FOOD Quest for seasonal salads
Your salad days are here and you’re in Nice, sitting next to the fountain in Place Masséna, enjoying a salade niçoise. Then off to Palermo, Sicily. On the steps of the grand opera house Teatro Massimo, early for the performance of — well, it doesn’t matter. But this does: your grilled-pepper salad with anchovies and capers. Now on to Istanbul for a little history. The Süleymaniye Library keeps an original manuscript of a cookbook written 800 years ago, when Baghdad was the largest and perhaps wealthiest city in the world. Writen by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi, Kitab al-Tabikh includes traditional pre-Islamic recipes from Iran. One describes a cucumber salad garnished with roasted fowl and dressed with verjuice pressed from sour fruits. The dish is spiced with cumin, cinnamon, and fresh herbs. Your salad days go a long way back, don’t they?
“Diners do come for the performance,” says head waiter Rad Daher. “They really do appreciate that the salad is made fresh.” Customers return many times to Hy’s Steakhouse just for that caesar salad, tossed tableside. The pleasure is so rarely seen: Hy’s is possibly the only Ottawa restaurant offering this quiet theatre. Of course, the mayonnaise is prepared properly, adding olive oil drop by drop. And, says Daher, “It’s important to toss the romaine before adding the parmesan.” Leaves are glistening, croutons light and crunchy — and the garlic roars out. Comfort me with a wellmade caesar. $13.95. Hy’s Steakhouse, 170 Queen St., 613-234-4545.
Mixed Seafood Salad
Near the city of Phuket in southern Thailand, you’ll find a tropical evergreen forest with a secluded beach — and a slight chance of meeting wild pigs or reticulated pythons. By contrast, Ottawa’s Chinatown seems sedate. But don’t be so sure. Restaurant Phuket Royal serves its version of yum talay, or seafood salad, full of tender shrimp, scallops, and squid. Perfect for sultry weather, it’s dressed with lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and fresh red chilies. This yum talay bites you. Electric! Don’t say I didn’t warn you. $12.95. Phuket Royal, 713 Somerset St. W., 613-235-3134.
A simple tomato salad: fine field tomatoes, peeled and sliced, dressed with lemon juice. That’s how the Shakers do it. Or prepare it as Fauna owner/chef Jon Svazas does: use five different kinds of dehydrated vegetable flavourings, three fresh herbs, and one dehydrated grain. However, such preparations are difficult to replicate at home. Svazas says he likes to make things “simple, but not simply.” With the dust of capers, smoked peppers, and green onions, not to mention licorice-like olives and mild, creamy Persian feta, this understated dish charms. $14. Fauna, 425 Bank St., 613-563-2862.