A few years ago during my first summer in Italy, I had a salad so good, so fresh and delicious, so dead-on in hitting the spot on that sweltering July day, that immediately after polishing it off I proclaimed it “The Best Salad Ever.”
I’m not sure anymore if it was the salad itself that was so amazing or if it was just part of an amazing day and that’s why I remember it being so great, but all I know is that no other salad has ever left such an impression on me.
It had been a day ripe with stereotypes of la dolce vita. It was early on in my courtship with Flaneur and to really perpetuate stereotypes about silly American girls and the Italian men that chase them, we decided to rent a Vespa. We were spending the day on the beautiful (and ridiculously packed full of tourists) island of Capri and wanted an easy way to get around. Cramming into a non-air conditioned, overcrowded bus to then ride back and forth through Capri’s uphill twisty roads was basically a recipe for major motion sickness. So off we went, Flaneur driving and me latched onto his back like a koala.
After zipping around the island, soaking up the sun and generally loving life, we drove over to Punta Carena on the western side of the island, Anacapri, to check out the lighthouse. We walked around the rocky shore, taking in the ocean view and snickering at the many slicked-down-in-tanning-oil sunbathers perched on the rocks, their skins resembling less like skin and more like fine leather handbags. Because Punta Carena is slightly more secluded than the rest of the island, when lunchtime came around there were only two choices: identical outdoor sandwich bars full of bathing suit clad Italians.
We picked one, Da Antonio, and after skimming the brief menu of salads and sandwiches, both of us settled on the same salad.
It’s a salad. No big deal, right? That’s what you’d think. Hell, that’s what I thought as I waited for it to come out. But when it arrived, piled high into a big round bowl, that salad was so much more than I expected. Lettuce, radicchio, tuna, tomatoes, capers, fresh mozzarella, onions and croutons, all under a generous pour of olive oil and a sprinkle of pepper. Again, no big deal, right? Wrong. This salad was great and with every bite came a burst of flavors and textures: creamy, soft mozzarella, round, salty little capers, sweet, juicy tomatoes.
Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was the fact that we’d built up an appetite. Maybe it was fresh ingredients. Whatever it was, that salad was fantastic, and to this day, the best salad I’ve ever had.
Fast-forward to a few days ago at the supermarket as Flaneur and I tried to decide what to buy and make for the following nights. A lightbulb went off and the idea to recreate The Best Salad Ever was born.
So last night I lovingly rinsed, chopped and mixed everything into a bowl and sat down to enjoy my favorite salad with the person I’d originally discovered it with. But alas, while the salad was good (and filling too) it was not The Best Salad Ever. Maybe it was the cramped living room, the unexotic Murray Hill or the bagged lettuce and canned olives, but the magic just wasn’t there. But the effort was and that made it an enjoyable dinner. And so The Best Salad Ever lives on in Capri and Da Antonio goes up on the places-to-go-back-to list.