Where Has The “Real” Caesar Salad Gone?

Q. Are there any restaurants in New Orleans that make Caesar salad at the table? I’m talking about the presentation in which the waiter doesn’t just toss the greens with a ready-made dressing, but makes the dressing in the bowl from basic ingredients. I haven’t found that in a long time.

A. The Caesar salad was not just a magnificent, simple addition to the menus of upscale and Italian restaurants, but a great marketing move, too. Neither the greens used in a Caesar (romaine, hand picked to remove the big central stems) nor the dressing are especially complex. But for a long time if you ordered a Caesar, you’d be in for a salad twice as large and maybe three times as expensive as a standard green salad.

The payback to the customer was the show, as the waiter or captain would roll a wooden bowl on a cart to the table. There he wiped the inside of the bowl with garlic cloves, added mustard, olive oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. All that was mixed until blended. The greens would go into the bowl, where a raw or lightly-poached egg yolk would break over the greens. Tossing the greens made the egg blend in with everything else. The finished touch was grated parmigiana cheese and croutons.

What about anchovies? According to Julia Child, who personally knew Cesare Cardini (the creator of the Caesar at his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico), Cesare objected to adding anchovies to his salad. But a lot of time and salads have been served, and many improvements have been made. Make it your way, but be open to the original formula.

CaesarSalad

The reasons you don’t see the classic tableside ceremony very often are 1) restaurant service is on a long-running trend away from any formality in the dining room; b) most dining rooms have tables too close together for the cart to roll up to them; and iii) most customers have become accustomed to Caesar as being just another salad, with nothing to justify the additional cost.

The only New Orleans restaurants I know with a prepared-to-order Caesar are Delmonico and Andrea’s.

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