Salad Days, "Salad Days", and Salad Night

By Hairee Lee

Last week, the freshmen of Harvard began to move into the dorms. I almost ran over a few of them while riding my bike to work. There were several ironies encapsulated in this brief run-in with the class of 2015.

Salad Days is the theme for this Dinner Series event, not only in recognition of back-to-school time, but also as a hurray to no longer living in salad days.

One irony was that September no longer holds the gross tang of fresh binders and buying other back-to-school stuff, thank God, but I still purchased mix-matched wine glasses from the student supplies bin parked on the north end of the main Harvard campus. ((And I'm riding my bike to work. Cambridgeans try to put the gloss of environmental friendliness to the commuting vehicle, but it's actually called, "You still can't afford a car."))

Two was that while I think I look and dress a helluva lot better now than back when I was a freshman, the 17 year-olds have that glow of youth, which in many ways is synonymous to beauty. ((From having taught this age group, I know that most of them, if not all, haven't a clue about this glow and will proceed to squander it with neurotic self-criticism and insecurity. Not until they're my age will they realize their blind stupidity.))

Three was that while I mentally shuddered and shook my head, 'no', at the naivete, the pimples, the exam cramming headed their way (pun intended) ((...the sneaking alcohol, the bad dates with boys, the worse sex, the talk with mom and dad about how you don't think you belong in pre-med any more, the acceptance of roughing it and comfort with filth...)), I still felt nostalgic. For the sense of everything being possible, the high metabolism, the astonishingly quick hangover recovery, the not having to worry about finding a job and making money. ((Sure, a lot of college students out in the real world worry about jobs and money. But most Harvardian freshmen probably don't.))

I felt ambivalent. What gets me through these moments of ambivalence and unease and uncertainty, which is pretty much the steady state of my life, is a great meal, wine, and amazing friends. ((One of the things I love about being me now than being me before is that I understand that life is full of contradictions and rather than rejecting this truth or being depressed about it, the thing to do is drink. Sobriety, outside of a driving car or manning other heavy machinery or gestating a baby, is not the desirable state of being. It is , in my opinion, over-rated.))

Salad Days is the theme for this Dinner Series event, not only in recognition of back-to-school time, but also as a hurray to no longer living salad days, which, though awesome while it lasted, is in the past and, frankly, my life now is pretty fantastic.

Take for instance my job for this evening: have dinner, drink alcohol, and yuk it up with a great group of fellow diners. Left to right from the photo above is Melissa, myself, Fatima, a friend of Laura's, Laura, Mel, Nate's girlfriend, and Paul, Laura's boyfriend. ((Or 24, 34, 34, 34, 24, 30))

We start with cocktails.

Dinner Series loves cocktails. ((It's one of the reasons why we have the Cocktail Series, starting with the Summer Cocktail Series, which will be continued into the fall and forever.)) The recipe for the Watermelon Mint Margarita was something I came across while surfing Boston Magazine blogs. By making a few modifications to the presentation suggestion, like using watermelon sticks, they look fantastic in the Schott Zwiesel Pure Whiskey glasses and tasted even better.

While we sip our cocktail, we munch on beet hummus and carrot "chips" and fancy multi-colored root chips. The brilliant fusia color of the dip looks amazing against the rich blue glaze Heath Ceramics Coupe cereal bowl in moonstone. The size of the cereal bowl is just right for the large serving of dip for a dinner party this size. Set on top of the light blue Heath Ceramics Plaza large serving platter in aqua with the carrots and chips, my eyes eat it up. But not as fast as my mouth.

We finally sit dow to the first course, which is the old, tried-and-true, caprese salad. But this one's got a twist: it's served on a stick! I love how Melissa put the salad skewers in the Heath Ceramics deep serving bowl verde/cocoa. The salad's on a stick but still in a bowl. The "double take" on the presentation is so playful that the it makes the whole salad seem new.

With the caparese skewers, we drink the Il Coroncino Verdicchio Classico Superiore DOC 2007 as recommended by Maureen Rubino, co-owner and wine connoisseur of Central Bottle. Read about our wine consultation with her at her store, here.

The "double take" on the presentation is so playful that the it makes the whole salad seem new.

The wine is crisp, clean and easy to drink. It's got the acidity Maureen mentioned that doesn't overpower the tomato and helps cut through the creaminess from the mozzarella.

