How Caesar Salad Can Signal That A Steakhouse Is Sublime

The best steakhouses are almost never cheap. Unfortunately, America's downtowns are full of pricey steakhouses that look the part, but provide a porterhouse that's ultimately ... forgettable. When a ribeye at budget-friendly steakhouse chain Outback costs around $30, depending on your location, you'll be lucky to get change for $100 when paying for a dinner for two at a fancier or more independent steakhouse. Expect to spend two or three times that if you want to eat extravagantly. That's a lot for a meal when you're not certain that it'll be a top-tier experience. However, there is a way you can give yourself a bit of peace of mind, and potentially compare and contrast a few different steakhouses, all while sticking to a light, healthy weekday diet — order the Caesar salad.

A Caesar salad is a steakhouse classic that'll set you back a lot less than the beef itself — at Morton's the Caesar costs $13, $41 less than the cheapest steak on the menu. Moreover, a bad Caesar salad is the canary in the mediocre steakhouse coalmine. Great steak cooking is all about quality ingredients, prepared simply, and served at their peak of freshness and flavor. A kitchen that runs according to these principles will comfortably churn out a classic Caesar — crunchy, creamy, and cheesy, cut through with that lemon and anchovy bite. On the other hand, a subpar steakhouse is going to serve you something limp and insipid. Unfortunate — but better than wasting hundreds on bad beef. 

Tableside preparation turns Caesar salads into a fine dining experience

Even more than simply signaling the shortcomings of a steakhouse, the Caesar salad has the potential to alert you to a restaurant's hidden depths by providing an experience that goes above and beyond the normal. It can help you find the kinds of places that Anthony Bourdain said he was "unreservedly sentimental" about – old-school steakhouses that keep traditions alive, such as Restaurant Le Continental in Old Quebec City, where the Caesar salad is prepared as it was meant to be. Just for you, by the server, tableside.

This is how ordering a Caesar salad can let you know that you've found a god-tier steakhouse. From when Caesar salad was invented in Tijuana, Mexico a century ago, until now, the original Caesar's restaurant prepares the dish tableside. In "From Julia Child's Kitchen," Child recalled the dish's inventor himself, Caesar Cardini, rolling the cart up to the table where she sat with her parents and preparing their salad for them. She reminisced, "I can see him break 2 eggs over that romaine and roll them in, the greens going all creamy as the eggs flowed over them." 

A bad Caesar salad can save you a few bucks, and a good Caesar salad might even make you a few bucks, but a great Caesar salad can let you know that you've found something truly special.