Squid Ink Food Fight: The Underappreciated Lettuce Wedge Salad
Iceberg lettuce has its own special history in our country. The lettuce wedge salad, though, is something you're much more likely to hear Don Draper order than your dining companion. No, iceberg lettuce doesn't have the nutritional value or complex flavors of some other salad greens, and it's not exactly hard to come by in most restaurants in the United States. For those looking for a healthy meal, it can feel more like crunchy water than a beneficial foodstuff. It has gotten lost in a culinary nether region, too pedestrian for epicures, too irrelevant for health nuts, banished to mediocrity, where it is topped with purchased dressing and left to wilt in a take out container next to that steaming hunk of meat you actually wanted. But like any ingredient, when treated right, it can be a delightful thing. Seeking as much, we discovered two local versions of lettuce wedge salad, and pitted them against each other.
We began at Nickel Diner downtown, where they give you a nicely sized wedge with the requisite blue cheese dressing, a smattering of chopped tomatoes and chives, some sliced onions, and tender slices of flat iron steak. It is a rather addictive salad, giving you the pleasant satisfaction that comes from slicing your knife through a thick block of crisp, crunchy lettuce. The dressing is thick and flavorful without being too dominant or bogging the dish down. The steak is cooked precisely and simply, its drippings mixing in with the dressing to form a new creation you wish somebody could adequately bottle. Served in a wedge, iceberg is the steak of lettuces, and alongside a real one, it is extremely comforting, and not likely to last long on the plate.
Perhaps unfairly, we next visited the recently opened Waterloo & City on Washington Boulevard. At this stage, they are likely still tweaking the menu and adjusting to any unforeseen problems in the large, airy space. Their lettuce wedge comes with English Stilton, bacon, radish, cucumber, petit halved tomatoes, long thin croutons and ranch dressing. It is smaller than Nickel Diner's, which is appropriate for a gastropub.
While we do appreciate interpretations of classic dishes, this one seems to veer a bit too far, incorporating some ingredients that pull you a bit from what you love about the original. These are perhaps minor grievances, but the main issue, unfortunately, was in the wetness of salad, which muddled and diluted the flavors -- a problem exacerbated by the inclusion of juicy tomatoes and sliced cucumber. While it is not, of course, a bad dish, it simply cannot hold up to the charm and pleasure of Nickel Diner's.