leaf lettuce with warm bacon-maple vinaigrette and toasted hazelnuts

We ate dinner a couple nights ago at a new restaurant in Boston (which shall remain anonymous.) A rollercoaster of a meal, there were some highs, like this tasty salad, and some lows, like a peanut butter marshmallow “bruleed” mess for dessert. It seemed like the heart of the restaurant was in the right place though, they just need a little more time to get on their feet. 
It was a meal I think we’ve all eaten from time to time – the kind that makes you want to run as fast as you can for your own kitchen and make something homemade. And that’s just what I did, tossing together my own version of the restaurant’s salad for dinner. (Hey, at least I got some inspiration out of the deal.) 
On the menu, the salad was billed as braised lettuce with a maple-bacon vinaigrette and toasted almonds. Maybe because my childhood best friend lives in Holland, and I spent so much time around her dinner table growing up (in Canada, albeit with some serious Dutch influence), but I kind of have a thing for cooked lettuce. A head of romaine, peas, mint, lots of butter and you’re in business. I digress, because the salad we ate was most certainly not braised – the lettuce remained crisp and leafy, while the dressing was just slightly warm. I’m not complaining because it was good. Really good. Just not braised.
Perfectly balanced – sweet, acidic, and salty – this salad reminds me how far simple ingredients can take you. Something about the maple, the hazelnuts, and the smokiness of the bacon made us take a second look; the flavors are unexpected and hard to pinpoint somehow – you just know you want more. It’s a great salad for the season to showcase farmer’s market (or back yard) sweet young lettuce.  Serves 2 for dinner with bread or 4 as a side.  

For the Salad
1 small-medium head leaf lettuce of your choice
2 thick cut slices of good bacon
3 tbsp hazelnuts
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 ½ tbsp maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash, dry and tear the lettuce into bite sized pieces. Set aside in a large salad bowl. Cut the bacon into small pieces, roughly ¼ inch by ¼ inch, and set aside. Toast the hazelnuts 10 minutes, then using a clean dish towel, gently rub off any loose skins. Roughly chop the nuts and set aside. 
When ready to serve, set a small pan over medium heat and fry the bacon until crisp. Using a slotted soon, remove the bacon from the pan and add it to the lettuce, retaining the bacon drippings. To the drippings, add the vinegar and maple syrup. (Stand back as you do this because the hot drippings will spatter.) Whisk well, and then immediately pour the warm dressing over the salad and add the hazelnuts. Toss and taste for seasoning. You may want a little salt and a splash more vinegar (we added a little of both.) Serve immediately.