The annual Caesar Salad Competition0 may still be the only place in town where salad eaters still have to work to avoid meat. That’s because chefs vying to be lauded with “Hail Caesar!” at the annual fundraiser for the American Institute of Wine & Food don’t limit themselves to the classic Tijuana creation by Italian chef Cesar Cardini (Romaine, Worcestershire sauce, raw egg, croutons, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice and grated Parmesan; anchovies optional).
Most choose add-ons to sway attendees, who vote on the winner. And those add-ons can be everything from a fancy bread pudding infused with chicken craklins to a side of beef (OK, maybe not a full side). And that’s were vegetarians need beware: Meat is common.
It was, at least, at the 21st installation, held Sunday at the Westin Galleria. The Capital Grille’s Keith Hanks added a bit of marinated beef to his Caesar, as did Pete Harrison, chef at Dakota’s; ReMARKable Affairs Catering’s Mark McDaniel loaded his mini fig soufflé with diced pancetta.
This time, however, the meat didn’t win out, as Ocean Prime’s Sonny Pache won with a side of bisque… at least, I think that’s what it was — they ran out just before I got to the front of the line.
Mark McDaniel’s offering from ReMARKable Affairs Catering
That was surprising itself, as the event was seriously less attended than in previous years. That’s too bad, because some of the salads (and add-ons) were outstanding.
In addition to McDaniel’s, Joel Harloff from The 2nd Floor had one of the standouts: a classic Ceasar accompanied by a seafood shooter. But the true invention was a smear of green olive tapenade on the crouton disk: The tart but subtle flavors on olive balanced perfectly with the salad, and the shooter made a terrific finale.
Second Floor chef Joel Harloff’s entry
Also high on my list was Andre Natera’s beet and ricotta ravioli, a creamy, pinkish delight that at least kept the dish vegetarian-friendly. Harrison’s Caesar itself was probably the most classic, with shaved (not grated) Parmesan and a flavorful sauce, accompanied by house-made foccacia croutons and a beautiful bit of steak. Hey, I eat meat — might as well try to win me over.
Arnold Wayne Jones is the Life+Style editor at Dallas Voice and an award-winning restaurant critic.