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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Number 25: Cobb Louis Salad at Nettie's Crab Shack

Posted By on Tue, Apr 10, 2012 at 12:30 PM

Cobb Louis salad at Nettie's Crab Shack, $25. - JONATHAN KAUFFMAN
  • Jonathan Kauffman
  • Cobb Louis salad at Nettie's Crab Shack, $25.

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. 

Eating the salad is like reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time and realizing that Jane Austin's acid-etched characters and sly humor are far more interesting than Masterpiece Theater made her out to be. 

Nettie's Crab Shack: 2032 Union (at Buchanan), 409-0300.

Other favorites in this series:

26: Soy sauce chicken from Happy Bakery & Deli

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 

40: Nutella-hazelnut hand pie from Black Jet Baking Co.
41: Fifth Floor's burger
42: Perbacco's agnolotti dal plin
43: Iced coffee from Sightglass
44: Cypress Grove's Purple Haze Chevre
45: Lechon from Tastebuds Cuisine
46: Duck with beets from AQ
47: Tai nigiri at ICHI Sushi
48: Fish with explosive chiles from Spices! 
49: Baker & Banker Bakery's blueberry cream cheese muffin
50: Kufta tajine from Cafe Zitouna

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.
Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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