Friday, August 29, 2014

Doing Dishes: Lettuce Entertain You! Opening Entry

No, we're not the Chicago based restaurant enterprise, but we like a good pun when we're trying to think of a jazzy title for our Doing Dishes series.

When you're having lunch with a Goddess of Fire in general it better be good or very cold. I learned on this trip that if you make sure there's a variety of things for tasting you can distract an incendiary goddess and nothing gets flash charred, if you get my drift...

We're thinking that since it's summer and all with fresh produce and tomato season, it's time to try salads.

We want to explore salads as dishes that are representative of the season and we have a slate of take out salad outlets across the region. At first we thought of restaurants but frankly restaurants in our region seem to have a salad section on their menus as an afterthought, or as an obligation.  We haven't given up on the idea but we think that the salads in deli cases across the region offer a much more exciting group of dishes, and we want adventure! excitement! fresh!  cool! deliciousness!

We have both been curious about the Market Bistro by Price Chopper store design in Latham and so we've started the series there.  We went for lunch and the place was buzzing! Nobody noticed that the Goddess of Fire was right there in the store, so you know they were concentrating on lunch.

 About half the store is given over to prepared foods and at lunch on Friday that is where all the action was.  There might have been a dozen customers in the regular store part of the store. I went back on another day during the late afternoon and there were many more regular store customers.

The store has a layout that includes hot food/fast food counters that look like a food court and a dining area in the center.  Then we realized that the rest of the counters had broad categories such as Italian and Jewish - like a megadeli.  We definitely want to go back and taste our way through the 20 or so sausages in the Italian counter, but that will be another story for another day.

On our visit we had to concentrate on salads while being tempted by those gorgeous platters of prepared meats, fish, veggies and more. MOAR!!!

"Salads" are not a category but a sub-category in the Market Bistro by Price Chopper and so spread out over a huge territory within the megadeli.  We started at the far end from the front of the store and worked our way around the area a couple times because we settled on finding ten salads. First we looked for things we had not seen, so we selected

Grilled Fennel
Tuscan Lentil

That was when we realized that we had to go beyond the Italian counter and move our way across the long row of cases. We found another cache of beautiful and colorful bowls of goodness so we selected

Crunchy veggies
Tomato cous cous
Superfood kale

In order to complete our stash of ten we circled the olive bar and selected Feta/olives.

Then went back to the Italian counter for Italian Veggies. 

I wanted to sample the whitefish because I adore it and then we decided to try just plain chicken for the protein and for the sake of trying their "regular" offerings.

There are several interesting nooks, patios and inside places to sit and enjoy your selections in and around the store.

So here's the score after we took all the samples to a table in an undisclosed location and invited some colleagues to give their opinions:

The "grilled fennel" was a miss for three of us, and one of us liked it.  We thought the idea was good, with fennell, mozzarella, orange, red onion and parsley.  The execution pretty much took all the flavor and goodness from each ingredient. I was not able to distinguish any particular dressing flavors.  Maybe the dressing was forgotten that day.

The "Tuscan lentil", with marinated artichokes, red peppers, olives, feta, and red onion got mixed responses. We thought the lentils probably seemed soft when warm but when chilled they revealed their slightly underdone tough texture.

"Crunchy veggies" salad was a hit with everyone. The broccoli, cauliflower, sunflower seeds and red onion plus raisins and dried cranberries dressed with a slightly sweet mayo make for a delicious cool bite.

The "tomato cous cous" salad has a little bit of screaming chili pepper that I found unbalanced the flavors along with cous cous that was kind of oily and old, like it was prepared Tuesday and still on offer Friday. One person liked it - she likes spicy.

"Superfood kale" had blueberries, dried cranberries, walnuts and was another hit with everyone.  We felt the kale was baby kale and was chopped well so that it didn't overwhelm the other delicate sweet and tart flavors and it has the perfect dressing.  It's a great lunch salad!

"Quinoa" also had grains of questionable texture, so the basis of the salad was off even though the feta and dressing could have made a lovely salad.

Feta/olives - what can you say about a classic?  It's good eats.

The "tomato and cucumber" salad from the Italian case is the perfect summer salad, when made with very fresh veggies - we knew that we hit it the day it was made and that's important.  I hope they sold out, because this salad needs to be at its peak in order to be really good.

Whitefish - fish and mayo, another classic, although I'm not sure you can call fish and mayo a salad.  I prefer the fish to be a bit less pulverized and I like a little pickle or red onion or even celery, but that didn't make me hold back from schmeering it all over the rolls and woofing it. Others in our group were just getting introduced, so they were a bit more subdued. In my trip back to the store on another day I picked up half a whitefish and made my own salad. I'm glad they offer the fish as well as the salad!

"Rotisserie chicken" salad was a safe chicken salad with minimal ingredients like onion and parsley, which is a shame since there are so many possibilities to make it a lively salad within arm's reach right there in the store.

So if someone would actually taste all the salads daily and have the guts to toss the ones that just aren't good, this could be a sensational place to get salads.  As it is, it's pretty much what one comes to expect in our region: ok, with some bright spots and some duds.

With all this great food on offer we're convinced that no one should have to go for junk food at lunch time.  This good food is just as quick and provides a much better variety of the sort of stuff that keeps you healthy rather than making you unhealthy.

Zena, Goddess of Fire sez: "listen honey,  next time you leave work to go get some lunch, steer clear of the burgers and fries and hit the local deli counter for some great eating!!!"

I just know she's going to save the world once again.

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