We know — you’re over kale. Everyone, save for the fitness freaks and health-conscious sucking down their liquefied vegetables on the regular, is sick of kale. This is because just about every restaurant in the industry decided, at some point in the last couple of years, that a kale salad was a required menu entry. The most common form of said menu entry was a kale caesar, and via croutons and parmesan, the tough, bitter green became a crowd-pleaser, and there was no escaping it.
But if you can find it somewhere in your heart to give one more kale salad a chance, you’ll find a worthy and refreshing version at El Rey (100 Stanton Street, 212-260-3950).
El Rey is a sunny Lower East Side luncheonette from Nicholas Morgenstern, who also, you might recall, owns Morgenstern’s Finest Ice Cream and GG’s, a pizzeria in the East Village that has quickly endeared itself to the neighbors. At El Rey, you’re likely to cram yourself onto a stool in the minuscule seating area, sip strong coffee, and nibble a pastry, but you should also peruse the savory menu, the work of Gerardo Gonzalez.
El Rey declares a vegetable focus, and so its board lists chia pudding, jicama salad, and a seasonal falafel. And then there’s the kale salad, whose listed accoutrements include shaved almonds, almond vinaigrette, and lemon zest. Gonzalez works to balance sweet, savory, and sour flavors in his dishes, and this salad is an excellent showcase of his success: While almonds add an earthy sweet note, that vinaigrette is so savory it’s a textbook example of umami, and it’s punctuated by the biting citrus from the zest. The result is a salad that eats light but seems almost meaty, though there’s no animal protein here.
You can get it crowned with a poached egg or avocado; we recommend you go for both. The yolk, in particular, gives a nice, rich roundness to the whole plate.