Archive for December, 2010

Caesars in the City

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

I’ve sampled a lot of Chicago-area Caesars these past months.  They generally adhere to the basic formula of romaine lettuce + grated parmesan + croutons + Caesar dressing.  I am happy to report that none have attempted to sneak in ersatz add-ins (e.g., tomatoes–ugh) to complicate this classic.

Given that the basic ingredients are relatively few and fixed, however, the caliber of the dressing is particularly important.  Most restaurants use an eggless version, relying instead on mayonnaise to produce a creamier consistency.  This results in the good-but-not-great Caesars at such establishments as the Lettuce Entertain You restaurants, California Pizza Kitchens and Nordstrom Café Bistros.  Even one of my favorite salad havens, Ceres Café, uses a mayonnaise-laden dressing that Rett has aptly described as “soupy.”  But we’re both willing to forgive the chef, who has recently begun to offer Caesars with wonderfully marinated skirt steak strips.

My favorite Caesar in the City is at Sopraffina.  The parmesan is freshly grated, with my extra-cheese-please requests always granted.  According to Peter Sexton,  Sopraffina’s salad savant, the tangy dressing includes lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, anchovies and mustard–but no eggs or mayo.  And the croutons are non-garlicky and small enough to complement without dominating the salad.

Speaking of croutons:  The word is derived from the French croûton, which comes from croûte, meaning “crust.”  This is somewhat perplexing as most croutons are made by baking (or sometimes frying) bread whose crusts have been removed.  While croutons do provide an extra crunchiness to the salad, some chefs get a little carried away with the size of those bread cubes.  This not only throws off the salad’s chemistry, but makes eating the Caesar an excessively noisy undertaking capable of endangering delicate dental work.

At home, I like to make the easily prepared (and vegetarian) Rachael Ray’s No-Egg Caesar Dressing.  And, if we ever have warm weather again, I am going to follow up on Estee’s suggestion and try a grilled Caesar salad.  The romaine leaves are actually placed on the grill for two minutes, until grill marks appear and the romaine starts to wilt.  No buns or condiments needed.  ;-)

Yours till the parmesan grates,
Ann Chovy (a/k/a NJL)

2/22/11:  The Caesar at Convito Italiano in Wilmette is served in a “parmesan cup atop a mascarpone phyllo pocket.”  Yum!