All Fail Caesar

I recently attended a dinner here in Paris, at a well-known hotel, where the first course was Caesar Salad.


That was the Caesar Salad.

Yes, it has lettuce.

And anchovies (speared around skewers).

And cheese.

But, like, what is with those batter-fried Chinese shrimp?

Who gave the ok to put batter-fried shrimp on a Caesar Salad?

Mon Deui, what is so friggin’ hard about making American food?

Take Caesar Salad, for example. It’s simply torn leaves of Romain lettuce with a mustardy dressing seasoned with anchovies and a touch of worcestershire sauce. All balanced so no ingredient dominates the other. A handful of croûtons get tossed in, some Parmesan grated over the top, and voila!

That, ladies and gentleman, is a Caesar Salad.
Will someone please explain how hard that is to me?

Unlike French food, American food has few fancy sauces and is really pretty straightforward. While admittedly a lot of American food isn’t spectacular, I fail to understand why it’s so impossible to replicate. I’ve had the best cassoulet of my life in Berkeley, amazing Lebanese food in Mexico, marvelous French desserts in Tokyo, superb Moroccan food in France, and terrific Japanese food in Hawaii. So why is it so hard to make American food anywhere else but in America?

While I didn’t move to Paris expecting hamburgers and pizza, I fail to understand what possesses any rational person to spoon canned corn over a pizza. (Why would a country that shuns corn on the cob embrace its frozen kernel-y counterpart?)

Who the heck gave anyone permission to top a hamburger (or pizza) with a runny fried egg?

And if I get one more Salade Niçoise with a big scoop of white rice on top, I’m going to drag the chef down to Nice, force him to stand in the center of town holding their Salade Niçoise avec du riz in hand, and invite the townsfolk for a look-see.

And stand back.

It’s like those insane people, worldwide, that put cream in their pesto sauce.

For the love of humanity: Please stop!

Thanks. I feel better now.

Never miss a post!


  • cj
    July 12, 2006 3:34pm

    I agree with you about Zidane-what a header! I got a terrible shock when I saw that photo-for a brief moment I thought it was a deep fried mini pig on the plate (well, that is what I saw). I thought, holy Jesus, what is that doing there? So bizarrely, what a relief to see a deep fried shrimp on your salad. As my mother says, it could always be worse.

  • sarah
    July 12, 2006 3:50pm

    But, like, what is with those batter-fried Chinese shrimp?

    dave you made me spit water all over my keyboard. it’s funny, in a sad sort of way. i love a good caesar! this just looks sort of icky.

  • July 12, 2006 4:03pm

    How about those people who put mayo in their guacamole? Or the Mexican restaurants, when I lived in Europe, who would cook their salsa until it was like tomato sauce. It always made me want to go back into the kitchen and show them how to do it right.

    ‘Cause, you know: we can bastardize your cuisine, but don’t you go doing it to ours!:-)

  • July 12, 2006 4:03pm

    weird, maybe they should add wonton crispies and just call it a chinese caesar salad..

    and you’re link to the tartine gourmande was hilarious.. I was wondering who you were pointing to.

    btw – Cassoulet in Berkeley? Where?

  • July 12, 2006 4:05pm

    the nerve-ha.

  • July 12, 2006 4:24pm

    Ah but around Cornell/Ithaca/parts of Central New York, the fried egg on a hamburger constitutes the “Boburger”.

  • mb
    July 12, 2006 4:24pm

    Well I do find some comfort in knowing someone else “saw” a fetal pig atop your salad.

  • July 12, 2006 4:52pm

    I almost headbutted my screen when I saw that salad. That must have been a very difficult moment for you. Does that salad have any dressing, let alone an egg based dressing with garlic, thcikly cracked black pepper and anchovy? Were those cubes of cheese the real kind, parmesean? I have heard of people pushing limits and shaving the cheese over instead of grating it on, but speared on picks? Bon courage.

  • July 12, 2006 5:13pm

    I’ll second that Euro-Mexican thing…I’m relatively certain there’s not a single corn tortilla in all of Amsterdam at this moment.

  • Kate
    July 12, 2006 5:19pm

    When I lived in Japan, there was a “California Pizza” that was topped with canned corn and potato salad. Yes, with mayonnaise and everything. Then more mayonnaise was drizzled over the top…. ???? I’m never leaving Berkeley :)

  • Bea at La Tartine Gourmande
    July 12, 2006 5:39pm

    “Qui ? moi ?”

    You got me!

