Cookin’ in the ’hood

The idea of a salad as a meal in and of itself is a relatively new concept in the restaurant world. As a side, it’s a no-brainer: Nothing goes better with a nice steak or a bowl of pasta than a side salad. But with the help of influential farm-to-table chefs like Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., salads soon occupied a prime place on restaurant menus.
     In the hands of a chef like Waters, the salad became something bigger than a bowl of raw veggies: a cornucopia of whatever was in season, cooked minimally (if at all), and tossed in a simple, house-made dressing. This new concept in salads was accompanied by entrée-size prices. The Julia Salad at Batter’d & Fried Boston Seafood House is one such salad — and with a price reflecting that fact: $19.99.
     Like most foods named after people, this one has an interesting story behind it. Julia Ledbetter, the owner of The Body Shop fitness studio, was fed up with all the fast/fried food lunchtime options in East Nashville. Attacking her quandary head-on, she expressed her desires to Batter’d & Fried owner Matt Charette, who agreed that more menu options that weren’t battered and fried would be not only good for business, but also for his regular customers’ health. Soon, Charette and his team came up with a once- or twice-aweek chef ’s special that would later become the Julia Salad after it proved so addictive that Ledbetter would habitually poke her head in and ask if it was available. Others shared her fervor, and, newly rechristened, it soon became an everyday menu option. According to restaurant GM Meagan Gregory, it’s one of the restaurant’s most-ordered items, and far and away their most popular salad.
     OK, so it’s not the origin story of the X-men. But consider: An East Nashville neighbor cared enough to ask for (healthy) help at a neighborhood restaurant. The restaurant cared enough about this neighbor to not only name a salad after her, but to add a special “Julia’s Body Shop” icon denoting heart-healthy options on their menu. Having a sandwich named after you is cool, no doubt. But seeing a dialogue develop into an ever-evolving menu item, well, that’s cooler still.

JULIA SALAD

INGREDIENTS
For the salad:
Sushi grade tuna (6 ounces)
Mesclun/spring lettuce mix
Chopped walnuts
Goat cheese
Tomato, medium sized
Kalamata olives
Balsamic dressing:
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
(Add a spoonful of Dijon mustard if desired, and/or minced garlic/shallots)

PREPARATION
Make dressing. Arrange a large handful of salad greens in a large bowl or recessed serving plate. Toss about half the dressing with the greens. Add chopped walnuts, goat cheese, and Kalamata olives to taste. Using a well-heated, lightly oiled pan, sear tuna on each side, no longer than 20 seconds per side, taking care to not overcook. While allowing tuna to cool slightly, quarter tomato and cook, skin side up, until just starting to caramelize (the tomato’s skin should be starting to wilt slightly). Add tomatoes to salad. Thinly slice tuna crosswise, and fan across salad. (Note: Batter’d & Fried drizzles the tuna with eel sauce; for convenience, we’re omitting that step.)