Hollywood's Salad Wars
In a city where green equals lean, these five salads have claimed the title as the restaurant world's most iconic -- and most imitated.
Hollywood just wouldn't survive and stay thin -- here, those being practically the same thing -- without its marquee dish: the salad. And it's no surprise that a town as calorie-conscious as Los Angeles has come up with many of the most famous ones in the world: The Cobb and the Chopped were first shredded here; the Caesar popularized. Restaurants jockey to claim the originals as their own, and just as ideas for movies and TV shows are ripped off, other eateries whip up well-selling imitations for their menus.
Tracing the history and heritage of the Hollywood salad takes a little slicing and dicing. In her book Hollywood Dish, chef Akasha Richmond, owner of Culver City organic restaurant Akasha, documents how in the 1940s, studio PRs gave out stars' favorite healthy-salad recipes to magazines, which encouraged salad-eating nationwide. Marilyn Monroe lived on salads -- when she wasn't living on champagne. Paul Newman and Natalie Wood craved shrimp salads. How to Marry a Millionaire producer-director-writer Nunnally Johnson even told Art Buchwald that the highest honor a star at Fox could receive was having a salad named after him. Today, the tradition continues. The Four Seasons' Culina restaurant on Doheny just created the latest pretender to the throne, the Larry Flynt salad ($27), named for the Hustler publisher, a regular patron, with Dungeness crab, shrimp, vegetables, hard-boiled egg, and chianti vinaigrette. It's a Cobb-chopped hybrid with a seafood addition. "It's tough to find a good seafood salad," says Flynt. "They have them all over town -- but not like this. I dare them to try and rip it off!"
Here, THR recognizes the five original lettuce combos that have stood the test of time to become heads of the class.
► La Scala's Chopped Salad
Los Angeles' most famed salad has been favored by big names (from Elizabeth Taylor and John F. Kennedy Jr. to Leonardo DiCaprio), lunch-loving ladies and waistline-minding moguls ever since Jean Leon opened La Scala (434 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills) in 1956.
The original salad, as described by his daughter Gigi Leon, "had salami, iceberg and julienne cheese. But it was really hard to eat. So our chef chopped it up. That's when it became Leon chopped salad." Others have tried to mimic it, but Leon doesn't care. "They'll never figure out our Leon dressing recipe," she says of the dish ($10.50-$16.50), now comprised of lettuce, salami, mozzarella and garbanzo beans, and it can be customized with turkey, tuna and other extras. "Dan Tana's has a chopped salad. So does Mozza. California Pizza Kitchen execs were up-front about it. They came in and took notes! Joe Allen's in New York even had a 'La Scala salad.'"
- Calorie count: 562; 298 with reduced-fat elements (Note: All calorie counts are provided by the restaurants.)
► Dan Tana's Caesar
Chef-owner Caesar Cardini invented the Caesar in his Tijuana restaurant in 1924. And after Clark Gable and Jean Harlow discovered it, L.A. fell for it. The best is considered to be the old-school, garlic-laden one ($17) favored by the likes of Bruce Springsteen at Dan Tana's (9071 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood), on the menu since 1964. "For the size of the restaurant, we serve the most in town, about 150 a night," says chef Neno Mladenovic. "Our secret -- virgin olive oil is too heavy, so we use medium."
- Calorie count: Around 500
► The Polo Lounge's McCarthy
The Beverly Hills Hotel's Polo Lounge (9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills) put its iconic McCarthy ($24) on the menu in 1948. It is named for '40s attorney Neil McCarthy, who wanted a salad with very specific ingredients: iceberg, romaine, beets, cheddar, smoked bacon, hard-boiled eggs, grilled chicken, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Selma Blair has been known to order frequent takeouts, and Jackie Collins is its biggest fan. Sources who don't want to be named at the Regent Beverly Wilshire claim it was invented there; while it's no longer on their menu, those in the know still order it.
The McCarthy Salad is actually a souped-up Cobb. Brown Derby owner Robert Cobb created that iconic bit of greens in 1937. The most famous Cobb is still the Nancy Reagan Cobb, on the menu of the Bel-Air Hotel for years. Former GM Frank Bowling recalls Mrs. Reagan's group -- including Betsy Bloomingdale -- ordering it all the time. "But the ladies were always asking for it to be chopped smaller!" When Wolfgang Puck takes over the Bel-Air's kitchen this fall, he promises to make Mrs. Reagan's salad for her, even though it won't be on the menu.
- Calorie count: 450 to 650
► Chinese Chicken Salad
The famed Chinese chicken salad can be traced back to Santa Monica's Madame Wu's Garden in the 1980s. Silvia Wu combined lettuce with chicken, crispy noodles, ginger and sesame oil. Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Carol Burnett flocked for it. When '80s-era Paramount titan Dawn Steele got a whiff, she had the commissary create one that became so popular, every agent and producer wanted a lunch invite. One of the best in town is Puck's Thai style chicken salad version ($19) at Spago (176 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills). "I took it off the menu once, and had a revolution!" says Puck. Another take on chicken with greens is chef Suzanne Goin's chopped chicken salad ($16) at Tavern (11648 San Vicente Blvd., Brentwood), with radicchio, apples, bacon, blue cheese and mustard vinaigrette. "It's L.A.'s favorite lunch," says Goin. "We do 70 to 80 a day."
- Calorie count (Goin's Chopped): 400 to 600
► The Ivy's Grilled Vegetable Salad
"Mesquite-grilled chicken or fish combined with cold elements -- we invented that," says the Ivy's chef/co-owner Richard Irving (113 N. Robertson Blvd.) of the restaurant's famed salad ($18 and up, depending on protein choice). It's so tasty and healthy, Gwyneth Paltrow re-created it in her cookbook My Father's Daughter. Other restaurants have attempted to imitate it as well. "It's the sincerest form of flattery," says Irving. "But the way we do it, there are a lot of components, so no one can re-create it properly, even though they try." Grilled fresh corn is tossed with avocado, asparagus, tomato, baby lettuce, zucchini and a secret vinaigrette, made fresh every morning. But the piece de resistance is added mesquite-grilled shrimp or free-range chicken. The dish has been on the menu since 1983, Irving says, and "it's still going strong."
- Calorie count: 350; 500 with chicken or shrimp