The New Nicoise

Standing in as a summertime one-plate wonder, the classic French composed salad gets an update from three Portland eateries.

By Allison Jones August 12, 2013

The Salad Nicoise at Tasty n Alder, made with confit potatoes and house-canned tuna.

Come summertime, most of us experience a spike in salad cravings. As the temperatures rise—and local tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and beans hit the markets—it's so easy to find happiness in a big plate of veg-powered freshness.

But where mixed-green tosses and creamy Caesars fall short is in their ability to consistently stand in as a full meal without the help (and extra cost) of a grilled chicken breast or steak addition.

Enter the Salad Niçoise, that one plate wonder, a composed concoction most often containing tuna, green beans, hard-boiled eggs, new potatoes, and Niçoise olives. Popularized by the late great French cuisine evangelist Julia Child, a Niçoise needs no sides or pricy protein add-ons to fill you up.

Boasting plenty of protein, carbs, and good-for-you fats, the Niçoise is a somewhat sedate stand-by, but leave it to PDX chefs to take the seafood-powered entree salad to a new level.

The new Niçoise offers unique preparations of fresh-off-the-boat Oregon albacore tuna, confit potato, pickled beans, refreshingly bitter greens, and the best of the rest of summer's bounty. Here's where to get your fix:

Tasty N Alder
580 SW 12th Ave

At Chef John Gorham's West End follow-up to perennial best restaurant list-toppers Toro Bravo and Tasty n Sons, the menu seamlessly balances freshness and indulgence—think house-made cottage cheese served with fresh berries, followed by duck fat-fried potatoes topped with rare steak and a fried duck egg. This balancing act plays out in individual dishes, too: the summer Niçoise offers a mix of brightly dressed greens and fresh, house-canned tuna along with confit potatoes, jammy oil-poached tomatoes and green beans, Niçoise olives, peppered egg halves, and a generous dollop of aioli. 

Block & Tackle
3113 SE Division St 

In the kitchen formerly known as Wafu, chefs Trent Pierce and Daniel Mondok pay tribute to classic seaside fare—from fried-to-order halibut fish and chips to a zingy seafood cocktail—with fresh ingredients and updated twists. A seafood charcuterie platter offers up confit fish with orange zest and Calabrian chili alongside pimenton cured mussels, and the restaurant's Niçoise salad arrives with not one but two fishes atop the greens. Seared albacore perches prettily on a generous mound of house-smoked salmon, balanced by the peppery bite of arugula  fresh green beans, new potatoes, and smoked paprika-sprinkled orange-yolked eggs. The final touch? Olives blended into the vinaigrette for perfect flavor, from the first bite to the last.

St Jack
2039 SE Clinton St 

Savvy diners know this SE Clinton bistro is the place to head for freshened-up takes on French favorites, like asparagus and gruyere crepes with caramelized onions and oyster mushrooms with tarragon cream or braised escargots with corn, fennel, criminis, and lentils—spiked with a garlicky Pernod butter sauce, of course. In his take on the Niçoise, Chef Aaron Barnett pays tribute to peak-season Oregon albacore by making the finned favorite the star. Hefty slices of the fresh fish, lightly seared, crown a delicate pile of frisee, confit fingerlings, hard-boiled eggs, pickled wax beans, olives, and a savory smear of anchovy mayo.

Now it's your turn: Where do you get top-notch summer salads fit for a meal? Tell me in the comments!

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