Ten Great Salads in Orange County
Salads get a bad rap. It's the name: salad. We tend to associate the word with lettuce, usually iceberg, which is flavorless, bland--the antithesis of a steak. For those on a diet, salad is punishment. But perhaps the comedian John Pinette put it best when he said this about salad:
Photo by Meranda Carter
"Salad isn't food. Salad comes with the food."
But in a lot of cultures other than our own, salad is food. Food is salad. My unproven hypothesis is that the word "salad" exists only in meat-centric societies that needs something to describe a food that contains mostly vegetable.
Herewith is ten great salads, some of which, yes, do contain meat, but all are reasons alone to visit, because salad is food, food is salad.
10. Crispy Catfish and Mango Salad at Thai Nakorn
When you see this dish, you will, no doubt, ask "Where's the catfish?" Indeed, nothing shaped like a fish will be found anywhere in the dish. Not a head, a fin, or even a tail. Instead, dotting the salad will be some golden brown crunchy crumbles that look like Grape Nuts cereal, tangled in the shredded young mango, red onion, and chili. These granules *are* the catfish. Little morsels of it will be strewn about the dish, functioning like fish flavored croutons. A dressing of lime juice, nuclear chili, sugar, and pungent fish sauce will lace each wispy spoonful of the stuff, its flavors bright and intense. This is a salad you're actually better off eating with rice.
9. Sautéed Mushroom Salad at Cafe Hiro
Like the wonderful steak and unquestionably great croissant bread pudding, Cafe Hiro's sautéed mushroom salad is one of those blackboard specials that has pretty much proven itself worthy of the permanent menu, but still sticks around the specials because it is exactly that: special. You want this salad above any other, for it is a julienne of fungi lightly sautéed with hints of truffle oil and peppiness that will start your Cafe Hiro meal right as that croissant bread pudding will close it.
8. Goi Mit at Quan Hy
The first time I had Goi Mit, I mistook the jackfruit for pork. It chewed like pork, looked like pork, and well, kinda even tasted like pork. But this is a salad, and a great one that demonstrates the wonder that is jackfruit, a vegetable that vegans have embraced as a natural and convincing meat substitute. Those greyish-pink meat- like strands almost look as though it has pig blubber on them. But before you have it in a taco at Seabirds, have it here, where a tart, fish-sauce based dressing and herbs such as lemongrass and and basil cut through it invigoratingly. Best of all will be the planks of light-as-air rice crackers which surrounded the salad mound like life rafts. Depending on how you want to approach it, they function as either crouton or scoop.
7. Classic Salad at Pieology
Some of the servers behind the pizza might be sourpusses in need of better customer service training (see my review) but their classic salad with craisins, candied walnuts, chicken and gorgonzola cheese is as sweet and welcome embrace as anything mostly made of field greens can be. It's served in a to-go box, but you'll finish the thing right then and there, using every last available drop from the thimble of a balanced, not-cloying-for-once raspberry vinaigrette they give you.