Not to belabor this, but I made the Roberta’s Cookbook burrata and apple salad last night for our first course, and I made Ed Lee’s sauteed squid and bacon salad from Smoke and Pickles for our second, and all my questions about yesterday’s Piglet verdict were answered. I think. I will never know for sure what Aran Goyoaga thought about these cookbooks other than what she wrote, but I may have a better idea of what she was getting at.
The Roberta’s salad consisted of chopped, cold Pink Lady apples tossed in a bowl with burrata (glorified, creamy mozzarella) which fell apart and coated all the apple chunks. You’re supposed to add sorrel, but there was no sorrel to be had, so I added watercress leaves, just a few. Then I lightly salted this salad, put it on plates, and drizzled with honey.
It was clean, bright, light, refreshing, all the flavors distinct. Beautiful. I flipped through Roberta’s and can see that this is typical of the Roberta’s style, at least in the salad department. Most of their salads don’t have dressings. For instance the other salad Goyoaga made was a beet salad that is “dressed” with just some creme fraiche. Another salad is “dressed” with celery juice.
To assemble the Ed Lee salad, first you make a really delicious, intense dressing of tahini, Asian sesame oil, and lemon. Fry some bacon. Fry some squid. Put it all together on a bed of arugula. Find the antonyms of all the adjectives I used in the first two sentences of the last paragraph and you have a roughly accurate (but highly unflattering) portrait of this salad. Messy, murky, a little heavy, not too pretty. But you could also say: gutsy, dark, rich, and full of strong flavor. (A chef could make this salad handsome, even if I couldn’t.) One of Goyoaga’s complaints about Lee was the “sauciness” of his food. This salad was definitely not "drowning" in sauce/dressing, but it had a dressing, a very assertive dressing that tied everything together. If you don’t want everything tied together, if you like your flavors pure and clean, you’re going to resist this salad and probably most the dishes in Lee’s book.
This is a completely valid reason for choosing Roberta’s over Smoke and Pickles. Depending on your tastes, this could also be a completely valid reason for choosing Smoke and Pickles over Roberta’s.
I like both styles of cooking. I preferred the burrata salad to the squid, but I’ve enjoyed a lot of Lee’s dishes, too. I think the deciding factor for me would be that there are about five dishes I can make from Roberta’s without mail ordering 'nduja, black truffles, or bottarga, begging the butcher for pork collars, smoking my own ricotta, or figuring out how to grow sucrine.
But it’s all moot because in the final round this morning, Roberta’s lost to The New Persian Kitchen.