This is the tale of two Green Goddesses.
One hundred years ago, the executive chef of San Francisco’s Palace Hotel created a salad dressing to honor noted actor George Arliss, who was staying at the hotel while performing in “The Green Goddess,” a popular stage production of the day. The dressing was rich, herbaceous and, of course, green.
Today, the play is lost to history (and best left there, theater critics say) while the salad dressing has endured, a testament to its appealing flavor and versatility.
In honor of that centennial, the Palace and the city of San Francisco are paying tribute to chef Philip Roemer’s deliciously tangy concoction. Forevermore, Aug. 23 will be known in San Francisco as Green Goddess Day, an official city proclamation says. And naturally, hotel officials hope to showcase this classic on the menu at the opulent Garden Court for another century.
“Have you ever attended a birthday party for a salad dressing?” Angie Clifton, general manager of the Palace, asked the green-clad attendees at an anniversary luncheon as the guests of honor — Roemer’s descendants — beamed. “Green Goddess dressing, along with sourdough bread and fortune cookies, put San Francisco on the culinary map.”
From the beginning, Green Goddess has enhanced the flavors of California’s bounty. The dressing originally was served with an artichoke, an exotic dish in the 1920s. But for decades since then, it has adorned the Garden Court’s signature Green Goddess Crab Salad, an artfully composed plate of Dungeness, fresh greens and micro-vegetables.
The recipe has evolved, too.
According to Palace Hotel archives, Roemer’s original included mayonnaise, sour cream, fresh chives, minced parsley, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, anchovy fillets, salt and pepper.
In the late 1990s, Thomas Rhodes, who was then the garde manger (the chef in charge of the cold plates), lightened up the recipe for modern diners, crafting it with olive oil, lemon juice, tarragon vinegar, egg yolks, fresh tarragon, chives, parsley, spinach, green onions, garlic, white onion, anchovy filets and salt and pepper.
Popular around the world, the dressing has been copied and tweaked by professional chefs and home cooks, bottled by food makers and featured in countless cookbooks and newspaper, magazine and internet articles over the decades. Common substitutions include whatever herbs are at the farmers market and anchovy paste instead of anchovies.
Sunset Magazine’s recipe for Roast Shrimp Cocktail with Green Goddess Dip shows a zesty version with dill in the herbal mix and a pinch of dried chile. The preface to a New York Times recipe, which includes homemade mayonnaise, notes that their dressing is wonderful with “robust” greens like hearts of romaine but is too “thick and intense” for a delicate spring mix of lettuces.
Rhodes returned to the Palace this summer as executive chef, just in time to oversee his crew’s centennial salads.
A large table full of Roemer family members attended Wednesday’s event, including Julie Murray, a granddaughter who works at the Palace as an executive assistant. The chef’s other living descendants are Audrey, Sue and Phil Roemer; Bill, Terrie, Jim, John, Jill and Ed Milestone; plus two great-grandchildren, Will and Amanda Roemer.
“My mom was very proud of my grandfather, and she told us all about her memories of the Palace from the time we were little,” Murray said, noting that they have all of his old recipes and love trying them out. “Although he died way before any of us were born, we knew he was extremely talented and we always thought it was special that he created ‘Green Goddess.’ We used to see it advertised on TV; there was a brand called ‘Seven Seas’ that marketed a dressing with the same name.
“Personally, I always wondered why we weren’t millionaires!”
Alas, the recipe was never copyrighted, so the Palace didn’t make money off it either.
The Green Goddess belongs to all.
Details: The Palace Hotel is located at 2 New Montgomery St., San Francisco. For dining reservations, go to www.marriott.com/en-us/hotels/sfolc-palace-hotel-a-luxury-collection-hotel-san-francisco/dining/
RECIPE: The Palace Green Goddess Dressing
2 bunches of Italian flat leaf parsley (finely chopped)
2 bunches fresh chervil (finely chopped)
5 bunches tarragon (finely chopped)
5 cups fresh spinach
1/2 bottle chopped capers
1/4 bottle Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chopped garlic
1/4 cup shopped shallots
1 tablespoon sugar
3 cups tarragon vinegar
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
3 egg yolks
6 cups corn oil
Combine all ingredients (except oil) in blender or in container using immersion blender. Blend on high until smooth. While blending, slowly drizzle oil into mixture. Keep drizzling until oil is gone, then season with salt and pepper to taste. This recipe makes one gallon of dressing. Can be stored in refrigerator for up to 10 days.