Springtime at Green Street
Even the best dishes take a backseat to Green Street Restaurant’s Dianne salad
By Erica Wayne 03/11/2010 – Pasadena Weekly
I don’t get to Green Street Restaurant as much as I’d like to anymore (so many restaurants, so little time), but with spring and daylight-saving time fast approaching, it just seemed right last week to go green. Actually, my sister was down from San Francisco and I really wanted her to try the Dianne salad.
I remember a visit a few years back, when I first noticed that Green Street’s menu seemed shorter. It was an impression, I believe, partly true but partly born of my focus on the Dianne salad, which was the main reason we went there. It was a sad tale. She had moved to Minneapolis a couple of years prior and said that all she could think about was Dianne’s taste.
Even if this is hyperbole, let’s face it: Many Green Street aficionados are so addicted to Dianne salad that, even if they were tempted to try something else, they couldn’t break themselves of the craving for chicken, iceberg lettuce, almonds, rice noodles, sesame seeds and the spectacular, irreproducible (believe me, I’ve tried) Dianne dressing.
I’ll let you in on a secret. When the Dianne first debuted in the mid-’80s, there were lots of imitators, but they all fell short. One of Pasadena’s best-known and most creative chefs who — I’m sure he wishes to remain anonymous — tried to duplicate the dressing failed time and time again. At long last and wit’s end, he figured out a scheme. He called Green Street and told them his mother had become ill after eating Dianne salad and could they please tell him the ingredients. Even then, they must have fudged, and the formula still eludes him.
But back to last week’s lunch. My sister and I compromised. Since a single Dianne salad ($12.95) provides enough sustenance for two, we decided to split one and share a charbroiled salmon club with bacon, tomato, greens and sautéed red onion on ciabatta ($13.95), since one thing Dianne salad doesn’t have is a side of fries. Don’t get me wrong — I love the moist, nutty zucchini bread that comes with the Dianne. But there’s nothing that can replace hot fries and ketchup when you’re in that springtime mood.
Sure enough, the fluffy steak fries were good. Our salmon filet was delicious and, like all of Green Street’s sandwiches, gi-normous. And the salad was, well, Dianne salad — a Platonic 10. My sister had a guess as to ingredients; honey and kiwi, she surmised. I don’t think that’s even close; but there are some little black specks that aren’t quite round enough to be poppy and the hue is faintly green.
As we stoked ourselves with food, I looked around in my usual attempt to assess how many other diners in the packed dining room were grazing on vast heaps of iceberg. My estimate on this visit was about half; but I noticed a fair number tucking into the huge omelets and juicy, grilled sandwiches that are Green Street’s other staples.
Stephen’s sandwich ($11.95), for instance, has almost as many admirers as the Dianne. Consisting of chicken breast with sautéed mushrooms, onions, avocado, sour cream and cheese on grilled sourdough, it’s what I order whenever I’m taking a break from rabbit food and not worrying about keeping my clothes clean or having a heart attack. It’s got so much fat that it practically slides down my gullet without mastication.
I’ve also eaten and enjoyed the “Big John’s” cheese, beef and spinach meatloaf sandwich, with sautéed onions, cheese and hot, sweet mustard on grilled parmesan bread ($12.50), the breakfast burrito with chicken-jalapeno sausage ($10.95) and the bacon cheeseburger with onion ($10.95). But, I’ve got to admit, they all take a back seat to the Dianne.
Another of Green Street’s salads occasionally challenges my obsession with the Dianne. It’s called the Cornucopia (mixed greens tossed with chicken breast, avocado, raisins, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges, green onions, apples, toasted almonds and blue cheese crumbles). It’s tossed with a magnificent citrus blue-cheese vinaigrette and costs $14.50. Its vibrant colors (red, green, blue and orange) are perfect for springtime; and need I mention antioxidants?
But, even though I adore the Cornucopia, it’s still almost inevitable that, when I go to Green Street, I order Dianne salad. It’s also almost inevitable that, when I go there with someone else, the person I’m with orders Dianne salad. It’s also almost inevitable that almost everybody at nearby tables orders Dianne salad, too.
So, even after almost a decade of competition with the Cornucopia, the Dianne is still the one Green Street salad that breaks the hearts of those who depart our fair city for far-off locales. As proof, I offer the fact that Green Street is now selling bottles of Dianne salad dressing (for more than $8!) as well as packages of its zucchini bread mix. My sister bought both. Want to know what’s in the bread? Read the label. Want to know what’s in the Dianne salad dressing? Tough luck! It’s still a secret.