Ordering a salad from a new restaurant for the first time is always a crapshoot. Will they serve you the same Sysco bagged salad you can find at every mediocre restaurant in town? It's surprising how few places apply the same care and consideration to their salads that they bring to their entrées. Who hasn't felt that profound pang of disappointment when their craving for something healthy and flavorful is met with a plate of geometrically cut iceberg lettuce drenched in a forgettable bottled dressing?
When I stopped in to the West Seattle branch of Chaco Canyon Cafe (3770 SW Alaska St, 937-8732) last weekend, I was exhausted and feeling, generally, terrible. It was that pivotal moment that arrives in every Seattle winter: I needed to either go to bed immediately and hibernate until spring or fill myself with something healthy and hope it somehow provided enough energy to make it through another day.
I'm writing these words because Chaco Canyon's fennel apple spinach salad with grapefruit dressing ($6.05/$8.95) gave me the will to carry on. It's an immense plate piled high with a mountain of fresh spinach, cubes of fennel and apple, and some sprouted green lentils. (Everything but the fennel is organic, according to the nearly 200-page PDF of ingredients available for download from Chaco Canyon's website.) And the dressing is freshly made, too—mostly it's grapefruit juice, with a little mustard powder, fennel, anise, chia seed, and a little olive and safflower oil. It's a heaping pile of everything your body needs, and the interaction of tangy and vegetal and anise makes the salad a pleasure to eat, rather than something akin to dutifully mowing a lawn.
My favorite salads in Seattle are still from Madison Valley's Seattle Salads (2711 E Madison St, 324-6445). The flavor balance is just right, the ingredients are always fresh, and their dressings never come out of plastic tubs. I have previously written at length of my love for the lime peanut salad ($9/$12), a just-right mix of black beans, cheddar, peanuts, organic greens, and a vivacious lime dressing that somehow ties the whole thing together. But this week I took advantage of their generous lunchtime delivery (which costs $3.99 for a $25 minimum order and covers the area from the Sound to Lake Washington, and from Ravenna in the north to Beacon Hill to the south) to try their lemon tahini kale ($11/$13). It's just as good as the lime peanut, with tender kale, quinoa, raisins, avocado, and a pleasantly goopy, salty tahini dressing that fills you up without weighing you down, the kind of rare salad that leaves you energized to face the rest of the day. In the middle of a demoralizing Northwest winter, these salads are basically bowls of sunshine.