Taste Test: Caesar Salad
When Italian restaurateur Caesar Cardini invented the Caesar salad in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1924, he intended for it to be prepared table side. Back then, this spectacle of the chef tossing the ingredients and whisking the dressing with great flair was part of the salad’s big attraction. This table side tradition is no longer in practice, at least in Mumbai, but over the last nine decades, the salad’s popularity has remained intact. For the most part, chefs honour Cardini’s recipe, which requires Romaine lettuce, parmesan cheese and croutons. The dressing, which is key to the preparation, is what usually gets tweaked. While Cardini used Worcestershire sauce and not anchovies in his dressing, most chefs here use tinned anchovies or anchovy paste in theirs, along with eggs, lemon juice, garlic and parmesan. We sampled this Continental classic at eight restaurants to find one that nails both freshness and flavour.
SALT WATER CAFE
87 Chapel Road, next to Mount Carmel Church, Bandra Reclamation, Bandra (West). Tel: 2643 4441.
Salt Water Cafe’s Caesar salad is large enough for two people. It’s composed of a heap of fresh Romaine lettuce, tender but under-seasoned chicken, grated parmesan, crunchy bacon and flecks of roasted garlic. Garlic is also the dominant ingredient in the creamy dressing, which they prepare in house. The dressing lacked the taste of the promised anchovies, and while we loved some of the bacon bits, a few pieces were as hard as gravel. ★★★☆☆
No. 28, Aaram Nagar 1, Versova, Andheri (West). Tel: 2631 6101. Also at Shop No.1, Trans Ocean House, Hiranandani Business Park, near Fabindia, off Adishankaracharya Marg, Powai. Tel: 2570 5136 and Junction of 14th Road and Khar Pali Road, off Linking Road, in the same lane at City Walk shoes, near Ivy restaurant and wine bar, Bandra (West). Tel: 3209 8000.
There was no reward at the end of the 20 minutes that it took Cafe Mangii to serve our Caesar salad. We were served a salad with grilled chicken, boiled broccoli, French beans and pan seared red pepper. The pesto croutons mentioned in the menu description were missing and the dressing, which had a mayonnaise-like sweetness, tasted suspiciously like a bottled one. ★☆☆☆☆
FREEMAN & BAKER
Shop No.5, Sagarika Co-operative Housing Society, opposite Palm Grove Hotel, Juhu Tara Road, Juhu. Tel: 2613 1522. Also at Moksh Gym, Ground Floor, Akash Ganga, 89, Bhulabhai Desai Road, opposite Tata Garden. Tel: 2364 0127.
As with most dishes on its menu, this Juhu-based deli, which also has an outlet in Breach Candy, lets you customise the Caesar salad. You may want to opt for that as their basic Caesar salad recipe is largely disappointing. It’s a hurriedly assembled mix of iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and black olives. The salad is dressed in the kind of pedestrian, sweet, parsley speckled mayonnaise that you generally find slathered on cinema canteen sandwiches. ★☆☆☆☆
Mathuradas Mills Compound, 126 N. M. Joshi Marg, Lower Parel. Tel: 2490 2065.
The wholesome Caesar salad at this new all-day cafe in Lower Parel is a great in-between-meals option. Like most food at Cafe Zoe, it’s served in a glass jar with an anchovy-scented dressing on the side. The salad is made up of boiled chicken, parmesan chunks, firm Romaine lettuce and cherry tomatoes. However, it’s quite tiresome trying to mix the thick dressing with the salad and this somewhat takes away from the pleasure of eating it. ★★★☆☆
First Floor, Cross Roads 2, Inox Building, Nariman Point. Tel: 6743 9429. Also at High Street Phoenix, Phoenix Mills, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel. Tel: 2496 2333. 201 and Second Floor, Fortune Classic, 15th Road, above the Toyota showroom, opposite the Gabbana clothing store, Khar. Tel: 6741 2402.
If you scoff at the idea of a salad as a meal, you need to give Spaghetti Kitchen’s Classic Caesar salad a shot. The heaping bowl of Romaine and iceberg lettuce is tossed with bits of crisp bacon, sun-dried tomatoes, croutons, diced red peppers and grated parmesan. If you want to cheat on a diet without getting weighed down by guilt, this is the dish to do it with. Our only complaint was that the sparsely used garlicky dressing left it a tad dry. ★★★☆☆
OLIVE BAR & KITCHEN
Amateur Riders Club Building, Mahalaxmi Racecourse, Gate No.8, Mahalaxmi. Tel: 4085 9595. Also at 14, Union Park, near Le Sutra Hotel, Khar. Tel: 2605 8228.
Olive Bar & Kitchen’s Caesar salad was the only one of the eight we tried that contained anchovies. The creamy dressing in the chicken Caesar had a nice balance of garlic and parmesan. The salad was near perfect, but someone with an aversion to salt may call them out on the brackishness of the anchovies and the salinity of the brine-soaked capers. ★★★★☆
SMOKE HOUSE DELI
Next to Spaghetti Kitchen, High Street Phoenix, Phoenix Mills, Lower Parel. Tel: 6561 9618.
Smoke House Deli’s Caesar salad was neither awful nor exceptional. Made up of iceberg and Romaine lettuce, boiled chicken, and garlic toast in place of croutons, it was as basic as they come. Instead of an anchovy-infused dressing, it came with the kosher, garlicky version generally used as the substitute in vegetarian Caesars. ★★☆☆☆
INDIGO CAFE WINNER
Clifton Trishool Housing Society, Oshiwara Village, off Link Road, Lokhandwala, Andheri (West). Tel: 2633 5709.
If you’re obsessed with taking food pictures like we are, you will want to snap up this artfully composed salad, which comprises a poached egg balanced atop a mound of crisp lettuce. The show stealer is sinewy Parma ham that rests over crisp garlic croutons and leaves that are dressed with an anchovy-scented emulsion. We could find absolutely no fault in this dish that combined all our favourite ingredients. ★★★★★