by Lauren Monahan July/Aug 2008 Issue
So Cal is in its prime, now that summer is here. As soon as school lets out, people flock to the sunny southland for the beach, for the sun, for the swimsuits, for the…salad? Salad is healthy – we all know this. A plate of fresh, leafy greens seems to be the perfect meal for those that live in their skivvies during the scorching summer months…who doesn’t want to look good laying out at the beach or the pool, or even walking around the local outdoor mall? Salad is, and has been, a go-to dish for people trying to stay fit and eat healthfully. This is not a new discovery.
Besides the health benefits, salads offer a crisp, cool pick-me-up on a hot summer day. As a lifelong resident of Orange County, I’ve experienced some scorching hot temperatures during the summer months. In the heat, many foods I would normally go for seem too heavy. However, no matter how warm it is outside, a salad is the one dish that can help me beat the heat. In my opinion, salad is to summer what soup is to winter.
But let’s get to the real reason I love salads so much…they taste great – and there are countless methods to their madness. Gone are the times of your typical lettuce, tomato and crouton mixture. These days, chefs in all types of restaurants are incorporating everything from high-end proteins and cheeses to exotic vegetables and homemade dressings into their gourmet salad creations. The possibilities are endless, as demonstrated by Stonefire Grill. This restaurant serves family-style portions and offers over fourteen different salads on their menu. If you’re a traditionalist you can try the Garden, Greek or Caesar salads, but don’t overlook the Mediterranean Chicken salad – it’s served with grilled veggies and Gorgonzola atop a fresh pizza crust.
Salads have also been popping up on appetizer menus. Instead of ordering a salad as your meal or adding one to it for a reduced price, restaurants are offering them as a precursor to the main course in portions large enough to share with a mate or two, making the dining experience more social and interactive.
We all remember the salad bar bonanza of the 1990’s…it seemed like every restaurant had one! I can see the line clearly…two choices of lettuce variety, cheddar cheese, croutons, sunflower seeds, bleu cheese, Italian or ranch dressing…YAWN! No wonder they went out of style. After years of hibernation though, the salad bar is back, and with a vengeance.
Sam & Harry’s Steakhouse at the Marriott Newport Beach has reinvented the salad bar, and done a hell of a job in doing so. I was fortunate enough to be invited for lunch to try out their new endeavor, and I was far from disappointed. Besides the gorgeous setting (the dining room is poolside and from my table I could see the ocean), the salad bar itself was beautiful. With it’s own separate room, platters of different salad mixes (leafy, rice, pasta, etc.) toppings, breads, and desserts lined all three walls. There was even a grill station where a chef prepared beef or fish to order, and there is always a soup du jour. I went straight for the baby iceberg wedge and the roasted vegetables.
After my first round, General Manager Barry Pierce and Executive Chef Adrien Sbrana stopped by to chat about the newest addition to the Sam & Harry’s lunch hour. The philosophy behind creating the salad bar was attracting new customers, other than hotel guests or people visiting on business. They both seemed excited and optimistic about the venture, and tell me that since it’s opened, lunch at Sam & Harry’s has gone up 30%. Most likely, the boost in business has a direct correlation with the new option. That’s not surprising to me, considering that the cost of eating from the salad bar is less than the average lunch cover, it includes way more than just salad, and you can try as many items as you’d like as many times as you’d like. In my opinion, there’s no contest.
Whether you’re trying to stay fit, stay cool, or stay fresh, salad is a perfect option for summer dining. With limitless variations of this classic staple of cuisine, you’re sure to find something that tickles your fancy. So happy summer, and stick with salad!