For many of us, salad is our meal starter because, well, that’s how we think it’s supposed to be. We shovel down several forkfuls of lettuce and raw veggies so we can indulge in a richer main course. And while choosing such a strategy at the Uptown mainstay Barbette makes sense — especially when your meal includes the hearty (and salty) steak frites — chef Sarah Master provides an excellent reason to appreciate the salad course on its own merits. Case in point: a generous plate of field greens ($7.50).
It may be hard to imagine why a dish featuring just four ingredients — a toss of greens, pickled onions, celery hearts, and a dill vermouth vinaigrette – is worth mentioning beyond a sentence or two. There’s nothing fancy about this salad: no crumbly cheese, no pieces of prosciutto, no vegetables that have been roasted, grilled, or otherwise coaxed into lending the salad the ubiquitous umami flavor invading menus everywhere these days. But what it does offer works to such a degree that you’ll be thinking about this dish the next time you run through the cafeteria salad bar, hoping to capture the same satisfaction that Master achieves in her simple and sublime starter.
While that dressing, which walks the line between the sweetness of vermouth and the more savory, grassy dill, is key to the overall success of the salad, it’s not the be-all and end-all of the dish. The vinaigrette needs the kind of green that readily absorbs, and doesn’t fight against, the dressing’s strong flavors, and the choice of light, curly lettuces is much more suitable than thicker spinach or iceberg. The pickled onions pack a subtly briny punch to temper the vinaigrette’s sweetness, and the celery hearts ensure that any greens that may have received a extra dousing of dressing are balanced with the crunch and neutrality of an often-overlooked vegetable.
It may not be as sexy as the salmon Niçoise or lardon-laden frisée options at Barbette, but don’t miss a chance to savor the field greens the next time you find yourself seated at one of Barbette’s cozy tables. Appreciate the simple, sweet flavors of a plate of greens, and get your umami fix elsewhere. That steak will wait for you.
Barbette, 1600 W Lake St, Minneapolis; 612.827.5710
Learn more about this business on Heavy Table’s Atlas of Ethical Eating and Drinking.