SILENCE HAS A NAME - Poetry Chapbook and CD, with Music by Mark Hanley

Monday, September 27, 2010

What's the Matter with Caesar?

Next time you order an "award-winning" salad at a mall restaurant, no matter how cool the restaurant name may seem or how much of the moment, don't expect award-winning taste. You probably won't get it.

As you've probably gathered by now, I'm particularly hopeful about getting good food when I dine out. And I have my compulsions and likes.  Sunday afternoon, we went out to a place called Papa razzi -- because I like the name -- and I felt compelled to order their "award winning "Caesar, over and above some very fine sounding pasta dishes and other combos that might have attracted a vegetarian like me.

I wasn't that hungry. And I wanted the salad, a variety that I particularly like, and to see what made it so special.

I do love Caesars. I get a masochistic thrill out of ordering a pile of Romaine leaves tossed with sprinkles of cheese and crumbs of bread that usually runs me about eight bucks a plate. But here's the real reason I order Caesars. It's one of those supremely simple dishes that really can be exquisitely made. As the story goes with eggs with me, I'm also in search of the perfect Caesar. It's a love thing.

When I lived in Connecticut, I had a girlfriend with whom I used to lunch two or three times a week, and it was always Caesar. Seems like we enjoyed some mighty fine ones up and down Fairfield County, in Greenwich, New Canaan, Westport and Weston in the late 1990s, and maybe that stint with Caesars spoiled me with the dish for good. I didn't eat out as often as my pal did, but whenever we went for our pedis and manis together, we went for our Caesars too.

The best Caesars I've had seemed casual enough, until you pop a leaf of lettuce in your mouth. You can see there's dressing, and its taste is definitive and refreshing -- and the crunch of croutons, satisfying. Afterwards, you feel like you've had a meal.

The Caesar I had at Papa razzi yesterday did not make my top 10 list or even come close. It was pretty forgettable. And that in itself is a sin for a dish so simple.

Although they were crispy, the leaves tasted like water and it was that rather than the flavor of dressing that seeped into my mouth. Secondly, the anchovy dressing didn't taste remotely like anchovies -- more like a thimbleful of lightly peppered mayonaisse.  And the salad was topped with thin slivers of oily crackers so painful to bite and so awkward, that with each chew, I felt I was massacring the lining inside my cheeks. The only good part of the salad was the decent parmesan.

The three unforgiveables with salad are: yellowy leaves, watery leaves and an unappetizing appearance. This Caesar looked well enough, but it wasn't savory.

I'm glad I wasn't that hungry.

I'm not going to review the place from which my Caesar came. I loathe reviews. Who the eff is anybody to walk in anywhere and start tearing down what in some cases has taken somebody or a group of people a lifetime to create. But I am going to suggest that any joint that opts to write "award-winning" next to the Caesar on its menu better make sure it not only presents an eye-catching fancy, but a salad that tastes as good as it looks!

But here's what I have to say to the cooks at Papa razzi's. Make a decent dressing for chrissakes -- get water off the leaves and get some croutons or chips that are not only incredibly tasty, but crumble easily. A Caesar should be a work of art with a unique and memorable combination of tastes! Tart, crunchy and delightful.

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