(April 30) Don’t think of an appetizer as Iceberg lettuce with a few strips of carrots and purple cabbage. That won’t cut it as salad these days. Restaurants now offer salads in lieu of an entree. Nowadays, varieties of lettuce, greens and refined toppings and dressings mark the salad appetizer.

At the Federalist in Boston, a garden green salad with hard cider-hazelnut dressing and French bleu beignet is offered as an appetizer. Handke’s Cuisine, Columbus, Ohio, offers barbecue-seasoned shrimp on spinach and red onion salad with Maytag blue cheese sauce.

“One of my favorite things is a tartlet of mixed vegetables,” says chef Artlip. “You make a microscopic vegetable salad with cauliflower, broccoli and carrots. That’s in a tarragon mustard vinaigrette dressing. You just pop it in your mouth.”

Printer’s Row in Chicago offers a cold asparagus salad with jicama, red radishes and baby spinach with creamy lemon vinaigrette. At Red Clay in Chestnut Hill, Mass., garlic bruschetta is served with hummus, assorted olives and feta cucumber tomato salad.

FRUIT IN THE MIX

Chefs also are creating more elaborate appetizers using fruit.

Fois gras terrine with fig preserves is an appetizer at Bacchanalia in Atlanta. Chef Ann Quatrano says the restaurant includes a large selection of cheeses, many of which are paired with appetizers. For example, ambrosia melon, which is locally grown, is paired with a French feta cheese. Medjool dates are paired with bonita cheese.

At Atlanta’s Floataway Café, diners can enjoy an appetizer of pizza topped with Roquefort cheese, fresh figs and almonds.

Handke’s Cuisine offers a sautéed Hudson Valley fois gras with marinated kumquats, and Printer’s Row serves a salad appetizer of roasted beets, avocado and grapefruit with watercress and citrus vinaigrette.

EATING LIGHT, EATING RIGHT

In addition to setting up diners for the courses to come, appetizers also give us the impression that we are eating in moderation. Quatrano points out that people are trying to eat lighter fare and the smaller portions give diners the idea that appetizers are lighter.

Appetizers can take any shape and may contain any food item. Asian influences are increasing in appetizers.

“Part of the whole Pacific Rim thing is causing us to see a lot of Oriental appetizers, lots of dim sum and egg rolls,” Artlip says. “Something that isn’t popular is a lot of buttery pastry things. Then, there’s the ever-popular meatball; all chefs are doing now is adding different sauces to it.”

Quatrano says she loves experimenting with appetizers. She says she would like to see more produce-driven appetizers and more diners interested in them.

“It would be a more economical way to present appetizers and most likely with just as much flavor,” she says. “I would like to see us use a more vegetable-based appetizer list. As much as we like something, if doesn’t sell, it isn’t an item. We are very sensitive to what our guests want.”