    I must say, I was devoured by curiosity after the first line and thought, “he will not know anyhow, if some Frenchies read or not!” Merde alors ! Excuse my French, will you?

    Here, I have a friend who makes the best “Sea Zer” salad. I am lucky!

  • July 12, 2006 6:06pm

    Egg on a hamburger, I’ve got one hand up. Egg on a pizza, the other hand is reaching for the sky, but in Australia it’s considered the norm – the pizza even has its own name, the Aussie. It must be all right though, for the Oz Italians haven’t revolted yet and Lord knows there are enough of them here. The one thing I can’t abide is the Hawaiian pizza or hamburger, please no pineapple for me.

    However I’m most embarrassed as I did a recent post which mentioned Caeser salad, the context of which was, what the hell is the lettuce doing there at all. I mentioned all the ingredients, but now after reading this post, realize I left out the croutons. Don’t hurt me too much.

  • July 12, 2006 6:21pm

    While you’re on the subject, not only does cream not belong in pesto it doesn’t belong in carbonara! Proper technique is what makes a spaghetti alla carbonara creamy, not cream.

  • July 12, 2006 8:57pm

    I’ll betcha the Cassoulet was Charles S.’s right?

  • gladys
    July 12, 2006 9:01pm

    I loove Zidane. Thanks for explaining how to make a Caesar!

  • July 13, 2006 1:42am

    While I was reading your entry my first thought was: and what about Italian food??? (in fact, it was more like a yell!;-))
    What happened to you with the caesar salad happen to me EVERYTIME I see a pizza or anything else that has an Italian name and background, and it should be Italian food, outside Italian borders.
    Do you realize that in France they make pizza with Emmenthal??? A French pizza NEVER saw the smallest piece of mozzarella… And in the States they make pizza with ananas (pineapple) or other strange stuff… Tell that to someone from Naples and he will die instantly!
    Because, as you say for caesar salad, a pizza it’s just made with bread dough, tomatoes, mozzarella (preferably buffalo), basil and little (but good) extra virgin olive oil: simple, plain, good.

    I think the main problem is that there is way too much over-processing, on the verge of adulteration… The main slogan should be: keep it simple, keep it right!

  • July 13, 2006 2:05am

    Sorry about the mediocre picture, folks, but it was a low-light situation. But how anyone could have seen, 1) a pork fetus, 2) a deep-fried mini pig, 3) a fetal pig, is almost as weird as putting Chinese deep-fried shrimp atop a Caesar Salad.

    Gerald & Chubby: I’ve never had cassoulet Chez Charles (L & C only make it on NY Eve, and I always had to work) but I’ve had it at Chez Alice many times…the best!

    Piperita: There are only 2 places in Paris where I’ll go for pizza. One is true Napolitana, and the other is some Sardinians, which is the best. I don’t understand why anyone would put Emmenthal on pizza (or eggs…or corn…or pineapple).

    But I won’t be eating pizza anytime soon…I’m boycotting Italy until Materazzi apologizes ; )

    Amy: Cream in carbonara? Surely no sane person would do that, would they?

    Tea: Mayo in Guacamole? At least they weren’t using, gasp, Miracle Whip. Miracle Whip should be illegal, if it isn’t already. In anything.

    Stefane: I lived in Ithaca for 6 years and if anyone served me a burger topped with an egg, I would have flung it (and them) into the nearest gorge.

    Sarah: Sorry about your keyboard…but feel bad for me having to tackle that salad, ok?

    Chére Lucy: No headbutting. I don’t want to red-card you from commenting on my site.

    MEM: I did find corn torilla here (the Olde El Paso ones) and bought them, thinking they’d be decent. Ick! I’d rather roll up pork mole with an old, wet copy of the Herald Tribune than eat those again.

    (And Béa gets a pass on this one, since I’m making her promise to write a blog entry about the over-proliferation of ice in America. In the interest of fair & balanced reporting here on my site.)

  • July 13, 2006 4:01am

    Dear David,
    Materazzi should apologize as much as Zizou should regrette what he did… There is no excuses for a such violent reaction…
    And I don’t even like soccer!!! ;-)))

  • July 13, 2006 6:17am

    Very funny, David: I just posted a recipe for a salade nicoise (mentioning the idiocy of RICE, puh-leaze!) and went on to say “don’t ask me about Caesar’s salad in the UK unless you are ready for an hour long rant…”

    We are totally on the same wavelength my friend. And don’t order a Caesar’s salad in the UK either.

    ; )

  • July 13, 2006 6:23am

    And did you see that Pascale recently posted a recipe too?

