. At least a 1/2 bag should be in the salad! And ensure that it's nearly overflowing. It makes the customer happy. It's the marketing savy behind McDonald's french fry containers! The fries are nearly spilling out.
- Offer "flavors" e.g., Mexican, Asian, Italian, Traditional, etc., and then offer accompaniments that go with the theme. Need ideas? Read our recent post on Salad Dressings.
- Get with the salad dressing program. Oil has little flavor and when a customer requests the dressing on the side and it's oil based, it's really hard to get any of the "flavors" without a ton of caloric oil. Ask your customer. Do they use oil dressings at home -- ones that separate? I doubt it. Dressing should burst with flavor and not require constant mixing.
- 2 for 1 ratio. What's this? An easy formula for creating a veggie heavy salad. For every "treat-like" topping, there should a MINIMUM of 2 real veggies. Any entree salad should have about 3 treats (nuts, croutons, berries, avocado, cheese, sun dried tomatoes, bacon bits, olives etc.) and then 6 veggies (steamed broccoli, green beans, red pepper, mushrooms, grilled zuchinni, red onions, tomatoes, etc.)
- Fresh herbs can do wonders. Sprinkle fresh basil on an "Italian flavored" salad and it will come alive.
- Mix up the greens. Arugula and spinach are much more pleasing than romaine. Romaine says you don't really care about the salad.
- And don't forget the protein. It should always be just as good as what is offered on the rest of the menu and it should be grilled or prepared in a healthy manner.
- The Caesar Salad Exception. None of the above really applies to a Caesar. Anyone ordering a Caesar knows it's NOT healthy. And those ordering one appreciate the calories! It's a treat on its own. So order the small!
Upscale pizza joints should have awesome salads!
Full service Pizza Eateries (such as CPK, Pizza Nova, etc.) should have the BEST salads ever. The pizzas contain a bevy of yummy ingredients that make for a terrific salad. It's a shame when so much is offered on the menu yet the salad misses out on the fun.
CPK: Hooray for the roasted vegetable salad, but over romaine? And how about a substitution for the avocado -- chicken or shrimp? Of the 12 salads offered by California Pizza Kitchen, it is the ONLY salad that comes close to what we suggest.
Pizza places can simply pilfer the pizza ingredients to create (or let the customer create) a fabulous salad with high quality protein, greens, veggies, topping treats etc. Let the customer customize the salad just like you do for the pizza. It's a NO-Brainer!
Let us know when you want us to sample your creation. We'll put our Athletic-Minded Traveler recommendation behind it...if it makes the cut!