The Perfect Salad
A few weeks ago I got to enjoy the 1905 salad menu item at the Colombia Cafe on the Tampa Riverwalk. This salad continues to amaze me because I don't think I can name a single other place that the salad is worth the trip.
So what makes this specific salad so great? I believe an excellent combination of crisp iceberg lettuce with a famous almost 100+ year old garlic based dressing. I'm already a huge fan of either romaine or iceberg and either of these lettuces have a great crunch to give the meal some texture.
In terms of this salad vs others - the other ingredients are mixed in with the dressing and tossed together. This is much preferred to me for a decline in presentation instead of organizing tomatoes on top. When a salad is plated for design you take a hit in the flavor department.
Finally for this above salad - the ham/cheese/tomatoes/shrimp are sliced in small enough chunks that they naturally mix in with the rest of the salad. This is a benefit as the alternative may have such large chunks of the topping that your salad is now eating some lettuce, then that thing instead of together.
Take this Seafood Cobb I ordered at a Tampa restaurant now shutdown. This lettuce is hurting - just pure romaine with no detected dressing. A huge amount of seafood mixed with the classic bacon/eggs/cheese. I think this salad looks like it needs some work. The real benefit I see to the Cobb iteration is a quick transition of bold colors. For example when you move from a red tomato to a yellow egg to a pink ham to a white cheese. This salad is thrown together with a weak vinaigrette and no plating so it looks like a blob of ingredients with a lonely lettuce on the bottom.
So if we pivot again, maybe the lettuce is the issue. We need a more mixed green that collapses with pressure and liquid to help bring out the flavor in the paired ingredients.
This salad made an attempt at plating with identified locations for the tomatoes and tuna, but then we can see the red peppers primarily tossed in the middle. So with this lettuce we find its not the main purpose of this meal - the tuna is meant to grabbed with a bit of lettuce on each bite. This combination of flavors enhances the taste of the tuna, but you'll probably run out of tuna before lettuce. So then you are left with a tough question - can the lettuce stand alone?
Perhaps the vinaigrette stands alone, but you might find the secreted liquid from the tomatoes overpowers the splash of dressing on this meal. You'll notice this difference in the first salad, because the tomatoes are cut to lose the inner part that is more liquid based than solid.
So what if you could have a protein with your salad, but not sacrifice the taste of the salad when left alone?
So you could make the above salad, the arugula will stand alone mixed in with dressing and corn. However, we made the same mistake with the tomatoes leaking too much affecting the dressing. So while the steak runs out and the lettuce remains - it may only be great if you like the flavor of tomatoes mixed in.
So at this point we may realize the effort for letting lettuce stand alone is not worth it. So the logical explanation is to cut it out - so we could make a salad with barely any lettuce. This is a pretty common move with the bowl type of meal.
So at this point we now have the flavors we enjoy, but with none of the lettuce remaining when the protein is done. The toppings are the salad with the lettuce becoming an unimportant patron to this party. We see competing dressings here though with a premixed crema and a side container of Chile dressing. Could the bowl have been elevated with the dressings mixed in? Or does the bowl with lack of lettuce base mean the dressing has to be mixed ad-hoc?
Perhaps its unfair to compare bowls with salads.
So now I might have a better idea with the perfect salad.
- A lettuce like romaine or iceberg to give the salad crunch and a base.
- A vinaigrette that is tossed with all ingredients for full coverage as well as a solid dressing that simply elevates the flavor instead of over powering it. I believe lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce is the key here.
- Toppings that are cut and cubed for a easily mixable size. We also want to make sure we prepare the additions so they don't overpower. Whether we are hollowing a tomato or vertical slicing a cheese.
- A protein that doesn't over power or become the focus of the meal. So this might mean tiny shrimp or steak chunks. You might be able to get away with some chicken here as well.
- A plating that results in no effort to eat. We shouldn't have to mix dressings, fight the toppings or cut the protein before a bite occurs.
With all of that together - The 1905 Salad from Columbia Cafe might check all of those boxes easily. So it seems only fair to go back to try another.
As good as I remembered and still holds up to all my points - I think I've found the perfect salad.