Ron Swanson was once asked whether he’d like some salad. His response? “Since I am not a rabbit, no, I do not.” I would normally agree with any piece of wisdom taken from “Parks and Recreation,” but for the Corp’s newest venture, The Hilltoss, I was forced to betray the manliest of men. Astoundingly, the Corp has designed a salad joint worthy of man and beast like.
If you’re not careful, the unfinished 8-by-12 wooden door might hit you in the face as you walk into The Hilltoss. The overall aesthetic of this new restaurant is, like its door, jarring and surprising, but, in the end, satisfying. With customers’ feet treading on chipped concrete as they approach the counter, the aesthetics are fitting for the atmosphere the Corp is seeking to create with this new venture: a public space where students can gather with one another, enjoying creative yet simple food.
The Hilltoss’ near-successful attempts at a plethora of reimagined dressings give the new restaurant a mark of distinction. The blush red-wine dressing for the Jay Gatsby, for example, effectively balances tanginess and saltiness, with a viscosity that enhances the summery feel of the salad as a whole. The creamy balsamic on the Cobb salad is also well-balanced, which is a point that should be stressed. In this acidic bechamel-base, The Hilltoss successfully incorporates two extremes.
The Cobb salad was a resounding success. The mesclun mix was both tangy and earthy, suggesting produce as fresh as any Corp location can be expected to acquire. In fact, The Hilltoss impressively sources 90 percent of its produce from local farms and co-ops. The greens offer a fresh base for the crunchy bacon, buttery avocado, and crisp cherry tomatoes, completing the resounding interpretation of a classic Cobb Salad.
Though winter is coming, the Jay Gatsby is an exciting sunny weather addition to the menu with more fresh produce and locally-sourced mozzarella. The mozzarella elegantly balances the salad, which would almost certainly be under-salted without it. Though the floral notes of the strawberries were much appreciated, they were undermined by avocado that shared the same consistency. If the Cobb was a home run, the Jay Gatsby was a ground rule double.
Another of the eatery’s signature creations, the Amalfi Coast, is an arugula-based salad with quinoa and predictable caprese staples, tomato and mozzarella. Quinoa is difficult to pull off in anything, particularly in salads. Grains in salads will naturally soak up and nullify other flavors, and also undermine the crispness of the fresh ingredients. Unfortunately, this fate is true of the Amalfi Coast. The earthy quinoa renders the oregano and basil effectively non-existent and dulled the mozzarella’s complexity. The counterpoint to this flavor dampening is that, because of the salad’s blandness, it is the only one of the three that doesn’t suffer from acidity issues.
Though the dressings on their own are balanced, the addition of half of a freshly-squeezed lemon to each salad makes the aftertaste of each bite of the Cobb and Jay Gatsby taste vaguely reminiscent of a tin can.
In the words of the general manager––and brains behind the salads––Monish Sabnani (MSB ’15), “The Hilltoss tries to create an image behind each salad where you can envision what you’re eating.” True to form, each salad appears to do exactly that, from the menu’s corresponding typefaces to the ingredients themselves. The Jay Gatsby does partially transport the customer to a Montauk beach party.
Though many tweaks are left to be made, the Corp’s salads do succeed in telling a narrative as much as they deliver sustenance. With both cuisine and community, these are no rabbit’s greens, but viands for the social animals among us.
Healey Family Student Center
Mon. – Fri., 11a.m. – 8p.m.
Photo by Vicki Lam