I never met a doughnut I didn't like. Unfortunately, salads are something else again. They've always seemed to me like the little patch of hell one must go through to get to the purgatory of the main course. And on to heaven, dessert.
But there is one salad that is a main course and a desert together -- two, two, two treats in one. It is the salad at Musso and Frank's Grill, which bills itself as the oldest restaurant in Hollywood and which is certainly one of the best in Los Angeles.
No preening here, no headstretching to see who's at the next table, although I did catch Jack Webb, in bright red socks, at what might be considered the head table once. Good heavens, at Musso's -- which is what we aspiring bicoastals call it -- they don't even have valet parking, an L.A. staple that you normally find everywhere but the bank and the dry cleaners. (There is a parking lot in the back, though, and there are just as many 450-SLs parked there as at almost any other eatery.)
Inside, which is what counts, there are two large dining rooms; one -- the narthes -- is a fairly standard, white-tablecloth room for the B-crowd, and the other, the more hallowed chamber, is smaller but furnished completely with booths, the big, cushy, comfortable kind, for the A-set or anyone who puts his foot down and insists on waiting for a table to open up there.
It is said that F. Scott Fitzgerald sat in these booths to eat dinner. Or at least sat at the bar to get sloshed.
In all the times I've eaten at Musso's, I still don't know what the official specialty of the house is, but for me, it's the chef's salad, a filling, festive -- why, one might even say fabulous, this being Hollywood and all -- creation that is better than any salad I ever had anywhere else. Better than the town's more famous Cobb Salad at the Brown Derby, which, when I ordered it once, turned out to be a disappointing, fey little bushel of greens and stuff chopped up so tiny you didn't know what they were.
Musso and Frank's is not a pretentious salad. Or one that comes with delusions of grandeur about alleged healthfulness; it doesn't look like the Salinas Valley in miniature and you don't have the feeling that you are eating somebody's lawn. It's an urban salad, a forthright salad. Most salads are sissies. This one is a stunt man.
It goes great with a Tab. And at Musso's, they serve Tab in a bottle. This is some classy place, baby!
Now, we dispatched our reluctant operative, Juliette McGrew of Santa Monica, Calif., to find out what it is that makes Musso and Frank's salad so sublime, so stupendous, so colossal. Our operative, as it happens, once kept us waiting 45 minutes at Musso's for a dinner date because she was in the back of the restaurant and we were in the front and she didn't have the sense to -- oh, never mind.
Her report comes to us by satellite from the land of odd.
"The house dressing," chief distinguishing factor in the salad, "is a secret," McGrew says, but after she made a terrible fuss, which is her favorite form of exercise, the chef did concede that it was a simple variation of a creamy French dressing. And he was willing to list the other ingredients in the salad, which McGrew, obviously relishing the Woodward-and-Bernstein aspects of this caper, dictated like so:
"The ingredients are: half and half iceberg lettuce and romaine, torn up in little bits; 1 hardboiled egg, grated; a few shoestring beets; half and half swiss cheese and american cheese, julienned; some cooked roast beef, smoked beef tongue -- yech! [just give the recipe, you operative, you] -- corned beef, chicken or turkey, all julienned.
"Now you take a whole bunch of the lettuce, already torn, add to a half a cup of meat and cheese all mixed up, and toss it."
What about the dressing?
"You pour it over the salad, you blithering idiot!"
Oh, to be there now. To wait for 15 minutes in a crowded alcove even if you have a reservation. To be seated at last in one of the wood-backed booths by the maitre d' in the velveteen jacket. To have to repeat the order to one of the green-coated waiters. To inform the green-coated waiter that the lady wishes yet another drink. To eat the sourdough bread. To greet the aluminum salad bowl with the already-tossed salad brimming around the edges.
To walk out the door and behold the Pussycat Theater and Frederick's of Hollywood.
People don't know how beautiful Hollywood can be until they've eaten the salad at Musso and Frank's. If there are already a million reasons to love Los Angeles, this is triumphantly number one million and one.