My summer salad season usually starts sometime around the time we blow off a bunch of fireworks and celebrate the first full week without rain. In a typical year, that’d still be weeks away. Thanks to our unseasonably early dry, sunny weather, I started shifting my eating to lighter fare a good six weeks ahead of schedule. Take a look.
Saigon chicken salad
This salad was my favorite of summer before summer even started. I found the Saigon chicken salad ($9) at Orange Door, a handsome Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Tacoma along a stretch of businesses known for dining and cocktailing.
Built on a bed of cabbage, the salad was threaded with thin tendrils of chicken breast. A sparkling lime vinaigrette was a puckery companion for layers and layers of fresh herbs, broadly cut cilantro, mint and chopped Thai basil. Roasted peanuts added a nice crunch and nutty flavor.
Yum pla muk (warm squid salad)
I was going to order my summer standard — chopped chicken larb — at the newly opened Ayothaya Thai Restaurant in Frederickson, but a hunch steered me to the yum pla muk ($8.99). Much like larb, the sliced squid tubes were served warm over a bed of cold lettuce and sliced onions. While so many kitchens overcook calamari, the kitchen at Ayothaya produced soft, supple rings easily cut by fork. A spicy chili vinaigrette added a salty-sour seesaw of fish sauce and lime, with a backbone that was all about the heat (order zero stars if you’re a spice avoider). A healthy handful of chopped cilantro added more flavor.
Ahi tuna and seaweed salad
This one’s not listed as a salad, but it’s ideal for a hot summer night. I found this ahi tuna and seaweed salad ($15.95) at the newly renamed Fish Peddler, formerly Johnny’s Seafood and Bistro, on the Foss Waterway.
I spotted several salads, including a crab and shrimp Louie, but the ahi grabbed my attention over on the appetizer list. Barely seared cubes of deep red ahi were coated in sesame seeds. Buried beneath was a crunchy seaweed salad, flecked with more sesame and an understated dressing that needed a splash more vinegar. The briny salad was complemented by a swipe of concentrated soy sauce.
JW took a summer standard — spinach and egg salad ($10) — and danced up the flavor considerably with a velvety, rich blue cheese dressing, heavy on veiny crumbles of cheese, atop fresh spinach. I appreciated the kitchen’s restrained hand with the dressing, with every leaf coated, but not dripping with dressing. An entire egg, with a creamy pale yellow yolk, was sliced on top of the salad; the dish finished with crisped prosciutto that had been diced.
Braised grape salad
When I think happy hour, I think heavy fare meant to tame a few cocktails, but downtown Tacoma’s Matador has an outstanding braised grape salad ($5) on its happy hour menu right now (also on the regular menu at $8.50). Candied hazelnuts added crunch, while braised red grapes offered juicy pops of tart-sweet flavor. The salad was built on a bed of greens dressed in a tangy citrus vinaigrette. Goat cheese added creaminess and pungent saltiness, a perfect companion for those grapes.