The Wronged Cobb
Photo by Jeanne RiceSouthern California's contribution to American cuisine should not be overlooked. Contemporary fast-food burger culture began in post-World War II Glendale when the McDonald brothers opened their first hamburger restaurant. SoCal is where the simple roast-beef sandwich was submerged in au jus and resurfaced as the exotic-sounding French dip. This is where chili was first deployed on burgers and dogs.
All that's fine. But what makes me proud is that SoCal is home to the best salad on Earth, the cobb salad.
Why it's called a cobb, I don't know. But I do know it comes from one of the great old LA restaurants, the Brown Derby. And I also know that most restaurants don't know how to make it.
As you get it at any number of places, a cobb is subdivided like a master-planned community, with tomatoes in one sector, turkey or chicken in another, egg in yet another, and so on—all sitting on a bed of chopped romaine. A dressing of your choice is applied on top.
And this is wrong, wrong, wrong.
The Daily Grill, however, makes it right and about as good as I've had it anywhere in America. The Daily Grill is an upscale meat-and-potatoes place with 11 SoCal locations (and three in Washington, D.C.). When I lived in Newport Beach, I went to the Fashion Island restaurant a couple of times a month for the basics of American food prepared at its highest level: chops, meat loaf, pot pie and one of the best burgers you can buy. The place is a bit pricy ($8.95 for the burger with fries), but you get what you pay for with quality and big portions.
And the Daily Grill is where I learned to love the real cobb salad.
A real cobb is a finely orchestrated event of chopped chicken breast, tomatoes, avocado, bacon, blue cheese, scallions, egg, and romaine and iceberg lettuces mixed in a creamy Italian dressing.
The result is a well-congealed blob of salad (almost like mashed potatoes), one you could easily eat with a spoon, but use a fork because you'll want to get every chunk. Each bite offers a perfect mix of ingredients—bacon merging with chicken mixing with avocado blending with blue cheese. As self-contained, multi-ingredient foods go, this is one of the best.
The Daily Grill serves up a honkin' cobb salad, so big it begins to resemble the mini Devil's Tower Richard Dreyfuss built on his kitchen table in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Through extensive research, I submit that this salad cannot be eaten in one sitting, but—unlike most salads, and through some organic chemical reaction of its components—it does make for an excellent leftover lunch the next day. This helps make palatable the $11.95 cost (on the dinner menu; for lunch, it's $9.50).
I tend to have a soft spot for ingredients blended together into one blob of food, which makes a Daily Grill dish called Joe's Special another favorite. Who Joe is, I don't know, but in his special, ground beef or chicken (your choice, stud) is cooked with spinach, onions, mushrooms and egg on the big grill and served all hot and tasty. It looks like nothing so much as leftovers. My wife thinks I'm nuts for appreciating what she regards as bachelor food, but even food writers have their culinary quirks.
The Daily Grill, located in Fashion Island, 957 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, is open Mon.-Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 9 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.-10 p.m. (949) 644-2223. Dinner for two, $40, food only. Also in Irvine, (949) 474-2223. All major credit cards accepted.
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