I don’t normally get excited about salad. Yes, I can appreciate the freshness of it as a palate-cleansing prelude to whatever’s next, like, say, the best whole chicken in the city. But rarely has a salad stopped me like it did recently at Res Ipsa, when I simply could not look away from the flower-dappled cloud of delicate greenery that chef Michael Vincent Ferreri had conjured there on the plate like a universe of spring. Baby alliums, both farmed and foraged, were at the core of its tangle, a shredded nest of wild spring onions, bitter greens, ramps, chives, and daylilies that sparked with that early blossom moment when the oniony heat had yet to outpace young sweetness. But there was so much more, at least a dozen elements, that added up to something far greater than its myriad parts.
This salad initially was conceived as a lesson in flavor-building by Ferreri for one of his young line cooks, Ben Ynocencio. Their collaboration was a master class in how not to be overwhelmed by the blooming multitudes, and how to harness that symphony of seasonal flavors into colorful harmony. I usually argue that less is more when it comes to food. But this salad proved the opposite could also be true in the hands of the right garde-manger maestro, as each tiny new element contributed a subtle new layer of brightness, flavor, and complexity. A whiff of fennel. The vegetal snap of pea shoots and floral chrysanthemum. The lift of mint. The brightness of a lemon and salsa verde dressing that buoyed it all as the salad evolved in the act of eating, gathering up all the tiny crunchy bits hidden below — toasted almonds, green garbanzos, cucumber — as each forkful twirled through a creamy layer of whipped ricotta on the plate that softened and enriched each bite. Any twinge of reluctance I had at destroying the Flower Show beauty of its initial presentation (the whole thing sprouting blooms of violet, white, yellow, and marigold red) was assuaged by the fact that it was even more satisfying to eat. Res Ipsa is a restaurant where some of the old favorites remain its greatest draw (hello again, amazing agrodolce chicken!) But the true beauty of this salad was poignant and powerful — the realization that its pleasure was as fleeting as spring itself. — Craig LaBan