The dinner rolls from Hi-Rise Bread Company are, however, a rock solid disappointment. They are literally rock solid.... I have to talk to someone there and let them know before they have a negligent homicide charge on their hands.

The dinner rolls from Hi-Rise Bread Company are, however, a rock solid disappointment. They are literally rock solid. Melissa nearly stabs her plate in half trying to split it in two. On a happier note, the sour dough bread we have later on with the beef salad is perfection. Miss and hit.

Next course is what I'll call, "Laura's Spinach, Orange, Goat Cheese, & Bacon Salad". "It's just one of my salads," says Laura when I ask her where she got the recipe. It's completely delicious, especially the addition of the goat cheese which balances out the acidity from the balsamic dressing and the orange slices. And who can resist a salad with full strips of bacon?

The sweetness of the wine balances the salty, spicy fish sauce based dressing of the salad even though someone like me with only the most basic knowledge about wine would think the prominent beef component would call for a red.

Then comes the main salad: Thai Steak Salad with Basil and Mint. The flavor profile is intense and utterly mouth watering. There are two wines for this one: a red and a white. Maureen was sure that the pinot noir she resommended would be a less obvious but still successful choice for this dish. We start, however, with the "obvious choice": a low alcohol, high residual sugar reisling. (For the exact vintage and more notes on the wine by Maureen, go here.)

We all try the riesling. Then try the steak salad. Then try the wine again. Oh yeah. Ooohs and aaahs. Perfect. 100% consensus. It's just like she said it would be: the sweetness of the wine balances the salty, spicy fish sauce based dressing of the salad even though someone like me with only the most basic knowledge about wine would think the prominent beef component would call for a red.

Then we try the pinot noir. I love it. It's so smooth and subtle and easy. ((I can tell that enjoying this wine is going to be climax of the meal for me. And that's not easy with competition from Laura's other salads and dessert still to come.)) Then we try the salad. Then the wine again.

[The pinot noir is] just sweet enough to pair well with the spicy salad and the higher than the white alcohol isn't so high that all you get is the alcoholic heat after you take a sip. This one is definitely making it back into a dinner for me.

This time the party is split. Fatima is a white wine lover and so for her the riesling was the hands down winner: "The red is nice but I still prefer the extra sweetness." For the same reasons, Paul chooses the riesling over the red as the winning partner for the salad. Laura and I are on the red side. "Oh yeah," is what Laura says the moment she takes a sip. Oh yeah. It's just sweet enough to pair well with the spicy salad and the higher than the white alcohol isn't so high that all you get is the alcoholic heat after you take a sip. This one is definitely making it back into a dinner for me.

Finally, the dessert. I know Melissa and Nate are as excited as I am about the prospect of dessert as much for the tart as the beer picked to go with it. For more notes on the beer and peanut butter tart pairing , go here.

Pouring this chocolate stout is like pouring out tar. It looks super rich and thick.

Paired with the peanut butter tart, I'm a little worried about how I'm going to finish both, both being such rich looking dessert items.

We try the stout. It's definitely chocolatey, but without a cloying sweetness and there's very little aftertaste so that it feels a lot lighter in the mouth than it looks. We try the peanut butter tart. Heavenly. It has none of the stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth consistency or the overpowering and sometimes cloying flavor I associate (and love) about peanut butter. The overall effect of the peanut butter tart and the chocolate stout is a dessert that is full of flavor but so much lighter than I expected.

Not everyone was a fan of the beer however. I saw a lot of half finished glasses left on the table. That may be because by this time, we'd all that four drinks (cocktail and three glasses of wine). ((And not everyone drinks like fish and has my tolerance. Sometimes I wish my tolerance wasn't quite so high. But what can I do? Stop drinking? Right.))

A great salad days inspired dessert to end a great salads night for "Salad Days".

A great salad days inspired dessert to end a great salads night for "Salad Days".

I don't think I laughed this much during a Dinner Series event before. We just had so much fun! But then again, I always think the last one was better than the ones before. Until the next one and the one after that.

For more photographs, go to our album on Flickr.

Photographs by Nate Brescia.


JOIN US AGAIN FOR DINNER 14: DIDRIKS AND FRIENDS COMING SEPTEMBER 14 2011.