Throughout the year, Restaurant Editor Bill Addison will travel the country to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
Repetition can lead to perfection, but the cooks assigned to make the Caesar salad at Zuni Cafe must certainly weary of the task: the endless rinsing and drying of young, pale romaine leaves (left whole); baking bread cubes to an exact degree of chewy-crispness; constantly tasting, to balance the lettuce against the dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, red vinegar, beaten egg, and house-cured anchovies; applying the final flurry of Parmigiano-Reggiano and black pepper in portions somewhere between judicious and generous. So much mindfulness goes into that seemingly simple salad. And the peerless results are why the restaurant's customers order it again and again. It's true of many dishes honed by the inimitable Judy Rodgers, who died last December after a yearlong fight against cancer of the appendix.