What makes for a good Caesar salad? Is it fresh, crunchy romaine lettuce? Are homemade, well-seasoned croutons the secret? Is it the perfect amount of lemon juice, olive oil, egg, garlic and pepper? Perhaps the quality and quantity of the parmesan cheese that tops it? Maybe it's the notorious anchovies? Like so many other composed dishes, the best Caesar salad is the one your palate likes best.
At the 28th Annual My Table Magazine Caesar Salad Competition, held last Friday, Houstonians got a chance to try more than 15 Caesar salad renditions created by Houston-area chefs. Guests submitted votes for their favorite salad, which were tallied up to determine the Consumer's Choice award recipient. A panel of judges chose Best Classic Caesar, Most Creative Caesar and Best Overall Presentation.
Classic Caesars -- the category in which Mockingbird Bistro took the prize -- were outnumbered four to one by those in the "creative category."
The creative category saw Caesars in rare form -- sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. A Caesar salad empanada from Omni Houston-Westside, in which the salad was baked into an empanada and topped with a tomato sauce, was a crowd-pleaser. Featuring romaine that had gently wilted down in the oven, a subtle creamy cheese sauce and a thin, soft dough holding the salad contents captive in a little package, it was delicious, and its delicate texture greatly contrasted the rough crunchiness that most Caesar salads are characterized by.
Another version, a truffled potato donut from the St. Regis Hotel with Caesar glaze, baby romaine and garlic espuma, sounded neat in concept but ventured a little too far astray from the Caesar norm for our palates.
Here are a few of the other salads in the "creative" category:
Roots Bistro's Caesar version went right along with the restaurant's "local, organic, green" mantra -- its Caesar in the Raw was composed of kale, avocado, cashew nori dressing, basil pine nut "cheese" and quinoa sesame croutons.
Houston's only revolving rooftop restaurant, Spindletop, entered the competition with a salad of smoked baby romaine, local sunflower honey-glazed duck, blue corn- and parmesan-encrusted anchovies, and ancho chile molasses Caesar dressing. The anchovies were out of this world.
Artisans Restaurant took the salad interpretation to a whole new level by contributing a chicken Caesar sausage atop a challah bun to the competition.
The Inn at the Ballpark's Caesar, with roasted pork, caramelized pineapple and crispy taro chips, topped with a signature spicy Island Caesar Dressing, went home with well-deserved "Consumer's Choice" and "Best Presentation" awards. The roasted pork melted in your mouth, while the caramelized pineapple gave the salad an unexpected twist.
It was Ninfa's on Navigation, however, that took home the coveted "Most Creative Caesar" award for its tasty "BLT Caesar." The bacon came in the form of a thin bacon-jalapeño crisp, which was crumbled into bite-size pieces and tossed throughout the delightful salad.
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With so many delicious versions to choose from at the competition, it was hard to pinpoint which one of the Caesar salads we thought was the best of the best. One thing's for sure: We'll be back next year to scope out what kind of crazy Caesar salad creations Houston chefs come up with.
Which kind of Caesar salad do you think is best -- über classic versions, or their more creative counterparts? Let us know in the comments below.