Recipe Review

I Tried the Popular Carbone-Style Caesar Salad and I Fully Understand the Hype

published Aug 8, 2022
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I Tried Carbone Style Caesar Salad
Credit: Cory Fernandez

A quick scroll through #Carbone on TikTok will reveal thousands of 10-minute-or-less videos — largely by Gen Z and “Zillenial” users — covering a wide variety of topics related to the nearly 10-year-old New York City hotspot. How to stealthily secure a highly sought-after reservation, how to make the restaurant’s uber-popular rigatoni alla vodka at home, which A-List celebrity was last seen making a visit — these are just a few of the many talking points you’ll likely come across during a conversation about Carbone.

Another topic that’ll likely come up when discussing Carbone? It’s famous “Caesar alla ZZ,” a Caesar salad-inspired creation that boasts both a $25 price tag and a world of flavors, textures, and just a pinch of opulence. Given the hype not just around Carbone as a whole, but also its famous mixed greens, I gave in and tried an at-home version of the popular salad that just may be fit for royalty.

Although Carbone was first established in March 2013 in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan by chefs and restaurateurs Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, it has undergone a towering surge in popularity in the last couple of years alone. This newfound popularity of the restaurant can particularly be traced to a younger, pop culture-hungry crowd always ready for their next big viral moment on social media. Not to mention, since its original opening in New York City, it has established locations in Miami, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, and Dallas — all of which carry the same signature atmosphere and vibe.

Aside from being known as a celebrity-approved eatery specializing in delicious traditional Italian American-inspired fare, Carbone is also known for its particularly pricey (yet, as some Yelp reviews explain, generous) courses. One of the meals that’s on the “cheaper” side, though, happens to be their Caesar alla ZZ.

Credit: Cory Fernandez

What You Should Know About Carbone’s Caesar Salad

Although the word “Caesar ” is used in the name, there are quite a few aspects about it that are different from your traditional Caesar salad. For recreating this famous salad, I went off of the TikTok video from official salad aficionado Darlene of The Salad Lab, as she’s known for “making fabulous salads everyday.”

First, the base of the salad uses small, soft, baby gem lettuce leaves instead of the typical, more firm romaine. Additionally, most recipes for Caesar dressing call for smooth Dijon mustard, while Carbone’s opts for more textured grainy mustard, making for a more paste-like dressing. Also, while many recipes for Caesar dressing call for egg yolk, this recipe specifies using a coddled egg yolk — or, in other words, an egg that’s been just slightly par-cooked via steam and a water bath. Plus the dressing (and salad) calls for quality extra-virgin olive oil, shaved Parmesan, and Parmigiano-Reggiano

Lastly — perhaps the most recognizable difference, and arguably the best part — are the homemade croutons. These are by no means your ordinary croutons — Carbone uses very large, rectangular pieces of semolina bread that have been soaked and tossed in a mixture of melted organic butter, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, and roasted garlic cloves. With all of that said, though, you can probably guess that, unless you normally have many of these ingredients on hand (plus a few more), you’ll likely spend a bit more money than you would to make an average salad.

Credit: Cory Fernandez

Don’t Worry About the Anchovies and “Raw” Egg Yolk

If you’re familiar with how most Caesar dressings are made, then you know they typically contain egg yolks and anchovies. While the majority of prepared Caesar dressings are blended and very smooth to help make them pourable and less viscous, Carbone’s is rather thick, partially due to the mashed anchovies in it. If this worries you a bit, I’m here to tell you it’s nothing to fret over! As someone who doesn’t eat a ton of seafood, I can say that you won’t notice a fishy taste at all (if that’s an issue for you), especially because there are such strong flavors in the mix. The anchovies just add a nice, subtle saltiness that — in my opinion — works well. 

Additionally, you might be thinking that either making a coddled egg is too much of a hassle or if you don’t feel like making one, eating a raw egg yolk doesn’t sound super appetizing. The yolk in the dressing, if anything, is meant for texture rather than flavor. It helps make the dressing amazingly creamy and doesn’t add a weird flavor at all. Also, though you should always take necessary precautions when handling raw or semi-raw foods, if you’re using pasteurized eggs for this (look for cartons specifically labeled as such), you can reduce your risk of food-borne illness.

My Honest Review of Carbone’s Caesar Salad

Living in New York City, I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by a wide variety of diverse restaurants, from famous chains to beloved, family-owned businesses. I, however, sometimes have a little skepticism when it comes to trending or viral dishes, since I find the food to be “good” or “just OK” (which isn’t a bad thing). I will say though, Carbone’s Caesar salad was far beyond good — it was amazing! I could survive off of the croutons alone! They’re a generous size but also incredibly flavorful. Plus, since they’re so large, the outside gets nice and crisp while the inside still stays a bit soft. Before this, I honestly never had croutons tossed with tomato paste, but it’s a fantastic technique. Not to mention the red pepper flakes added just the right amount of heat for me, though of course, you can add however much you like. 

Credit: Cory Fernandez

What I’ll also add about why I loved this salad is how much I appreciated its particular differences from the traditional Caesar salad. If you prefer a more tender salad green like me, the baby gem lettuce can be a good alternative to romaine hearts. Also, I really liked the use of grainy mustard instead of dijon mustard because it prevented the dressing from being too creamy, though the coddled egg yolk adds just the right amount of that.

Speaking of coddled egg yolk, I will say that this was a little bit of a challenge since it was my first time using this technique. Overall, however, since the end product was delicious, I didn’t mind the extra work of coddling the egg. If you have the time and means to make this salad at home — or if you happen to get a table at Carbone — please do so, I don’t think you’ll regret it!