Stark restaurants’ chef shares salads to lighten up summer suppers
Most people who live in California take fresh salads for granted. But if you spend much time outside of the Golden State, you may soon be craving the spicy arugula, bitter endive and earthy kale that grow in the sun-kissed fields.
As summer creeps in this month, home cooks are turning to fast and easy dinner options — veggies and meats kissed by the quick heat of the grill or stovetop — and welcoming back hearty, California salads as the stars of the lunch and dinner plates.
At the seven Stark Reality restaurants in Sonoma County owned by Mark and Terri Stark — including their latest, Grossman’s Noshery & Bar in Railroad Square — the salads created by the chefs provide a tempting array of flavors and textures that go beyond your basic “garden salad.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with the garden salad. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Food and Drink in America, the first salad was just that: a simple dish of raw, leafy vegetables splashed with oil and sprinkled with salt back in the day of the Roman Empire (the word salad actually comes from the Latin word for salt, sal).
Since then, salad has come a long way, including that ’70s invention the salad bar, which allows you to customize your own salad plate with watery iceberg lettuce and “healthy” toppings like croutons, blue cheese dressing and bacon bits. No thank you.
At Stark Reality Restaurants, Executive Chef de Cuisine David Zimmerman oversees an array of more sophisticated salads made with interesting lettuces and truly healthy toppings, like avocado. One of his personal favorites is the Fattoush Salad with Watermelon and Feta from Bird + the Bottle in Santa Rosa.
“If you’re talking summer salads, that’s what I think about,” said Zimmerman, who started working for the Starks as the sous chef of Stark’s Steakhouse back in 2009.
With winter and spring in the rearview mirror but the summer-fall harvest still a ways off, the chef settled on three perennially popular salads to share from three of the most popular Stark restaurants: the Arugula and Endive Salad from Willi’s Wine Bar, the classic Israeli Salad from Grossman’s and the Tuscan Kale & Quinoa Chopped Salad from Monti’s, all of Santa Rosa.
Whether garnished with creamy labneh and nutty dukkah or studded with proteins like quinoa and shredded chicken, these hearty meals in a bowl are vastly different from each other yet share the same dressing: a complex, acid-forward Preserved Lemon Vinaigrette.
“We just like the fermentation on the lemon,” Zimmerman said. “It brings out the umami flavor.”
Zimmerman said he likes to order the Arugula and Endive Salad from Willi’s either for lunch or as a starter, if he is having dinner there. That salad has been on the Willi’s Wine Bar menu since the restaurant first opened in its original location in 2002.
The secret to the salad’s success? It’s tossed together with creamy avocado, shaved Manchego cheese and a hint of truffle oil.
“It’s bright and acid-forward,” he said. “The arugula is peppery and bright, but there’s nothing overpowering. It’s a nice palate cleanser.”
The recipe calls for a good-quality black truffle oil, but it’s used judiciously to allow the other flavors in the salad to come through.
“You get the richness and fat of the avocado, and the truffle is a side note,” he said. “Then it’s got the sliced almonds for texture.”
At Grossman’s, the Israeli Salad features chopped tomato, cucumber and onions dressed with the preserved lemon vinaigrette and herbs, then topped with housemade labneh and dukkah.
“This is a great salad, for breakfast, lunch or as a side accompaniment for dinner,” Zimmerman said of the Grossman’s creation. “We have the Chicken Shwarma Kebabs (as a dinner plate) with a side of Israeli Salad.”
At Monti’s, the Tuscan Kale Quinoa Chopped Salad is a favorite for those looking for an entree salad to fill them up. It includes shredded chicken, a six-minute egg, Parmesan cheese, cucumbers, capers and pine nuts.
“It’s got protein and protein plus lots of fiber,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a big salad.”
Even though the chefs slice the kale into thin strips, it helps to dress the salad ahead to soften the kale.
“We fry the capers so they are a little crunchy,” he said. “They add a little texture to the salad as well.”
Most of the Stark Reality restaurants have extended their hours to 9 p.m. seven days a week, so diners can take advantage of the spring weather. Stark’s Steakhouse is open 4-9 p.m.; Grossman’s is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and all the others are open 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.