The Caesar salad – it has as many versions as there are chefs in the world.
According to Wikipedia, its creation is “generally attributed to restaurateur Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who operated restaurants in Mexico and the United States. His daughter Rosa recounted that her father invented the salad at his restaurant Caesar’s (at the Hotel Cesar) when a Fourth of July rush in 1924 depleted the kitchen’s supplies. Cardini made do with what he had, adding the dramatic flair of the table-side tossing ‘by the chef’.”
A number of Cardini’s staff also said that they invented the dish, which isn’t really surprising.
The “real” salad is made with romaine lettuce and croutons. Everything else goes into the dressing: lemon or lime juice, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, Dijon mustard, parmesan cheese and black pepper. Even those anchovies are called into question, because the original flavour came from the Worcestershire sauce. Cooking and baking is all about adapting. Red Velvet cake, for example, isn’t traditionally tinted with food colouring, or even beetroot, but gets its red hue from non-Dutched, anthocyanin-rich cocoa.
At Buitenverwachting Restaurant, the fine dining establishment on the Constantia wine estate, chef patron Edgar Osojnik has his own version of the famous salad, which is not traditional, but has been one of my favourite dishes for many years. It’s somewhat deconstructed, with the elements arranged around the plate. In its current incarnation on the tweaked and refined new menu, it includes prawns…fat, firm prawns which have that “snap” when you bite into them.
The lettuce is cos, the anchovies are tangy and silver white, the parmesan is shaved, the bacon lardons are crisp, and the eggs are soft-poached quails’. With the creamy dressing, all the flavours you expect are there, along with the crunchy croutons.
For main course, I chose another favourite of mine: the pan-fried ribeye crusted with marrow bone crumbs, served with a red wine sauce, roast potato, kohlrabi and asparagus.
My vegetarian friend had her own menu for the first time; previously she had ordered non-meat dishes from the standard menu, or adapted versions of those dishes. Her starter was a symphony of textures and flavours in green: avocado, cucumber relish, edamame beans and yuzu-ponzu mayonnaise. For her main course, she chose truffled butternut gnocchi with sweet potato espuma, roasted pistachios and spring onions.
To be honest, we were pretty stuffed by that point, but because I’d mentioned at the beginning of the meal (when I was young and full of hope) that maybe I’d have the cheese plate for dessert and my friend agreed, two of these were brought to the table before we had time to stop them.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do full justice to this, and the reason we were so full is because the format now is three courses for R495 or five for R695 (R620 and R905 respectively with wine pairings) which includes a stunning Bread & Spread course, as well as an amuse bouche (mozzarella espuma, tomato, basil and parmesan) and an intermediate course of orange and ginger scented butternut soup with a baby chicken ravioli. Your selection comes from sections titled Inception (where Edgar began – his classic dishes), Evolution (his journey), and Spoils – quite simply, the sweet indulgences with which to spoil yourself.
If you’re planning to go for lunch, try to include a visit to the tasting room before or after; the 2013 Christine is exceptional, and you really can’t ever go wrong with the inexpensive and reliable Buiten Blanc.
* The restaurant is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays, for lunch and dinner.
Buitenverwachting is at 37 Klein Constantia Road in Constantia.
For more information, call 021 794 3522; or visit www.buitenverwachting.com.