Salads can get a bad rap, which is why I frequently find myself putting subpar versions inside of a wrap. Or on top of pizza. Or forked between bites of any kind of crispy carb I can get my hands on; I have never met a crouton I didn’t like.
But there are great salads out there, and I’m pleased to report a few area restaurants in particular have stand-out versions that actually give roughage a good name. And, bonus, they all feature seafood, meaning that even if your summer plans don’t include the beach — well, eat these, and they kind of will.
Smoked salmon salad ($13), The Bearded Lady
What’s in it: Black-peppered smoked salmon, field greens, jicama, avocado, candied pecans and apple vinaigrette
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Why it’s great: First, can we talk about the smoked salmon? This is not your average filet o’ fish on top of greens. This is the stuff bagels dream of (again, with the carbs!) but it makes for surprisingly welcome, unctuous texture — and pretty rosettes — on top of the fresh greens. Creamy avocado adds heft and the jicama and pecans yield crunch. Topped by the apple vinaigrette — light and sweet — it makes for one exceedingly healthy dish that almost cancels out the last time you were at Bearded Lady and inhaled a L.U.S.T. burger.
Octopus appetizer ($14), Piattello Italian Kitchen
What’s in it: Octopus, frisse greens, potato, celery, radishes, Castelvetrano olives, saffron aioli
Why it’s great: This is like the potato salad your aunt never, ever made. But, interestingly, there are some aspects to the dish that do resemble the picnic staple, starting with its pieces of potato, which are bathed in a slightly acidic saffron aioli. Slices of celery only further the argument, but then the salad goes in a more highbrow direction. Delicate frisse greens form a nest, which capture diced radishes and olives, and the octopus binds the ingredients together in chunky, hedonistic bliss.
Ensalada ceviche ($15), Meso Maya
What’s in it: House ceviche, romaine hearts and field greens, tomatoes, avocado and a honey-lime cilantro vinaigrette
Why it’s so great: Perfectly marinated planks of striped bass and shrimp are the stars of this innovative salad, which marries greens and ceviche to good effect. Then there’s the jicama, on one visit cut into large chunks as if to serve as the de facto carb. The fibrous veggie soaks up the sweet vinaigrette in a mellow way, and the cubes of mango give the dish even more of a sugar factor. Add a cucumber margarita and you’ve surely met your RDA (recommended daily allowance) of crudité, no?
Mas Shrimp salad ($12.50), Flying Fish
What’s in it: Grilled shrimp, greens, cucumber, tomatoes, corn, capers, tortilla strips and hush puppies (!)
Why it’s so great: You could start with that exclamation point: Two hush puppies top this stainless-steel bowl of utter salad-dependability. Crunchy and sweet, the fried spheres are best broken up and distributed across the bowl evenly — and then you pour the thick balsamic vinaigrette over it all. The dressing lends sweetness and acidity to the salad, which gets more from the creative inclusion of capers. Bits of corn mirror the hush puppies’ innards, while tomatoes and cucumbers bring the salad back to reality. And, yes, the tails-on grilled shrimp are outstanding, just like they are in a slew of other entrees on the menu.
Poke bowl with salad ($10.95/$8.95), Ahi Poke Bowl
What’s in it: Your choice of tuna (spicy, shoyu or Hawaiian), salmon (regular or spicy), popcorn shrimp or fried salmon; greens, rice (brown or white); and a variety of toppings — from crab salad to seaweed salad — depending on the size of your bowl.
Why it’s so great: The combination of flavors at Khang Vo’s year-plus-old restaurant are preternaturally outstanding, and after a few visits you might finally be able to zero in on your favorite fish. But when you choose the greens and rice option, your bowl is sure to be balanced and a fabulous salad in its own right. Favorite toppings include the sweet crab salad and avocado, plus the spicy mayo, a lot of the spicy mayo. With this many vegetables, don’t you deserve it?