In a classic Monty Python routine, the Pope rejects Michelangelo's first stab at the Last Supper, pointing out that there should be "only one Christ, 12 apostles and no kangaroos."
The skit could just as well be a parody on what knowledgeable diners go through when they ask for a Cobb salad in your average restaurant. "Try again, only this time, please, no cucumber, canned asparagus spears or grated carrots."
The Cobb, devised and named for the late Brown Derby owner Robert Cobb, is basically a simple dish. It has seven finely chopped ingredients--avocado, tomato, hard-boiled eggs, turkey, bacon, Roquefort cheese and lettuce, plus a little dressing.
Most chefs hurl huge chunks of anything edible (sometimes barely) into the bowl.
That's not the case, we're happy to report, with Dan Marcheano, owner of the venerable (established in 1922) Arches restaurant on Coast Highway in Newport Beach.
The Arches has been serving an authentic Cobb salad since the mid-'50s and serves it--as chef Cobb did--with toasted, thin, dark pumpernickel cheese bread on the side. And, as it was at the Brown Derby, the salad is mixed at the table after the diner has been given the opportunity to examine the ingredients.
"The Derby was a dinosaur," Marcheano says, "and so are we, frankly--a restaurant with the old-fashioned idea that your role is to provide a dining experience, not just a meal."
To that end, the Arches eschews anything frozen or canned, painstakingly chooses its meats (which are bought by the side and cut in the kitchen) and produce and prepares everything just before serving.
Its Cobb is a good example. Marcheano's staff roasts whole turkeys, cooks lean bacon ("What the hell are bacon bits anyway?" he asks), hard-boils the eggs, uses only vine-ripened tomatoes and Roquefort imported from France ("no offense, Wisconsin, but your stuff doesn't cut it"). Another essential, he says, is that the lettuce is not chopped until the order has arrived in the kitchen.
For the uninitiated, or those who have never enjoyed a real Cobb salad, it's important to note that all the ingredients (and they are almost in equal proportions) are finely chopped before being mixed and dressed. And, reminds Marcheano, "always chill both the plate and fork."
AUTHENTIC COBB SALAD
1 medium tomato
2/3 cup cooked bacon
2/3 cup Roquefort cheese
1 cup hard-boiled egg
1 cup white-meat turkey
Lettuce (mixture of Romaine and iceberg equal to about one head)
Serves two. Note: Although the Derby served the salad with an Italian dressing, Marcheano suggests you let your own taster be your guide.