As I was at Northgate Market buying supplies for New Year's Eve, I overheard this conversation near the limones: “Buy a lettuce, OK? After the holiday we're only eating salad for a week.”
Ah, the holiday de-tox period: a run on lettuce; gyms full to the rafters with people who will be gone by MLK; restaurant specials featuring boneless, skinless chicken breast without the sauces that give it any flavor.
If you're going to eat a salad, you might as well eat one that at least tastes good. Just bear in mind that if you eat too much salad, you're still not going to fit into those jeans you bought that were just a bit too small but would fit great after you lose five pounds.
Banana blossom salad at Xanh Bistro: Sick of lettuce and cabbage? Looking for a new source of crunch in a salad? Hoa chuối to the rescue! Normally as bitter as gall, the disturbingly-purple flower that hangs off the end of a bunch of bananas is shredded and soaked in lime juice for days to purge it of its bitterness. The blossoms are then tossed with pickled and fresh vegetables, a little bit of grilled pork, a couple of grilled shrimp and some peanuts, then dressed with a lime and cilantro dressing which, as salad dressing goes, is not too bad for you, diet-wise. Xanh Bistro, 16161 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley; (714) 531-2030
California Mediterranean salad at Rutabegorz: Lettuce, artichokes, turkey, green vegetables, feta and olives in a bowl big enough to bathe a baby. By default, it comes with an Italian-esque dressing, but you can have any of the dressings on their menu. Tip: ask them to dress half and pack the other half to go, which will reduce eye strain as you try and see across to the North Rim of your dinner. Rutabegorz, 211 N. Pomona, Fullerton; (714) 738-9339. 158 W. Main, Tustin; (714) 731-9807. 264 N. Glassell, Orange; (714) 633-3260.
Seafood Louie salad at Taps: This might be the best seafood Louie in the county, at the one non-chain restaurant in Brea everyone can name. Iceberg lettuce (yes, we know), avocado, cucumber, tomato, hard-boiled egg, and piles and piles of cold, moist shrimp and Dungeness crab. Just find something a little less calorically dense to put on top than the mayonnaisey, goopy (but great-tasting) Louie dressing; consider lemon juice and maybe just a bit of oil instead. Taps, 101 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea; (714) 257-0101.
Greek salad at Greek Garden Grill: Horiatikisalata, which means “village salad” in Greek, is a prescribed mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, feta and black olives. GGG adds pepperoncini (which I routinely ignore) and dress theirs in an addicting lemon-oregano vinaigrette. Ask for the dressing on the side to avoid overdressing, and maybe a little pita bread to help it down. Hope, for your diet's sake, that they don't have galaktoboureko (custard inside fillo dough) that day for dessert. Greek Garden Grill, 424 S. Main St., Orange; (714) 937-1888.
All Hail Kale salad at the Veggie Grill: Lettuce? We don't need no stinkin' lettuce. Kale is better for you (folic acid! get your folic acid here!). It's mixed with cabbage, roasted corn salsa, quinoa and walnuts, with a sweet gingery dressing. This is a salad you can admit eating to that personal trainer you're hiring this week and yet, somehow, it still tastes good. What a miracle! The Veggie Grill, 4213 Campus Dr., Irvine; (949) 509-0003. Irvine Spectrum, 81 Fortune Dr., Irvine; (949) 727-9900.