Iceberg Ahead

Speaking off the toque: Mark Cox, chef and owner of Mark's American Cuisine [1658 Westheimer, (713)523-3800].

Q. There have been repeated stories that claim iceberg lettuce is making a comeback as a serious gourmet product. Some foodies are aghast. The latest issue of Gourmet features an editorial defending the crunchy stuff. Are Houston diners declaring, "I want iceberg"?

A. I actually did put it on my luncheon menu for this spring. I do it very simply, with some Boston Bibb lettuce heart, a few very small heirloom, pear-shaped tomatoes and a merlot wine-vinegar vinaigrette. You see the big quarter-head chunk of iceberg with a blue cheese or Roquefort dressing in a lot of steak houses, but they mostly have a short menu with steak, potatoes, maybe a shrimp cocktail.

We work with 90 vendors around the U.S.A. to get the best seasonal ingredients, and right now we have two vendors in the Houston area who are growing lettuces for us. Camille Waters grows a lot of our baby lettuces. The very young greens are more of a new trend. Tonight we have petit spinach, Japanese spinach and the newest thing, cotyledons of bok choy, spinach and arugula. The cotyledons are the first two leaves coming out of the seed, and they have a concentrated level of nutrients.

So if we move forward all the time, bringing in new stuff, we should also offer some things that are familiar, like iceberg lettuce. I think iceberg does have a nice crunch, a cooling juiciness that is especially welcome in Houston in the summer months. For the summer, I plan to put the iceberg salad on the dinner menu as well, when the really great heirloom tomatoes get ripe.

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George Alexander