The Cobb salad, as the story goes, is an original L.A. dish, invented in the 30s by Bob Cobb at the Brown Derby. Most restaurants of a certain ilk seem to have it on their lunch menus, and patrons love to add their personal modifications (that's an old Los Angeles custom too). It is also one of the most well-known salads in the country, and even got a little love from Tom Colicchio on a recent episode of Top Chef (not to mention the salad's important place in an old Curb Your Enthusiasm plotline). Really, what's not to like? Bacon, blue cheese, and hard-boiled egg will always be compatible. So this week we're trying two versions from two popular L.A. lunch spots, to see what the salad is up to these days, 70-some-odd years after its birth.
We began at Clementine, where a weekday lunch means carefully standing near tables which seem to be finishing up, then having the same thing happen to you about 40 minutes later. "The Freshest Cobb Salad," we must say, was not the most visually appealing -- a sort of flat, limp pile. The blue cheese vinaigrette managed to stay light and acidic, and the ingredients seemed fresh enough, but as a whole, the salad felt a little wet and scattered. The actual pieces of bacon were the best part, cooked nicely and with good, deep flavor, though dominated at times by the blue cheese. It was, ultimately, pleasant enough, but also not particularly memorable.
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Our second stop was at the Marina del Rey branch (open since April) of Mendocino Farms. As is custom, the salad was served in a plastic box, which we now realize feels inappropriate for a salad of this stature. The "avocado" listed on the menu was actually more of a spread (or a very bare guacamole), and muddied the textural balance. The blue cheese was omnipresent and overwhelming, and the bacon, unfortunately, seemed stale. Making the experience even more difficult? The sight of some nice looking pork sandwiches being consumed at the other tables.
What this adventure ultimately taught us is how enjoyable a great Cobb salad can be, the importance of each ingredient, and the care that must be taken with preparation and portioning. Clementine is technically the winner of our fight, but its victory is slightly dispiriting. So where, we ask, are your favorite Cobb salads ?