The Salad Days

Julie Besonen

Sometimes there's nothing better than a nice big salad for a meal, especially when it's hot outside. Think salads are boring? Not when you taste the bracing larb pla dook yang (spicy grilled catfish salad) at East Village Thai favorite Somtum Der. Kale salads are almost inescapable these days, but it's easy to see why they captured palates in the first place at Northern Spy Food Co., where the dark greens are laced with aged cheddar, cubes of roasted sweet potato, crunchy almonds and salty pecorino. Five Leaves in Greenpoint has another great take on it, chopping up black kale and tossing it with spicy anchovy dressing, aged gouda and hazelnuts. Il Buco in NoHo also serves an exceptional kale salad that can never be removed from the menu, slicking the cavolo nero with a nutritious and invigorating garlic, anchovy and lemon vinaigrette. To return to a time-honored French classic, the Nicoise salad at Lafayette is incomparable, topped with a tumble of beautifully seared tuna and the greenest of green beans. A true New York City classic can still be found at Oscar's American Brasserie in the Waldorf Astoria, where maître d' Oscar Tschirky is said to have created the Waldorf salad, a hearty mixture of lettuce, apples, celery, walnuts and mayonnaise. To see other destinations where meal-size salads have a fan following, read our slideshow.

Black kale Caesar. Photo: Jim Knapp

Frank Restaurant & Vera Bar
88 Second Ave., 212-420-0106, East Village, Manhattan
The black kale Caesar at Frank deserves to be put on a pedestal. Its dark green leaves have more texture than romaine and are well coated in tangy, creamy traditional dressing and showered with a healthy dose of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The browned, crunchy, garlic-rubbed croutons could be sold separately as a snack food. Featured as a special on the blackboard menu, the salad is pretty much a nightly mainstay and priced at $14.95. That might seem high, but it's enough for two to share before moving on to a bowl of robustly flavored pasta. Chef-owner Frank Prisinzano has a knack for devising Italian dishes that never get old. Neither does the setting, a charming, double-wide tenement apartment with exposed brick and bric-a-brac.

Mark's Madison Avenue salad. Photo: Tom Sibley

Freds at Barneys
660 Madison Ave., 9th fl., 212-833-2200, Upper East Side, Manhattan
People who shop at Barneys might not blink twice at the $28 price tag for Mark's Madison Avenue salad, but for those who think it sounds outrageous, read on and you might change your mind. An abundance of imported Italian tuna is scattered over a lovely blend of lightly dressed, chopped greens nestling white beans, green beans, lentils, diced beets, tomatoes and strands of red and yellow pepper. In the immortal words of Seinfeld's Elaine Benes, "It's a salad, only bigger, with lots of stuff in it." You will be more than satisfied, especially after swiping hunks of multigrain bread across a plate of grassy olive oil. Freds, a sleek restaurant catering to a chic community, offers a number of other fabulous salads ranging from vegan (all manner of beans, grains and vegetables) to seafood (warm lobster) to a club salad with turkey, smoked bacon and crumbled blue cheese.

Fattoush salad. Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

Gazala's Place
709 Ninth Ave., 212-245-0709, Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan
The Middle Eastern fattoush salad is a great gift to Westerners; one of the best versions in the City can be found at the humble Gazala's Place. Owner-chef Gazala Halabi is from a small Druze village in Israel and carved out her place in the world with a successful catering business followed by two restaurants (her second location is on the Upper West Side at 380 Columbus Ave.). The $9.50 salad is so generous it's hard to finish. The bowl overflows with chopped romaine, diced cucumber, tomato and a crown of toasted pita shards that shatter with each bite. Should you still want something else to share, the hummus, foul and baba ghanoush are top-notch. The narrow Hell's Kitchen nook becomes crowded pre-theater, but dishes come out swiftly so not to worry.

Greek salad. Courtesy, Snack Taverna

Snack Taverna
63 Bedford St., 212-929-3499, West Village, Manhattan
The Greek salad has been reinvented at Snack Taverna, whose large picture windows happen to overlook a leafy corner of the West Village instead of the Aegean. On a summer day it's such a pleasant, sunny spot you won't long for anywhere else. The salad comes in small ($12) and large ($16 at lunch, $18 at dinner) and is draped with a block of feta straight from Greece, sprinkled with oregano and drizzled with olive oil. Underneath is vibrant watercress and arugula instead of the usual romaine. Calamata olives, chunks of tomato, juicy cucumber and slices of red onion make every bite come alive. It's simple and perfect, made more so with a glass of crisp white from the all-Greek wine list.

Cobb salad. Photo: Michael Hall

William Hallet
36-10 30th Ave., 718-269-3443, Astoria, Queens
The classic Cobb salad is deconstructed and modernly reassembled at William Hallet in Astoria, a watering hole with gold-patterned vintage wallpaper and an impressive beer program. The old-school recipe, dreamed up at the Brown Derby in Hollywood in 1937, calls for lettuce, watercress, bacon, chive, avocado, blue cheese, chicken, hard-boiled eggs and tomatoes. Here, a square of aromatic Berkshire pork belly subs for the bacon, and a lightly breaded, fried egg with a runny center adds richness. Who cares if there's no chicken? Shred the meat like pulled pork, blend it with the romaine, soft cubes of avocado, fistfuls of sharp blue cheese, diced tomato and tarragon dressing and you've got a meal for $13. Incidentally, the Cobb is said to have been a midnight invention, so it's fitting that it's served here almost right up to the 4am closing time.