  • July 13, 2006 9:55am

    I read the whole thing because I am also Turkish. HAHAHA !!! But I really agree about the corn stuff.

  • July 13, 2006 9:58am

    In Amsterdam my husband and I took our Dutch friends out for pizza (their choice and their choice of restaurant.) The wife opted for the “tutti-frutti” pizza that came topped with what appeared to be canned fruit cocktail. Yep, cubes of canned pear, peach and pineapple and those little half cherries. It looked horrible, but I was gracious in my refusal of a taste. (I wanted to run out of the restaurant screaming.) Thanks for the fun post!

  • July 13, 2006 10:06am

    Oh David, I am sooooo with you on this one!! I have often wanted to do a ranty post about Caesar salad with extra, superfluous and just plain WRONG add-ons!! Why is it that as soon as you wave a crouton & some parmesan at a salad, you can do whatever else yuo like and STILL call it a Caesar?? I just LOVED ordering a Caesar in the States as you always knew what you were going to get & it was almost always good. Here in the UK it can be a bit of a hit & miss affair (they seem to have decided that so many people dislike anchovies that it’s OK to reduce their appearance in the salad to almost nil) but in South Africa it is a complete and total joke. Caesar salad made with iceberg lettuce. Caesar salad with a vinaigrette dressing. Caesar salad with tomatoes in it. aaaaaaarrrrrrrgh. The best I ever had in SA was at The Captain’s Cabin in Plettenberg Bay where they made the salad (including the dressing) at the table. They’d break the eggs into the salad bowl, squeeze in the lemons, cracked pepper, garlic, anchovies etc and whisk them all together into a creamy dressing. Then they’d shred the whole lettuce leaves in the same bowl, coating each piece properly with dressing, before topping the whole thing with croutons and Parmesan. Absolute heaven. And now they’ve changed the recipe and it sucks :-( But the memory lives on…

  • July 13, 2006 10:14am

    Martha: Don’t you know that when they say ‘Dutch Treat’, you’re supposed to share? But I guess if I was in your clogs (or shoes) I would have passed as well. Blecch!

    Jeanne: You said it, sister! I hate when they drape anchovies over the top of Caesar Salads (although I supposed I should be grateful they’re on there in the first place.) How the heck are you supposed to eat them?

    Yes, the best are made tableside. In California, a few years back, they were trying to outlaw Caesar Salads due to the raw eggs. Luckily one legislator, who has a Caesar Salad for lunch everyday, freaked, and the bill never passed.

    Now perhaps someone maybe could legislate what goes into a Caesar Salad!

  • July 13, 2006 11:09am

    I make a version of Carbonara that not only has cream in it, but uses (American) country ham instead of pancetta. However, I don’t call it “carbonara,” I call it “carburetor” to reflect its Southern, red-neck influence.

  • July 13, 2006 11:19am

    David, I have issues with random additions of corn. I think it should remain on the cob and that’s final. That Ceasar salad hurts me. But if Zizou made it, I would eat it and I would love it.

  • July 13, 2006 11:33am

    You just made me laugh out loud at my desk.

  • Judith in Umbria
    July 13, 2006 1:39pm

    Go get ’em feller. They badmouth our eats all the time, but they really haven’t a durned clue. By the time it gets over here it’s so screwed up anyone would hate it.
    What’s with those huge pieces of romaine, as well? According to etiquette, you are not supposed to cut a salad, so how the heck are you going to get anything on that plate into your mouth?

  • Mark
    July 13, 2006 4:42pm

    David Lebovitz! You are sounding homesick. That salad looked perfectly fine. And who said that Caesar Salad was all American anyway?! Rice is great on salad. Are you being a little touchy? Why should they replicate our food, they aren’t here, and neither are you! ‘-} Maybe the egg on top of the hamburger is because they think you need more protein? I’m thinkin’ maybe if you like things a certian way you should be stayin’ home and working more often instead of gallavanin’ about Paris, noam’ sane?? ;-)

  • Mark
    July 13, 2006 4:44pm

    P.S. Can you please widen the pop-up comment window a tad. It’s difficult to read having to scroll back and forth.

  • July 13, 2006 5:28pm

    Ha, you should try the ‘Mixed Grill’ I got served in Bombay/Mumbai. Brilliantly awful.

  • anne
    July 13, 2006 10:33pm

    David, I felt the same way when I tried Chinese food à emporter on Rue Saint Honoré. The worst Chinese food EVER!!!

