Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

When a Salad With Boiled Potato Is Not Potato Salad

by 
Elise Seyfried
September 8, 2021

After many months on the road, touring schools and libraries in the Northeast US with our two-actor children’s theatre plays, my husband Steve and I were tired. We were also hungry. Many were the evenings we pulled into tiny towns after the only diner had shuttered for the night; many were the dreadful convenience store pimento-cheese sandwiches we had to consume instead. To compensate, I read ceaselessly about food, figuring a Gourmet article about a bakery in Belgium might trick my stomach into thinking I’d actually eaten a croquembouche. It never worked, and eventually we were more than ready for a decent meal.

At a motel in western Pennsylvania one night, after chowing down on our Slim Jims, we read a long piece in The New Yorker by writer John McPhee. In it, he discussed his all-time favorite chef and restaurant, with mouth-watering descriptions of dinners he’d eaten there. The chef-owner asked that his identity, that of his pastry chef wife, and the location of his restaurant not be revealed (in the article he was named “Otto”). He had a small, loyal clientele and he preferred to keep it that way. Subtle hints were dropped by McPhee throughout the essay about this magical mystery place that was more than five, but less than 100, miles from midtown Manhattan. Stomachs growling, we fantasized about dining there. But how would we ever find it?

No items found.

We needn’t have worried. It only took about a week until the New York Times food critic blew Otto’s cover, tracking Alan Lieb down and pinpointing the restaurant’s location. (She didn't like it.) It was in Pennsylvania! What luck!  We were in Pennsylvania!! But Pennsylvania is very big, and Le Gorille was in the Pocono Mountains near the New York border, a seven-hour drive away. We were undeterred by the distance. After all, how long would it be before the elusive chef closed up shop and moved to an undisclosed location once again? We had to act fast. We immediately called our best foodie friend, then made a reservation. We would rendezvous at the restaurant on a Thursday night.

The parking lot had one car when Steve and I pulled in. Had the Liebs fled the publicity and disappeared? But there was a light on in the building, so we ventured to the door. It swung open, and there was our friend John, wineglass in hand. “It’s seder tonight, and we’re the only reservations!” he marveled. The next two hours were culinary bliss. Alan and his wife Ronnie offered us the complete menu, and brought out course after course of incredible food, ending with a chocolate hazelnut mocha torte that surely rivaled that of any Belgian bakery.

Afterwards, they sat down with us and chatted for quite a while. Turned out, they were as gracious as their food was magnificent. Poor young actors that we were, we were sure the final cost would wipe out our meager budget. We decided it was worth another year of peanut butter cracker dinners. But when Alan presented the bill, it was a small fraction of what we’d anticipated … another gift from the Liebs that evening.

We returned as often as we could over the next few years, and the Liebs became friends. Eventually they sold Le Gorille and moved on, and as time went by we lost touch. Recently I heard that both Alan and Ronnie have passed away. I feel so lucky I had the chance to know this special couple, and to eat some of their spectacular meals.

I’ve spent time in my own kitchen trying to replicate some of their dishes, including a delightful salad we had one night with Boston lettuce, sorrel leaves, and dandelion greens. Alan shared with McPhee that the dressing was largely improvised; he sometimes used mashed potato as an emulsifier. With that clue, I got to work. The resulting salad is my tribute to a remarkable chef.

Not a Potato Salad

20 Mins
 | 
 | 
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2 heads Boston lettuce

3 cups small sorrel leaves (or baby spinach with a few grates of lemon zest)

5 cups dandelion greens

4 cloves garlic, minced 

4 tbsp fresh herbs of your choice (I usually use mint, chives and basil), chopped

4 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

¾ cup olive oil

2 tbsp potato (peeled, boiled and well-mashed)

 


20 Mins
 | 
 | 
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2 heads Boston lettuce

3 cups small sorrel leaves (or baby spinach with a few grates of lemon zest)

5 cups dandelion greens

4 cloves garlic, minced 

4 tbsp fresh herbs of your choice (I usually use mint, chives and basil), chopped

4 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

¾ cup olive oil

2 tbsp potato (peeled, boiled and well-mashed)

 


Ingredients

2 heads Boston lettuce

3 cups small sorrel leaves (or baby spinach with a few grates of lemon zest)

5 cups dandelion greens

4 cloves garlic, minced 

4 tbsp fresh herbs of your choice (I usually use mint, chives and basil), chopped

4 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

¾ cup olive oil

2 tbsp potato (peeled, boiled and well-mashed)

 


Directions

1. Mix greens in a salad bowl.

2. In food processor, blend the garlic, herbs, vinegar, and Dijon.

3. Slowly add in the olive oil and potato. When blended, dress the salad.

4. (This makes extra dressing, store remainder in refrigerator)

About the Author

Elise Seyfried

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