Dining recently in Denver with a fellow foodie dietitian, I learned that fresh can be, well, too fresh. In our zeal for fresh, unique ingredients, avant-garde and tradition sometimes engage in an unintended standoff.
There on the menu, beckoning irresistibly, was a Reuben sandwich with buffalo, Gruyere and fresh sauerkraut. We both spotted the entree but, like many food enthusiasts who honor the tastings approach to dining, chose different options. Eager to sample the buffalo, my out-of-town colleague ordered the Reuben, while I settled with pesto-laced shrimp linguine. Lovely to behold, the overstuffed Reuben arrived in a gigantic embellished dish - the most artistic presentation of a pub sandwich I've seen in recent memory. In full-out foodie fashion, we examined every minutia of our entrees, jawing all the while.
I watched my friend pull out green shreds as she pondered aloud whether the kitchen had substituted fresh lettuce for sauerkraut. I had to admit it did look like lettuce. After being queried, the flustered waitstaff scurried off to the kitchen. She returned shortly to present us a plate mounded with what looked like shredded lettuce, pronouncing that the chef had not made a substitution. "It's fresh sauerkraut," she insisted as she whisked off with the dish.
Honestly, my typical experience with sauerkraut - commercially-produced, salted, soured, jarred or canned - would not lend well to evaluating the status of the chef's claim. A little primer: Fresh sauerkraut is fermented cabbage that has not been cooked. Tasting the delicate sample, we decided that, yes, it was cabbage, very mild Napa cabbage. But fermented? Imperceptible.
A Reuben is a Reuben. Fresh is fresh, and sauerkraut is sauerkraut. A little too fresh, and you have simply shredded cabbage. Not that shredded fresh cabbage is an altogether bad choice for a sandwich fixing, but let's call it what it is.
We're still laughing. I forgot to ask if she liked the buffalo. The shrimp linguine was delightful.