As a vegetarian, I’ve resigned myself to a life of side dishes at Thanksgiving and scrutiny from dining companions regarding my “rabbit food” fare. Funny, though, how folks eat their words come this time of year. Spring has everyone jumping on the veggie bandwagon (bikini season is looming, after all!)
Lucky for us, New York City offers many tantalizing options for alternative cuisine – especially salads. I’ve had my fair share of horrific deli experiences (think: sandy lettuce, bugs, rotten ingredients, raunchy dressings) so I like to consider myself the consummate expert regarding Manhattan’s top-notch salad spots. Without further ado, my five favorites:
PRET A MANGER
The company’s tagline states that, “Pret creates handmade natural food avoiding the obscure chemicals, additives and preservatives common to so much of the ‘prepared’ and ‘fast’ food on the market today” and it is quite apparent from the first bite. Though the popular lunchtime chain offers an array of yummy soups and sandwiches, the stand-out’s for me are their ready-made salads. Their menu is constantly updated, but some of my favorites include the Tuna, Greens and Organic Egg (yes – I do foray into the world of fish every so often), and the Tomato with Mozzarella and Pine Nuts. Another plus: the dressings are available separately, so you can switch up the flavor combo’s at will (not to mention the fact that this option helps circumvent the ‘soggy’ factor of many pre-made salads). Find a location near you at www.pret.com/us.
Starwich Black Olive Crusted Seared Tuna Salad
What Pret a Manger gains in speed (via their pre-made foodstuffs), it lacks in prepared-before-your-eyes pizzaz. Starwich is all too happy to fill that void. The casual eat-in or take-out vision of restaurant industry giants Spiro Baltas and Michael Ryan (who have run dozens of successful, highly-respected establishments – Tavern on the Green, Blue Fin and Maggiano’s, to name a few), Starwich takes highbrow dining to a more accessible level. Their sandwiches are stellar, but the salads really shine – they’re huge, plus, you can choose an already-created version, or construct your own. My current favorites include the Pistachio Crusted Goat Cheese Salad and the Black Olive Crusted Seared Tuna Salad. To find a location near you or check out the full menu, visit www.starwich.com.
Most folks scoff at the idea of eating from a deli or grocery store salad bar, but Whole Foods’ clean, navigable, ever-changing version of the cold bar is a dream come true. I often swing through one of the city’s four locations to pick up lunch or dinner. There are easily two dozen types of freshly prepared salads to choose from on any given day. Perfect for me, because – after all – a girl needs options, doesn’t she? An added bonus – the grocery store’s website divulges the recipes for all their salad bar items (in case you’re feeling particularly ambitious.) Check out www.wholefoodsmarket.com for locations and much more.
A cozy restaurant that boasts “organic everything” (even the wine), my vegetarian sister and I cannot get enough of their Veggie Plate Deluxe (kind of a deconstructed version of the love affair between a salad and a grill), the Seared Asian Marinated Organic Tofu Salad or the Peppercorn Crusted Rare Yellowfin Tuna Salad. The restaurant has both a West and East side location (because crossing the park just for dinner is so uncouth, dahhhling), and offers an array of both veggie and carnivore-friendly fare. For more info, visit www.josiesnyc.com.
Founders Nick Kenner and Rob Crespi had a particular motivation when they created Just Salad: they were sick of the unhealthy midtown lunch options open to them. They teamed with respected chef Laura Pensiero and – three Manhattan locations later – Just Salad is a hit. The eatery boasts 27 unique dressings, 5 types of greens to choose from, a dazzling array of toppings (seriously – I dare you not to find something on this menu) and daily shipments of fresh, organic ingredients. Adding to the earth-friendly flare, all of the salad bowls are made of dishwasher-safe material that is durable enough to use more than once. If you bring your bowl back for use on your next visit, you get 2 free toppings – every time! Check out www.justsalad.com for details.