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 doable); 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 hen salad. A leafy quantity that includes crispy fried won-ton strips and crunchy greens, the hen salad was wearing a sweet-and-savory dressing that tasted of Asian components, like soy sauce and sesame oil, however that got here from anyplace however Asia. The salad, which Backyard Contemporary 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 form of deliciously manufactured high quality that usually 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 known as “Chinese chicken salad,” “Asian chicken salad” and, at its worst, “Oriental chicken salad” — refers to nothing, actually, aside from an thought of what flavors from East Asian international locations could 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’ll nonetheless grow to be touchstones of meals reminiscence for many who eat them. That is both good or unhealthy, relying on how you’re feeling concerning the transmutation of tradition, however on the subject of won-ton hen 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 immediately. Not sufficient folks discuss concerning the unimaginable lack of urge for food that occurs if you lose somebody you like. Once we obtained to the airport, it had been almost 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 by chance she obliged. Once we made our solution to the gate for our flight again to Atlanta, she turned to me and requested, “Do you think it’s better to lose someone suddenly 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 have been crispy lake trout with lemon pepper, bacon-wrapped filets mignons with A.1. Sauce, kielbasa boiled in Tostitos salsa and beer and grilled hen 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 implies you may make this the night time earlier than a gathering.