SFoodie's countdown of our favorite 50 things to eat and drink, 2012 edition
"Arrange lettuce leaves around the inside of a salad bowl, with a few sliced leaves on the bottom," writes Victor Hirtzler, chef of the St. Francis Hotel, in his 1910 recipe for Crab Louis. "Put crab meat on top of the sliced leaves, and a few slide hard-boiled eggs and sliced chives on top of the crab meat. In another bowl, mix one-half cup of French dressing [ed note: vinaigrette] with one-half cup of chile sauce, two spoonfuls of mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and one teaspoonful of Worcestershire sauce. Pour over the salad, and serve very cold."
Was the crab louis (and its poorer cousin, the shrimp louis) invented in San Francisco or in Seattle? And who was Louis? Given the absence of proof, you're free to invent your own myth -- but the salad has been served in this city for more than a century. Over the years, the salad has evolved and then devolved again, often spotted as a gloomy mass of iceberg and frozen crab drenched in sugary orange glop, with canned black olive rings and hard-boiled eggs strewn over top.
It would be unthinkable for a San Francisco restaurant with a name like Nettie's Crab Shack to pass over the Crab Louis. It would be equally unthinkable for the cooks to let the salad stand on its reputation, such as it has fallen. So they've combined elements from another historic salad (the Cobb, invented in 1930s Los Angeles), and dressed a giant bowl of romaine up like a spring frock: jade-colored avocados and cucumbers, beets in swirly rose and gold hues, splotches of saffron-colored egg yolks, and at least a half-pound of pale-pink Dungeness crab meat. Everything is sweet and crunchy-crunchy, pitched to keep the flavor of the crab at the forefront. And the salad dressing is spiked with just enough Tabasco to sparkle, but reminds you that mayonnaise, in its pre-jar days, once played an honorable role in American cuisine.
Nettie's Crab Shack: 2032 Union (at Buchanan), 409-0300.
Other favorites in this series:
27: Locanda's Jewish-style artichoke
28: Local: Mission Eatery's asparagus-egg sandwich
29: Memphis Minnie's 18-hour brisket
30: Custard buns from City View
31: Mission Chinese Food's kung pao pastrami
32: Panisse frites from Frances
33: Izakaya Yuzuki's chawanmushi
34: Fatted Calf's chorizo
35: Silvanas from House of Silvanas
36: Linden Street Brewery's black lager
37: Aged oolongs from Red Blossom Tea Company
38: Broken Record's crawfish grits
39: Cebiche mixto from La Mar