  • simona
    July 14, 2006 6:20am

    Of course MM should appologize to ZZ.!! It’s a known fact in the civilized world that those who get vilently kicked in their stomach should immediately appologize for bring so stupid and letting themselves being kicked!! How dared he even say something to the Cesar ( not the salad, the ZZ). Not that I condone dirty words, on the contrary, I think MM should consider his manners. ZZ’s mother too, by the way ( is MM supposed to defend his honour by kicking ZZ’s Mother?). And violence under the cover of “family honor” is a little bit passe, isn’t it?

  • J. Bo
    July 14, 2006 7:52am

    Jeanne (and everyone else) The original Caesar salad (invented in Tijuana) has no anchovy (see

    Yes, I’m a pedant… BUT YOU STARTED IT!

    J. Bo

  • Emanuelle
    July 14, 2006 12:41pm

    I don’t want to be rude, but hey, sometimes you can adapt the classics and make a wonderful meal out of it. Ok, caesar salad with shrimps is… not ceasar salad, and most of the altered recepee you’re describing here have no appeal what so ever.

    But, for example, add a little blue cheese (I recommend Roquefort or Fourme d’Ambert, not gorgonzola that has a very subtle taste) to your Bruschietta, that you previously leave few minutes in the oven, on small slices of bread, so it will melt, and then add the tomatos, garlic, basil, lime juice, etc, on top of the slices while it’s hot and… it’s delicious.

    Of course, when I told my italian friends I prefered it with blue cheese they were shocked, but that won’t prevent me from eating it !! It’s not always good to be narrow minded on the subject of food, some day you’ll miss something great (not that caesar salad on the picture, thought).

    Oh, and yes. There have such horrible pizzas in France. Cannot say what went wrong in the migration of the pizza.

    And pork in general tastes very strange. Always salted too much. I’ve never found in the meat stores grinded pork unsalted. And I could go on. But they have so many sorts of wine and cheese, at a very cheap price, how I miss suddenly the joy of the apero !

    I’m back to Canada, so I’ll stop complaining (-:

    Always reading you so keep up the good work !

  • July 14, 2006 1:32pm

    Oh mon dieu je suis choquée! Un americain qui critique… Just kidding! I totally agree with you; people should stick to what’s been working well for years (i don’t mean you shouldn’t give a twist sometimes, but you know…).


    PS never heard of cream in pesto but it sounds *yuck*

  • Andi
    July 14, 2006 4:01pm

    You are so right* on…
    so much so that I laughed with tears in m eyes…
    Thats the point* I tried to make the other night to no avail…((*))¿((*))
    Thanks for expressing it.
    Andi in Vegas….

  • Kristi =)
    July 15, 2006 9:03am

    I totally agree with your Caesar Salad frustrations. I’m glad someone finally agrees with me and this isn’t another one of my insane pet peeves. Maybe my pet peeves aren’t insane after all… I should have a talk with my family. Anyway, you had me until Zidane. Talking dirty is part of the game. If Zidane couldn’t handle it, then he shouldn’t have started it with his shirt comments. Yeah. But on the flip side, being Italian-American and married to an Italian, it’s always nice to see a mouthy Italian getting busted in the chest. Lord knows I’d like to do that to a few of them…

  • Judith in Umbria
    July 17, 2006 3:34am

    Hey USians! If you live in a European country, you hear over and over how in America they ruin European food by crapping all over it, vis a vis pineapple on pizza, adding innumerable things to ragù, making once healthy foods into fat-choked horrors.
    Then you take something simple and delicious like a Caesar salad and the purist goes all European on you and craps up a good American thing!
    On Italian public TV they harp on and on about how the American diet is so unhealthy that all Americans are desperately obese. Meanwhile they dub US TV and movies that are chockful of slim and sexy characters…??
    Go ahead and alter any classic you like, but give it a new name. Don’t offer a classic and disappoint people who order it thinking they know what they are going to get.
    And bruschtta can be made with anything you like on it. The bruschetta part is the grilled bread scraped with garlic and doused with oil and salt. (except if it is truffled, then no garlic) Just be sure to say it broo-SKET-ta.
    FYI, David, you are right about pesto genovese, but pesto siciliano has both tomato and cream in it.

  • July 17, 2006 3:51am

    There’s a pretty funny article about more US vs European bathroom differences here.

    (Cream in pesto? Don’t tell any Genovese!)

  • July 19, 2006 7:01am

    I was at the same dinner :) Weren’t the cheerleaders fun though? Over the top, but a nice touch.