Monday, August 11, 2008

Stanley's Restaurant: A salad-lovers dream (and an indecisive's worst nightmare)

I know it's like totally girly and silently screams to those in the vicinity, "Hi there, I'm on a diet," but I am a super big fan of the lunchtime salad. Not because I'm worried about my thigh-size or am trying to impress my friends by eating less than them, but because I actually enjoy vegetables and lettuce and things that can be grown in a garden. Tomatoes are like so hot right now that they've been exonerated from carrying Salmonella, and don't even get me started on beets. According to Martha Rose Shulman in her recent NY Times article, they are like so the new spinach.

Cheap Valley-girl impressions aside, feeding my body healthy things gives me loads of feel-good energy, and on a hot summer day, the last thing I want is a steaming plate of... well, anything. Sandwiches are fine for workday brown bag lunches, but when the weekend rolls around, I crave something that doesn't taste like a deli counter. I crave a salad.

But not just any salad. Oh, no. Don't even think of offering me a tired Caesar salad with stale boxed croutons and overly-dressed, wilted romaine lettuce. Not that I have anything against the romaine. Its dark green color is actually quite pleasing to my inner health nut, who is fully aware that darker greens bear the most nutritional value. I just don't want my romaine to be a vehicle for the unsanctimonious act of consuming more than my daily allotment of saturated fat grams in less than twenty minutes. Is that really so bad?

Judging by most restaurant menus that offer maybe one salad that features an ingredient other than bacon, cheese and fried things, the answer would appear to be "yes." When dining at those eateries, I have no problem making my salad selection -- most of the work has already been done for me. So, am I really to blame for my inability to make a decision yesterday at Stanley's Restaurant on Ventura Blvd. in the (gasp!) Valley when they boast fourteen entree-sized salads on the menu? Salads that don't just contain the aforementioned bacon, cheese and fried things, but that also come bearing fruit, veggies and fruits that some people think are veggies.

Despite being one of the first in our party of five (+ one adorable baby) to arrive at the nearly half-empty restaurant, after 30 minutes of menu perusing, I was still biting my lower lip in anxiety-ridden confusion. Should I get the popular Amy's Grapefruit Salad with butter lettuce, avocado, grapefruit, shredded chicken, cashews, and sesame dressing? Or did I want to get the salad I ordered last time -- the Honey Walnut with mixed baby greens, asparagus, carrots, crumbled blue cheese, raspberry vinaigrette, with grilled chicken added, please? I half-settled on Amy's salad after my friend Faye commented on its very favorable taste, but when another dining companion, Katie, announced that she was ordering the Summer Chopped Salad with chopped romaine, ranch dressing, diced grilled chicken, beets, tomatoes, avocado, turkey bacon, and Gorgonzola cheese, my head swam with another bout of anxiety. Matters were further complicated when the waiter told me that aside from Amy's salad, the other customer favorite is the Chinese Chicken Salad. Should I buck all concern for the whole "eat to live" movement and go for the wonton-laden bowl of nutritional hog-wash?

It was all very perplexing for someone (me) who lives in fear of catching a nasty case of orderer's remorse. Then I asked myself a question. What did I want from my salad, today? I wasn't really feeling particularly fruity. And butter lettuce isn't really my thing. Amy's salad was immediately rejected. I gave my craving the good once over again and finally concluded that I wanted vegetables, cheese (yes, saturated fat -- oh the shame!), grilled chicken, and some righteous avocado. I wanted the Summer Chopped Salad! But without turkey bacon, and with balsamic vinaigrette instead of ranch dressing. Please.

While our patient server playfully chided me for my indecisiveness, and my friends laughed at my furrowed brow, ultimately, my choice of salad was perfect and worth the effort that went into its selection. It paired nicely with my passion fruit iced tea and completed the picture of my totally girly (ie. obnoxious) lunch behavior. Plus chopped salads are like way easier to eat than unwieldy leaves of lettuce and big chunks of things that keep falling off my fork. An OC girl must always maintain proper etiquette when dining in public! Of course, all illusions of my grace and femininity were ruined the second I knocked my boat of vinaigrette all over the table. And ate a slice of the white (gasp!) sourdough bread that came by the table prior to our meal.

But not to worry -- carbs are like so making a comeback. I'm not ashamed. And I'm not ashamed to go back to Stanley's to quiz another waiter about their salads. Next time I think I'll order the Chicken Stirfry Salad...

Or wait! The Amy's salad! But only if I can sub mixed greens for the butter lettuce. Unless that will change the integrity of the salad, and then I'll just stick with the Chicken Stirfry Salad or get the Summer Chopped Salad again. Yeah, the Summer Chopped Salad was really good. I'm totally getting that!

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