Where to go to get the ones that’ll make you really, truly happy.
Salad is good for you, and we can probably all agree that, in general, salad is good (especially when it’s hot outside). But salad sometimes seems perfunctory — or, these days, sometimes seems like it’s trying too hard (can we enjoy our quinoa separately, please?). “Life-changing” is admittedly hyperbolic, but I do believe these five Seattle salads achieve saladness in extraordinary ways, and I think — I hope — they’ll make you as happy as they make me.
The Dungeness Crab Louie Wedge at the White Swan Public House/The 100 Pound Clam
Price: $18 (and completely worth it)
(1001 Fairview Ave. N., Seattle; 206-588-2680; whiteswanpublichouse.com; salad available at lunch only, 11:30 a.m.- 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday)
The sunshine glinting off Lake Union, all the pretty boats and a cold beer work their magic here, but the crab Louie is a beauty. Its carelessly lovely looks belie its thoughtful structure. Big wedges of super-crisp iceberg are obscured by a tangle of lightly lemony, thin-shaved asparagus (to be replaced by another seasonal vegetable soon, so hurry!). Whole pieces of cool Dungeness peek out promisingly, rather than showboating. Rounds of subtly peppery radish are gleefully scattered about. Two halves of not-too-hard-boiled egg look up sunnily from beside it all.
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Any concern about insufficient Louie sauce is eased by visible blobs off to the sides. Owner Dan Bugge (Matt’s in the Market, Radiator Whiskey) says there’s “nothing special about the dressing — we’re trying to keep it simple, being a fish shack.” (Ingredients: house-made mayo, ketchup, Worcester, dill pickles, Tabasco and salt.)
The freshness! The bounty! The crab, both lump and shreds! This beats the pants off the sad afterthought of a crab Louie you last had at an old-school fish house.
Note: This salad’s served at lunch only, but lunch segues seamlessly into happy hour, so why not play hooky? (Just don’t forget to forego Instagram, hard though that may be.) Find this place buried deep in the back of the same South Lake Union parking lot as I Love Sushi (which is still there!?). Confused about the names? The 100 Pound Clam is the deck/seafood shack, while the cool, dim, not-overly-nautical indoor restaurant goes by the name of The White Swan. Sunscreen’s available at the counter of the Clam, which, I would submit, only needs beer koozies to achieve summertime perfection.
The Kale Caesar at Skillet Diner
Price: $11 (add fried chicken thigh for $5 — why not?)
(Capitol Hill, Ballard, Seattle Center, Denny Regrade; see skilletfood.com for info/hours)
Remember before kale became a thing? Chips were made out of corn or potato; salads were made with lettuce; Caesars were, definitely, only made with romaine. Skillet’s kale Caesar functioned as a kale-gateway, opening a lot of Seattle minds to the possible goodness — greatness, even!? — of this formerly neglected, if not outright disdained, leafy green.
The virtues of this salad are multifarious. All the tough pieces of the leaves of kale are cut away, with the pliant parts then chiffonaded into a fluffy mountain. Parmesan takes the form of a fine snow — no tough shreds here. A surfeit of buttery-tasting croutons provide richness and crunch. Two boquerones prettily crisscrossed on top lend a lemony brightness that’s arguably better, much better, than the traditional salt-bombs of anchovies. But the real reason this salad succeeded in winning so many hearts is a simple one: the extra-creamy dressing. And the secret to that, according to the recipe that Skillet provided for The Seattle Times a few years back, is a quarter-cup of mayonnaise per serving.
The Fish Sauce Caesar at Navy Strength
(2505 Second Ave., Seattle; no phone; navystrengthseattle.com; kitchen open 4-11 p.m. weekdays, 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday-Saturday, closed Sunday; 21+ only)
Navy Strength is a stylized new Belltown tiki bar, brought to us by the same owners as nearby No Anchor, a beer-haven that’s received high praise for its food. The chef’s the same for both: Jeffrey Vance, formerly at Spur. He’s modestly offhand about his Caesar, which is immodest in its excellence. First, there’s the stroke of genius in making the dressing not with anchovies, but with fish sauce made with anchovies (all-natural Red Boat brand, made on beautiful Phu Quoc island in Vietnam). Coupled with a hint of citrus, this gives the salad an umami quality that may make it disappear without you fully appreciating all the other elements.
