In these nutrition-obsessed times, vitamin-deprived iceberg lettuce often gets a bad rap. And with so many other greens (mesclun, baby spinach, frisee) enjoying their days in the sun, you may not find a single shred of it at top-flight restaurants.
But what do they know? It may be light on flavor and nutrition, but it packs a crunch missing in other varieties--making it the L of choice for BLTs. And as many steakhouses know, a wedge of it drenched in a thick dressing is a great prelude to a porterhouse.
So we set out to find some delicious uses of iceberg lettuce, and came up with these.
The beef basil lettuce wrap at Mei Shung is listed as an entree on the Specialty Dishes menu, but it's also nice as a shared appetizer. This friendly Chinese restaurant (which also has an impressive Taiwanese menu) serves the sensational mixture of stir-fried ground beef, basil, peas and onions with a stack of lettuce leaves on the side ($9.95). Choose a lettuce "cup," spoon in some of the goods, squeeze the sides together and enjoy. Warning: Mei Shung sometimes serves flimsier leaf lettuce with this dish (have the greens police gotten to them too?), so be sure to specify iceberg when you order.
The wedge of iceberg at The Grillroom is a cut above most, and is almost a meal in itself. The iceberg is augmented by chopped hard-cooked egg, crispy bacon, tomatoes and scallions, and comes with a hefty blue cheese dressing ($5.95). Your steak knife will come in handy for sawing through the layers of crunchiness.
The vegetarian salad at the Athenian Room may sound virtuous, but names can be deceiving. Torn iceberg lettuce (dressed in a Greek vinaigrette) is piled on a plate, sprinkled with kalamata olives, sliced cucumbers and tomato wedges and the crowning glory: a generous helping of big fat Greek fries ($5.75). A side of garlicky tzatziki and warm pita bread complete the meal. If you really want to throw calories to the wind, order a slab of feta to add to the heap.
Janet Franz is the Chicago Tribune Dining Guide editor.
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