The issues I miss most about Candy Tomatoes are sitting throughout from Becky at a sales space near the salad bar (so we might refill our plates as shortly as attainable); catching up on the humdrum of our young-adult lives (e.g., my newest breakup, her newest archnemesis); and completely depleting the buffet of its spherical bowl of won-ton rooster salad. A leafy quantity that includes crispy fried won-ton strips and crunchy greens, the rooster salad was wearing a sweet-and-savory dressing that tasted of Asian substances, like soy sauce and sesame oil, however that got here from anyplace however Asia. The salad, which Backyard Recent debuted in 1993 and ultimately renamed Wonton Happiness, can be, for me, the zenith of lunch, a sense I’ll be chasing for the remainder of my life.
The salad possessed the sort of deliciously manufactured high quality that always comes from one tradition’s interpretation (or wild guess) of what one other tradition’s meals would possibly style like, which is neither actual nor pretend in its origin, and stays a illusion all through its life and into its dying. That’s as a result of this salad — and its antecedent, traditionally referred to as “Chinese language rooster salad,” “Asian rooster salad” and, at its worst, “Oriental rooster salad” — refers to nothing, actually, apart from an thought of what flavors from East Asian international locations may be. The Thai Crunch Salad at California Pizza Kitchen and the Chinese language Hen Salad at Cheesecake Manufacturing unit come to thoughts, as does the Chinois Hen Salad at Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois in Santa Monica. These sorts of dishes may not be genuine to something however their creators, however they will nonetheless develop into touchstones of meals reminiscence for individuals who eat them. That is both good or dangerous, relying on how you are feeling in regards to the transmutation of tradition, however in terms of won-ton rooster salad, I’m grateful for its anchoring position in my life and in Becky’s because the salad that had all of it.
In 2019, I used to be within the room with Becky in a trip rental in Seattle when she discovered that her father, my Uncle Younger, had died instantly. Not sufficient folks discuss in regards to the unbelievable lack of urge for food that occurs whenever you lose somebody you like. Once we obtained to the airport, it had been practically 24 hours since we heard the information, and Becky hadn’t eaten a factor. I pressured her to have a glass of crimson wine and French fries, and fortunately she obliged. Once we made our method to the gate for our flight again to Atlanta, she turned to me and requested, “Do you assume it’s higher to lose somebody instantly or to have them go slowly?” I stated what I believed she wished to listen to, and we boarded the aircraft.
Uncle Younger would have turned 65 this month. I remorse that I by no means obtained to prepare dinner for him, however he cooked for us cousins on a regular basis. Amongst his specialties had been crispy lake trout with lemon pepper, bacon-wrapped filets mignons with A.1. Sauce, kielbasa boiled in Tostitos salsa and beer and grilled rooster wings imbued with jalapeño, cilantro and sake. Regardless of his carnivorous leanings, he would in all probability approve of this salad. The supporting character that lets the crispy received tons shine is the punchy dressing of peach preserves, rice vinegar, sesame oil and chili powder. The dressing’s excessive liquid-to-oil ratio means the salad greens can keep crunchy and maintain for longer (it’s the oil in vinaigrettes, not the vinegar, that deteriorates lettuces), which suggests you may make this the evening earlier than a gathering.