Now that you can buy T-shirts bearing the slogan “Kale yeah!”—and some fashion-forward brides are carrying bouquets of the stuff—it’s clear that a leaf long ghettoised by health-food fanatics is cool. But one dish rises above the others: when the tiny Brooklyn restaurant Battersby opened, in 2012, both it and its jazzy kale salad made the best-of-the-year lists.
The restaurant might have just 24 seats and a kitchen smaller than some cars, but its chefs, Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern, have serious training and ambition. They like to improvise, too. Legend has it that the night before they opened, they still hadn’t decided on a menu—and they came up with their signature dish after trying some crispy watercress at a Thai place in Queens.
Ogrodnek and Stern serve their kale both raw and flash-fried. The latter, in long brittle strips, is a deep, iridescent malachite; it’s accompanied by fried Brussels-sprout leaves, wrinkled to a walnutty brown. The raw kale is chiffonaded into a complex slaw of root vegetables and herbs, fired up by a vinaigrette of lime, Thai chillis, Asian fish sauce and palm sugar.
With so many ingredients, the salad could easily have descended into chaos. Instead its structure leads you, with a logical kind of genius, through a sequence of flavours and textures. The top is armoured with a crunchy exoskeleton of fried leaves, scattered with peanuts that enhance the voluptuous, buttery taste. Penetrate this carapace, and vinaigrette takes over, its citrus and chilli notes getting more intense as you proceed through the raw veg. Last is a pool of Mojito-green liquid, which dares you to resist the temptation to grab a spoon and drink every last drop. Would I buy the T-shirt? Kale yeah. ~ Leo Carey