The hot months feel moments away, and lighter fare seems like the ticket. Vegas chefs do a number of wonderful salads simply based on leafy greens, such as the red leaf lettuce-based salad served by chef Geno Bernardo of Nove Italiano, sourced from his own farm in Pahrump, which is served simply with balsamic vinaigrette.
But salads have come a long way in America from the iceberg lettuce of my youth. The Larousse Gastronomique defines the salad as "raw or cold cooked foods, dressed or seasoned, done as a side dish." Such a broad definition gives the concept lots of wiggle room for local talent.
I recently set out to find five great summer salads, and purposely did not include anything too common, although the Caesar at Hank's Fine Steaks in Green Valley Ranch gets a special nod for being my favorite in the area. Here are five that won't weigh you down, nor lighten the pocketbook.
Shaved Vegetable Salad at Society Café. Wynn Las Vegas offers vegan items at all of their restaurants, and none is more colorful and appealing than the cornucopia of colors and textures created by Kim Canteenwalla. This edible palette of shaved carrots, asparagus, fennel, zucchini, beets, cucumbers and fine herbs is tossed with lemon vinaigrette, and is so light, you'll burn it off just lifting the fork to your lips. $5 small, $10 large, in Encore, 770-7000.
Thai Chicken Salad at Sammy's Woodfired Pizza. My go-to summer salad is a delicious concoction topped with a spicy, sesame oil dressing I personally find addictive. The salad is composed of lettuce, Roma tomato, peanuts, julienned carrots and zucchini, bean sprouts and cilantro, topped with a generous slab of grilled chicken. As with all of Sammy's entrée salads, it's huge. The small serves two as a side dish or makes an ample entrée; the large is elephantine. $10 small, $15 regular, five Vegas locations, 450-6664, SammysPizza.com.
Salade Niçoise at Marche Bacchus. Plus ça change, as the saying goes. Joseph Swan, former sous-chef at Alex, is now manning the stoves at this comely wine shop, and we can think of no better place to while away a summer afternoon. Salade Niçoise is the classic luncheon salad on the Continent, a mélange, at least here, of seared ahi, and several other components on a bed of mesclun, baby greens gathered in the fragrant fields near the Mediterranean. The other components include thinly sliced French beans, boiled new potato, red onion, Kalamata olives, sliced tomato and hard-cooked egg, all embellished with a pungent Dijon vinaigrette. $16, 2620 Regatta Drive, 804-8008.
Arugula with Apples, Goat Cheese and Candied Walnuts at Table 34. Spago alum Wes Kendrick does lots of summery salads at his popular locals restaurant, now in its second decade. I'm a sucker for chicken salad with sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts here, and no one makes a better oven-roasted shrimp salad, tossed with champagne vinaigrette. But the best choice for summer is an ultra-light, refreshing salad done with the nutty green arugula. The other components add sweet, tart and creamy notes, giving it satisfying complexity. $8, 600 E. Warm Springs Road, 263-0034.
Salade de Betteraves at Bouchon. Thomas Keller's exquisite French bistro serves my favorite winter salad: frisée aux lardons, a.k.a. chickory with a farm egg and house-cured bacon. In summer, it is replaced with one of my favorite summer salads, Heirloom beets and fennel bulb, both done sous-vide, topped with Oregon hazelnuts and Navel oranges. The salad has a vin cotto dressing, and just so you don't forget, a little frisée. $14, in the Venetian, 414-6200.