Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Perfect Caesar Salad

Recently we spent a week in the lovely Connecticut town of Kent and while there had a number of meals, both lunch and dinner, at a much-loved Kent institution: The Fife N’Drum. (
It is hard to decide which to praise more: the food or the ambience. Both are memorable. The ambience is warm, unpretentious, convivial, and the food is consistently excellent.

The guiding spirit of the restaurant is dapper Dolph Traymon who owns the restaurant with his elegant and welcoming wife, Audrey.

In 1973, Dolph retired from his successful career as a staff pianist for A.B.C. and as an accompanist for such luminaries as Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Joel Gray, to open with Audrey a restaurant that would not only serve good food, but also become his own personal concert hall. Today, at age 92, Dolph still entertains the diners six days and six nights a week with beautifully polished performances on the restaurant’s two Steinway grands.

We had five meals at the Fife n’Drum and therefore were able to have a real sampling of the menu. Everything was good, but the dishes we liked best were the half duck flambĂ© and the tenderloin au poivre.  And especially the Caesar Salad for two with which we began almost every meal.

In this age when the deconstructed Caesar – several unmolested leaves of romaine lettuce artfully arranged on a plate with an anchovy and a few croutons – often appears without warning in restaurants that should know better, the classic version of the Fife n’Drum is both delicious and reassuring.

Dolph and Audrey’s daughter, Elissa Potts, who does a superb job of managing (“stage managing” would perhaps be a more accurate description)  the restaurant and making sure that the guests are as coddled as the egg yolk in the Caesar Salad, generously gave me a copy of the recipe, and I tried it last night with a good result. My Caesar lacked only the theatrical flair of the table-side preparation by one of the skilled staff.

We had our last meal at the Fife n’Drum on a Sunday evening and spotted Daniel Boulud, one of the most famous chefs in the world, sitting quietly at the bar enjoying his dinner. What better endorsement could a restaurant have?

Here is the Fife n’Drum’s Caesar:
A large wooden bowl
4-6 anchovies or the equivalent of anchovy paste
½ crushed clove of garlic
½ teaspoon of dry mustard
10 turns of freshly ground pepper
Mash all to a paste, then add

1 coddled egg yoke*
1 tablespoon of Lee & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
¼ cup of good olive oil
2-3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
Mix together to emulsify
Then add to the bowl:
1 head of romaine washed and chopped
1 cup of croutons**
10 more turns of freshly ground black pepper
Toss together until all the romaine is well coated
*I dropped a fresh organic egg in boiling water for one minute before separating the yoke from the white.
**Next time I may make croutons from scratch, but last night I used store-bought plain croutons tossed in olive oil with a clove of crushed garlic and a pinch of salt in a skillet over a medium flame until they were crisp and slightly brown. On second thought, they were so good that next time I may not attack a day-old baguette, as the recipe for croutons I have calls for me to do. What a bother, not to mention all those crumbs.

                     Waiter Tino Santiago and his tableside creations

                             The Fife n’Drum Caesar

                          Tino preparing the duck flambĂ©

1 comment:

  1. Very nice! As soon as my fine layer hens start producing, I'll ask one of them to produce a coddled egg. Yes, there is nothing like the real deal when it comes to Caesar Salad, an I cringe when I hear "Caesar" applied as an adjective for the word "dressing". It ain't a typa dressin!!!

    I am LOVING Ken and Thelma!