Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
May 25, 2011
08:44 AM
Small Dishes

Salad Daze

Salad Daze

Seafood salad with mango and avocado


Tis the season for salad.  Granted, it’s available in some form or another all year long, but come warm weather and it shines.  For me, it’s the only time of year salad satisfies as an appetizer, side dish or entrée.  For some, salad is synonymous with mixed greens and globby dressing.  What a pity.  If variety truly is the spice of life then indeed it’s what makes salads worthy of praise and praise I will a few of my local favorites.


Marigold Kitchen. They call it the “Spanish frittata salad”—a combination of roasted new potatoes, chorizo, tomatoes and onions on a bed of arugula and frisée; garnished with manchego cheese. Especially intriguing is the romesco vinaigrette made from an improbable mix of nuts, garlic and sweet paprika.


Graze. Beets are a much underrated vegetable. With their sweet flavor and silky texture I think they’re great cold and perfect in a salad.  Graze shows them off spectacularly combined with mixed greens, sliced sweet onion and candied pistachios swathed in a goat’s milk yogurt dressing.


Cilantro Bar & Grill. Fruit salads were popular when I was a kid but seem to have fallen out of fashion.  Not so at Cilantro where they make an exemplary version with seasonal fruit and spring greens, topped with goat cheese and tossed with honey-chipotle vinaigrette.


Bandung Indonesian Restaurant. Gado gado, an Indonesian specialty, literally means “mix-mix” and is just that:  a mixed vegetable salad drenched with peanut sauce.  At Bandung, they combine steamed green beans, carrots, cabbage, broccoli and bean sprouts, topped off with homemade tofu and boiled egg.  It’s good good!

The Old Fashioned.  Warm spinach salad is much beloved in Wisconsin and rightly so.  The version at the Old Fashioned is exemplary: baby spinach married with shaved red onion, crunchy sunflower seeds and croutons, Stravecchio Parmesan and— of course—hot bacon dressing.  The coup de grace is a deviled egg.


Nostrano. This restaurant’s menu is always creative and a playful symphony of arresting flavors.  Such is the seasonal salad of tender butter lettuce; radish and avocado combined with Seymour Dairy Ader Käse blue cheese and candied olives.

Underground Food Collective. Think bread salad and mostly likely tomatoes come to mind. But at the UFC, asparagus proves an imaginative and successful substitution.  Combined with croutons, lovage—a rare old herb, and green garlic, this Italian classic speaks with a charming Wisconsin accent.

Creamery Café at Artisan Gallery. Out of the way and out of the ordinary, this delightful destination is worth the drive to Paoli.  The Creamery gives chicken salad, an old favorite, a stylish makeover. Smoked chicken, dried cherries, toasted almonds and Gruyere cheese with subtle vinaigrette make for a tasteful potpourri.


Samba Brazilian Grill. It’s a salad bar fanatic’s fantasy fulfilled.  Samba’s cold buffet has over 40 items—most of which you’ll never find at the supper club in Oshkosh by gosh,


Finally, a recipe for a summer salad entrée…


Vietnamese Shaking Beef Salad



1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon freshly minced seranno pepper

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons sugar


Combine all dressing ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.



2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped unsalted peanuts

1 tablespoons lightly toasted sesame seeds

½ teaspoons coarse salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.



1½ cups watercress, torn into bite-size sprigs

2 cups butter lettuce, or other lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

¼ cup thinly sliced red onion


Gently combine the salad ingredients and arrange on a platter.



2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 pound beef sirloin or flank steak, cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices

2 to 3 tablespoons peanut oil

2 garlic cloves, sliced


¼ cup fresh pineapple chunks (cut into 1/8-inch-thick bite-size pieces)

20 fresh Thai basil leaves, cut in half


Combine the oyster sauce, soy sauce and beef in a medium bowl and toss to coat the meat evenly. Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the garlic and stir-fry quickly until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the beef and quickly stir-fry it until just charred on the edges, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add to the large bowl with the dressing.


Toss the pineapple and basil with the beef and dressing. Arrange the beef mixture and all its juices on the top of the salad on the platter and sprinkle with the topping mixture. Serve immediately.


Serves 4

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About This Blog

Dan CurdI found my interest in writing by accident. My training and first job was as a graphic designer. Unemployed, the only employment I could find in advertising at that time was as a copywriter. Somehow, I convinced Richard Newman & Associates to hire me. Later I learned they were desperate. Madison has been my home off and on since 1957 (nonstop for the past 31 years). I write about food, which I love. – Dan Curd

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