The other night I ate one of my favorite restaurant meals: a finely chopped arugula and radicchio salad with tiny, crispy-yet-melting bits of fried onions, and paper-thin shards of sharp cheese. It's a fabulous salad, but it's one I've never been able to recreate at home. Unlike many restaurant dishes, which I feel can be recaptured at home with a little detective work, salads can just taste so much better when you're out.
Here are a few reasons why that it is — and a few ways to make up the difference at home.
1. A restaurant salad has salt on it.
A great salad almost always has salt in it — and often more than you might expect. Most good restaurants season salad carefully — probably adding salt and pepper directly to the greens, not just the dressing.
If you don't usually add salt to your salads, try sprinkling in a little flaky sea salt next time and see if it doesn't taste 100% better.
2. Restaurants aren't afraid of fat.
Like salt, restaurants know how to use fat, and they're not afraid of it. They may put in far more olive oil (or bacon grease, or duck fat, or whatever luxurious fat they're using to dress your salad) than you would dare to at home! That isn't to say that salads should be greasy, though; if there's one thing I do find that restaurants sometimes do wrong, it's overdressing salads.
But often your salad dressing will benefit from just a touch more fat. After all, it's good for you — fat helps you absorb the nutrients in your greens!
3. A restaurant can handle variety and complexity.
Often the best salads are ones with a lot going on. The arugula salad I mentioned above was evenly, finely chopped — in a light and fluffy way that makes me suspect it was done by a swift prep cook's own hands, not a machine. Or perhaps it was done with a commercial salad shredder that goes beyond what I have at home. Regardless, it looks laborious, and I'm probably not going to that trouble at home. It also had freshly fried onions on it, another little luxury I'm probably not going to trouble with at home.
Restaurants have the scale and time to make big batches of grains, chop nuts and fruit, and bring in a complex array of greens, not to mention prepare luxurious accompaniments, like fried goodies or perfectly cooked meat — all things that might be too costly or time-consuming for a regular weeknight salad at home.
4. Your salad was tossed in a huge bowl.
Here's a tip, though, that can easily be applied at home. When a salad is made at a restaurant or even a fast-casual joint, you can often see how it's dressed: a small amount of greens are tossed and flipped with the dressing in an enormous bowl — often with a pair of tongs. Using a huge bowl to mix a small amount of salad means that you can coat the leaves with the dressing and fully mix in everything else.
After watching chefs do this a few times at restaurants, I took the hint and started making our weeknight salads in the largest prep bowl I have, starting with dressing in the bottom of the bowl, and using tongs to flip and toss the greens until they were well-seasoned.
More Salad Tips
5. Someone else made it.
But, in the end, I think that there's just something about a salad that someone else has made for you. More than other types of food, I find that I appreciate a great salad from someone else's hands quite a lot! There's something super luxurious about a great salad from a restaurant, and I'm always grateful when I eat a terrific salad I didn't have to work for!
5 Restaurant Salads to Make at Home
- Alice Waters' Baked Goat Cheese with Spring Lettuce Salad - From Chez Panisse Cafe in Berkeley, CA
- Radicchio Salad with Green Olives & Parmesan - From Till in Columbus, OH
- Beet Salad with Romesco Sauce and Spring Greens - From Black Sheep Pizza in Minneapolis, MN
- Shaved Fennel, Roasted Tomato & Pistachio Salad with Yogurt Dressing - From The Walrus and the Carpenter in Seattle, WA
- Asparagus & Pecorino and Peas with Prosciutto & Mint - From Otto in New York, NY
Do you have any restaurant salads you've been inspired to recreate?