Nestled into a highly trafficked neighborhood in the city by the Bay, a popular restaurant draws people to it like fruit flies gathering at the fruit bowl. If you walk inside, the open-air windows and views pull at tourists and locals alike. If you sit along the bar, the rows of colorful glass bottles can make even the most teetotaler lunch guest think twice about getting something served up straight. A wood-burning oven beckons onlookers to order hand-thrown pizzas studded with broccoli or drizzled with pistou.
The servers buzz about the hostess stand as if returning to the hive is vital for life. We sit undisturbed, perusing the menu. I know several of the items by taste memory and skim the specials before ordering. It usually comes down to a tie between a whole grain bowl sauced with a well-seasoned array of vegetables or the burger. Nine times out of ten, the whole grain bowl is a card shy of a full hand. Nine times out of ten, the description of “mushrooms and caramelized onions,” means I’m a goner.
Something unsettles me, though, as the server begins the walk over to our table with our food. It jostles me to the core and makes me want to take on the mantle of judge and jury to try and bring justice where it’s due. The bravado of the cut-open burger smugly drips sauce and a string of onion. Resting next to it and the ho-hum roasted potato wedges, a pile of lettuce greens tries to crisp in anticipation of its delivery. Under the heavy hand of oil, it is doused with little else, though it might find an accessory or two of plum tomatoes that happily get popped. The lettuce tries to let the two slices of quick cucumber pickles play sidekick, but the damage is done. The travesty of boring salad greens is like an evergreen bridesmaid next to the bedazzled bride of the burger.
I haven’t been able to plumb the depths of why a restaurant that goes out of its way to encourage diners to eat vegetables cheerily, delivers such a deadpan performance in the side salad. It always comes down to guilt- will I eat the salad greens in spite of their lackluster appeal, even as I will happily sip a green juice, or do I leave them on the plate destined for the compost bin, their only crime, a line cook with more important dishes to plate. Why does this wrack me? Why can’t I let it go? Why can’t they make a proper vinaigrette? Something about the carelessness of some limp greens trying to do a can-can dance of look-at-me makes me wonder why they even bother.
If anything, I convince myself that other diners like me who sometimes want the heartier fare, perhaps also see the soggy greens as a last ditch effort to hitch up the price beyond the lunch-and-dash ten dollar range. But then, my magnanimous side chimes in that the menu planner must want the diner to feel more moral in their food choice and offers the greens like a sort of treaty that the meal isn’t really that indulgent, after all, the burger is vegetarian. Time and again, I sort out the dilemma of the greens before going, believing maybe this time will be different. This time, maybe the greens will be all dolled up with a hit of spice or pepper. But here lies a hard truth: those mixed greens nix change.