The Dish: Build-your-own salad

The Location: Chop’t Creative Salad Company

The Price: Varies

The Skinny: Let me just say this right from the start: I think salads are sides, not entrees. Sure, you can throw some grilled chicken or salmon on a pile of lettuce leaves and call it an entree if you want, but let’s not fool ourselves. The protein’s the star; the salad’s a bit player. Don’t get me wrong. I like a well-composed salad as much as the next person who secretly desires a burger. I enjoy salads made with fresh veggies, fruits, and cheeses, and I love how a hit of acid from a good vinaigrette can brighten everything in the bowl. Still, I don’t get the draw of these all-salad, all-the-time places like Sweetgreen in Georgetown and the new Chop’t Creative in Penn Quarter Chinatown. You might as well open an all-mashed potato joint, as far as I’m concerned. The draw of places like Chop’t is supposed to be its DIY approach, but frankly, I hate standing there at the counter, trying to compose a salad on the spot while feeling the impatient eye of both employee and awaiting customer burning a hole in the base of my skull. Besides, unlike at home where you can fix any mistake by adding or subtracting ingredients, you’re stuck with your salad, for better or for worse, once you’ve made an order. Case in point, I tried creating a Southwestern salad using mesclun greens as a base. From there, I added avocado, red onion, grape tomatoes, Jack cheese, smoked tofu, and, just because it sounded good, smoked bacon. My dressing of choice was a “sweet and smoky chipotle vinaigrette.” (Worth noting: Aside from the greens, you’re allowed only four ingredients, so I had to pay more for the extras, plus surcharges for the smoked tofu and bacon.) My chosen ingredients were then dumped onto a cutting board, where a guy took a mezzaluna to the pile and pulverized it into a thick dice. No longer were there large, cumbersome ingredients to deal with. I felt like a baby who needs his food cut up into small pieces. Once everything was dumped into a tall plastic bowl, I wandered off to a table to test my concoction. I wasn’t too impressed with myself. The bacon dominated the salad, which was my fault, but because all the ingredients were unceremoniously chopped and mixed together in the bowl, I had a hard time composing a bite. One forkful would have too much bacon, another too much mushy avocado. Plus, once you got past the first inch of salad, the whole thing started to resemble a soup, the result of too much dressing and too much “chop’ting.” I was forced to go around the corner to Five Guys and get that burger after all.