It seems all one can do in the hottest month of the year is think cool. Dressing in light-colored linens, pulling your hair up off your neck, making sure all your beverages are well-iced and keeping the oven in the “off” position are all essential means for survival this month in the Crescent City…not to mention central A/C. So what’s to eat, you ask? Skipping their usual gumbo, roast beef po-boy or fried seafood platter, people are turning to salads to keep their stomachs cool and as light as possible, and I’m beginning to think they’ve got the right idea.
You see, I am not one of those women who likes to eat light when I go out, and more often than not, the last thing on my mind is a salad. In my family we would always eat a salad after the main meal was done or even as an accompaniment to the entree, but never as the entree itself. But more recently I have been surprising myself and my palate since I’ve discovered how delicious salads can be…
On the corner of Magazine and Antoinine Streets Uptown, Lilette Restaurant has several delectable salads to choose from, but one particular lunch-time option stands out. Chef John Harris combines sweet and savory in his chopped chicken salad mixed with port-soaked figs, baby greens like spinach, bean sprouts or whatever is fresh and in season, plus a hefty sprinkling of pine nuts. This rich, chilled creation is served with grilled spears of wheat toast which serve as a perfect, and edible substitute for a fork. Who really needs silverware after all?
About a half of a mile up the street, Martinique Bistro offers their own, unique verdant dish that you can enjoy (if you dare) in their lush courtyard, beneath a nice, shady awning. They regularly offer a “nut-crusted” goat cheese salad, most recently it was laden with pistachios and served atop a fresh collection of lettuces like red leaf, Romaine and butter and dressed with an apricot-raspberry vinaigrette. All the flavors were cool, fresh and fruity but the crispy, fried goat cheese offered more heartiness to the whole dish, definitely something I can sink my teeth into.
Take a trip all the way downtown and into the French Quarter to the tiniest, most hidden, yet most talked about gem in the local industry, The Green Goddess. For lunch, find your way to Exchange Place where Chef Paul Artigues will wow you with his Watermelon Mango Crab Salad. Gorgeous slices of watermelon and mango are arranged atop fresh, peppery arugula and interspersed with a dressing to die for…Lafitte blue crab tossed with mango puree and sprinkled with chili salt, crema and Saba – a sort of grape reduction similar to balsamic vinegar.
If there was ever a duo that could make a salad something spectacular, it would be Chefs Allison & Slade Rushing of MiLa. They have refined the art of making food taste incredible in its own juices and salads are no exception. A simple salad of organic greens selected from Lujele Farms sprinkled liberally with toasted sunflower seeds, crumbled feta and a light, lemon vinaigrette can be both refreshing as well as awe-inspiring. You won’t believe it until you try it yourself.
When craving a bit more substance to your salad, why not head back Uptown ’till you almost reach Audubon Park and stop at Patois on the corner of Laurel and Webster. Chef Aaron Burgau has the most amazing Crispy Duck Confit Salad you’ve ever laid a fork to. The rich duck is fried in its own fat and served atop a pile of fresh arugula from Hollygrove Market, sprinkled with sweet pears and spiced pecans all of which are lovingly tossed in a pear vinaigrette.
Take it back to the old school (like an old fool) and head over to Tracey’s on Magazine and Third and get a classic taste of the the oh-so politically incorrect dish called a WOP Salad. Though Tracey’s also names this old New Orleans favorite as a “Graffagnini,” it remains a delicious concoction made up of a variety of torn, crisp lettuce, wedged fresh tomatoes and thinly sliced garlic tossed with that local Italian favorite, olive salad (most often found dressing a muffaletta sandwich). The salad is also served with a basic Italian dressing and sprinkled heavily with freshly-grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
Finally, and most recently, there is a lot of buzz about City Greens, a restaurant without a home (yet) who has been lately serving Sunday lunches out of Vizard’s Restaurant. Serving gourmet soups, salads and wraps, City Greens is combining fresh ingredients and “eco-friendly” sustainable business practices which they proudly state are both “good for you” and “good for the environment.” Like all of their dishes, the Watermelon Cucumber salad is served in a large, take-out bowl featuring huge chunks of fresh watermelon, crisp cucumbers, basil, mint, a ton of sunflower sprouts and dotted with creamy globs of milky chevre. Everything tasted like it had just been picked and was still warm from the sun. You just can’t get any fresher that that!
*Article originally published in the August 2011 issue of Where Y’at Magazine
**Martinique Bistro and MiLa are closed. City Greens has several locations throughout the Greater New Orleans Area.