When it comes to Caesar Salad (a genuinely favorite dish of mine that I eat at every opportunity when dining out), I could tell a lot of tales. But, given the pathological litigiousness of our legalistic culture, I can speak only in broad generalities, without mentioning names of restaurants that should be either highly commended or somewhat faulted. Below is my take, but you may wish to consult the more catholic perspectives available here.
One of the inviolate criteria I have in order to determine the salad’s overall quality involves the croutons. I consider them as part of the ‘spices’ (not to mention the olive oil) that accompany my choicest versions of the dish, like the shaved cheese, lemon, salt, pepper ground at serving. On this criterion some restaurants pass with flying colors, others, only limply so. It’s a simple test: if, when you push your fork into the crouton, it resists and in protest goes skittering around or even off the plate, that is a serious demerit. Not so everywhere: crisp but crusty and accepting of my probing tines.
There should be just the right amount of dressing, mixed in with shredded mini-strips of Parmesan. The lettuce is crisp (a sine qua non) and cold, not, that is, slathered in dressing. This I appreciate. The chicken (I prefer my Caesar with well-grilled chicken strip) is done thoroughly (as I always) request, with each chunk appropriately browned around its edges. It may be cut into bite-sized chunks – or not – but strips that I shall myself cut in three works just as well. Still, if the meat is cut too small in the kitchen, some of the juiciness evanesces before it goes into my mouth. These strips should be thickish, and as a consequence the chunks into which my knife transforms them are agreeably sapid.
There is some question as to tomatoes: do they or do they not belong in a classic Caesar salad? My own view is that they do not, but practices vary. In any event, those hateful cherry tomatoes are out of the question (the ‘skittering’ problem again!), and yet at times one counts up to a dozen of these unwonted and unwanted denizens. Too much tomato, in my view, is almost on a par with tomatoes period – and that has nothing to do with the fact that although I savor the taste of this fruit my fastidious mouth is allergic to its raw form and never eat same.
One final point on the ingredients: there should never be a raw egg mixed in: on that I am adamant, on health as well as gustatory grounds.
Although I’ve had Caesar salad from Manhattan Beach to Manhattan and many places in between, it is quite amazing that I have never had a truly bad Caesar salad – sure, some are much better than others, but never a really bad one.
A testament to the inherent integrity of the dish?
I would have liked — but am hard put — to intellect an ontological construct of Caesar-salad-ness, an immutable, timeless Platonic ἰδέα, or form, if you will, of this divine dish against which to measure the countless phenomenological instantiations I encounter in my weekly rounds of local, national and at times even international culinary venues.
But I work at it as industriously, as earnestly, and as often as possible – somebody has to do it!