Vedi, vici, ambededi

The Caesar salad, particularly the chicken Caesar, is a nearly perfect food. It combines seemingly contradictory elements in a delicate balance of deliciousness: refreshment and richness, nutrients and indulgence, vegetables and protein, hot and cold, all tossed together in happy coexistence.

The Caesar salad was conceived not by Roman Emperor Julius Caesar but by Italian restaurateur Caesar Cardini, from Tijuana, Mexico, in 1924. Cardini made it up one day when the restaurant was undersupplied and made a big production of arranging it at the guests’ tables so they would think it was hot stuff.

There are two remarkable things about Caesar salads. Foremost is that they manage to be salads, without necessarily being traditionally healthy – at least not in the way salads are supposed to be. It’s a good thing I like that creamy, cheesy dressing so much, because I think it’ll be sticking around in my arteries for a long time.

Also, Caesar salads are so good that even cheapo institutional versions are tasty. That said, not all Caesars are made alike. Before I set out to find a top-notch Caesar salad for this column, I had been getting my romaine-and-cheese fix at the PSU food court for so long that I’d forgetten Caesars are supposed to come with anchovies (not that that’s a huge disappointment). Here’s a rundown of some of the options that are out there.

Bènne, in the PSU food court
Despite, or perhaps because of, the lack of anchovies, this salad actually isn’t that bad. With the simple combination of romaine lettuce, dressing, parmesan cheese and croutons, it’s sort of the Calvin Klein minimalist Caesar. Does the job.

The Cheerful Tortoise, 1939 S.W. Sixth Ave.
On first glance, this appeared to be an amazing salad. The strips of grilled chicken were hot and succulent, and there was shredded parmesan cheese instead of the powdered kind. However, the chicken had the taste of being frozen and the lettuce wasn’t that fresh. For a drunk person, it would be an amazing salad, especially because the $7.50 price would go all but unnoticed.

The Blue Hour, 250 N.W. 13th Ave.
This extravagant Pearl District restaurant would be in trouble if it couldn’t put together a decent Caesar. Luckily, The Blue Hour did not disappoint. This was a perfect salad – and for $8, it had better be perfect. Its quality lay not in any outstanding features but rather in a lack of anything detrimental about it. The most remarkable thing about the Caesar was that it was made of whole leaves of romaine hearts, which you’re supposed to eat with your hands. Other than that it was pretty basic, or “traditional,” as the waitress said. The lettuce was perfectly fresh and the dressing was full of flavor (lots of garlic), not overwhelmed by any one ingredient, and applied with restraint. The big chunks of freshly ground pepper added a nice punch.

Your own freakin’ house
Get a bag of pre-washed, pre-cut romaine lettuce, a bottle of Caesar salad dressing and some parmesan cheese in a can. Combine and go.