Slow down, if you can, to enjoy the flowers: This salad is, as all salads should be, adorned with bright-colored, lightly peppery nasturtium petals. (Sometimes there’s an entire blossom, which is very satisfying to pluck out of the bowl and eat whole.) The croutons, dense but light, and also extremely crunchy, are made with pretzel dough. Subtle Parmesan is on board, but so are creamy pieces of ricotta-soft, house-made paneer, which, Vance says, is “pretty simple … We use whole milk and set the cure with yogurt. Then it’s strained and pressed. It takes about two days to make.”
Purists may protest: Isn’t adding homemade, silky, delicious extra cheese to a Caesar cheating? Doesn’t that take it out of the category altogether? I don’t care, and I don’t think you will, either.
The Wedge Salad at Sisters and Brothers
Price: $12 (add chicken tenders for $6 — do it)
(1128 S. Albro Place, Seattle; 206-762-3767; sistersandbrothersbar.com; salad served 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday)
Sisters and Brothers is definitively not a salad place — it’s a Georgetown dive that’s famous for its super-tasty, extremely spicy Nashville hot chicken. But the weird thing is that their sole salad is also worth lining up for.
From the prosaic description, it sounds like an average wedge: “iceberg, bacon, tomato, red onion, carrot, white cheddar, egg crumble, green goddess.” But this salad’s execution is masterful. A half-a-head of crisp, refreshing, unpretentious lettuce. Rich — but not too thick — herby-tasting, house-made dressing. The color and crunch of carrot. The tingle of red onion. Happy halves of cherry tomato. Conveniently crumbled hard-boiled egg. House-cured, oversized bacon lardons, always cooked to order and added to the salad still warm (yes!!!). White cheddar: perfect. My most recent wedge salad also had unexpected cucumber — hey, thanks, Sisters and Brothers!
You’re going to want to add chicken tenders, as spicy as you think you can stand. (I know, dark meat is better, but tenders make sense with this salad.) Shove the tenders around in the dressing; let the orange-red, hot oil mingle into the salad. Order a cold Rainier from one of the sweet guys with the longish hair, listen to the groovy music under the watchful gaze of the unicorn painted on black velvet, and look out the window at the small planes taking off, with Mount Rainier in the distance matching its depiction on your beer can. If this isn’t happiness, I don’t know what is.
Salade Verte at Cafe Presse and Le Pichet
Price: $5.50, $7.75
(Cafe Presse: 1117 12th Ave., Seattle; 206-709-7674; cafepresseseattle.com; salad available 9 a.m.-1:30 a.m. every day. Le Pichet: 1933 First Ave., Seattle; 206-256-1499; lepichetseattle.com; salad available 8 a.m.-midnight every day)
I wrote a love letter to this salad in The Stranger in 2008, and I stand by all 999 words of it, today and forever. (I was deeply honored when two dear friends asked me to read part of it at their wedding. I have weird friends.) This green salad, which seems so simple — Bibb lettuce with hazelnut vinaigrette — is simply a paragon of goodness. I loved the one I had two days ago as much as the first one I ever had, and the ninth, and the 17th. The lettuce is almost fluffy in its airy crispness, with some whole leaves intact, all glossy with just the right amount of dressing; the dressing, in turn, is a classic vinaigrette, but it’s got an ever-so-slightly-sweet secret, which is reduced orange juice. Whole hazelnuts loll about on the salade verte here and there — they are grown organically by the Holmquist family, tending their trees for five generations in the Nooksack River Valley up by the Canadian border. I went and walked among these hazelnut trees — that is how much I love this salad — and it is a place of great peace.
Charming Cafe Presse on Capitol Hill is celebrating its 10th anniversary, while the loveliness of Le Pichet has been with Seattle since the turn of the century. Both serve this small green dream of a salad. While you are eating it, life is good.