Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Author: restaurantdieter (page 2 of 24)

Review: at il Giallo in Sandy Springs, you’ll find plentiful vegetables and a flexible staff

When proponents of healthy eating talk about the “Mediterranean diet,” they are talking about Italian food, but not Italian food as it is often consumed in the United States. Here you find huge servings of pasta, drenched in heavy sauces and overwhelmed with cheese. Not for the weight-conscious at all.

In Italy, the Mediterranean diet uses lighter preparations and more vegetables and legumes than you’ll see on the typical Olive Garden menu. My Sicillian grandmother might pair a pasta with a light sauce made from nothing but garlic, olive oil and broccoli. Or peas with a touch of tomato and some of the cooking water from the pasta itself.  One of my favorite restaurants in Rome serves nothing but fried fish and giant white beans cooked with onions in olive oil.

A recent visit to il Giallo Osteria and Bar in Sandy Springs, Ga., allowed The Restaurant Dieter to order just such a meal from a nicely accommodating wait staff. In Weight Watcher terms, a very filling dinner was a mere 14 points.

il Giallo is proudest of the pasta, which is made on-site. This point took a starring role in the server’s menu spiel, which unfortunately went to record length. Pasta can be ordered in a large or half portion for those who wish to have a “primi” in the spirit of a traditional Italian meal: antipasti, a small primi of pasta or risotto and a secundi of meat or fish.

il Giallo’s menu has its share of  rich pastas; this restaurant is in the suburbs of an American city, after all. But one seemed doable if only the butter could be left off. It certainly could, the sever immediately agreed. What arrived were three perfectly cooked tortelli, stuffed with a bit of cheese and an earthy tasting of greens and a modest amount of marinara on the side. It was excellent, and the butter was neither needed nor missed.

 

The tortelli with ricotta and wild greens, minus the butter

The tortelli with ricotta and wild greens, minus the butter

When any restaurant menu has so many vegetable sides — cortoni, as they’re called in Italian — I often make a meal of two or three. There were seven on the il Giallo menu. The the server offered to make a plate of three. It was enormously filling — huge mounds of nicely caramelized cauliflower and golden beet with a bowl of simply prepared cannellini beans.

The kitchen’s presentation on one plate deserves praise, too. It’s embarrassing when a restaurant is so clueless that, even when asked for a vegetarian entree, sends out two or three plates and tries to wedge them onto the table.

All were excellent, but I couldn’t finish. I assessed 7 Weight Watchers SmartPoints for a cup of the beans and another 4 for the fats in the preparation. And were it not for il Giallo’s location — a strip mall off Roswell Road — I felt I might just have been in Rome.

Review: Cafe Sunflower in Atlanta is great vegan, but not necessarily ideal for weight watchers

Vegetarian and vegan restaurants evoke thoughts of healthful plant foods and grains, if not Birkenstocks and skinny people whose thighs are no bigger than my wrist. If you’re watching your weight and looking for that kind of vegetarian restaurant, Cafe Sunflower, with locations in Atlanta  and Sandy Springs, is probably not for you.

It is a wonderful restaurant that elevates vegetables to a sinful delight, and you are just as likely to get fat eating there as not. Like Dirt Candy in New York City, the extensive menu reads and tastes decadent.

My first visit to the Atlanta location was on an unseasonably warm day after Christmas. It was nice enough to sit outside on the narrow patio. It was late in the day for lunch and the hostess was firm: “We close in 10 minutes.”

“Does that mean that I can order?”

“Yes, but quickly.”

OK, not the best welcome, but I learned later from the server that the cooks do indeed hightail it out after the end of the lunch service at 2:30 p.m. Dinner begins at 5 p.m., presumably with a second crew of cooks.

Their hasty departure did not prevent them from serving me a lunch that, while vegan, was sumptuous. Just imagine: those two words together in the same sentence.

Beet carpaccio with cashew cheese and olive pesto

Beet carpaccio with cashew cheese and olive pesto

The starter was a beet carpaccio. Thin raw slices were arranged on a long, rectangular plate with squiggles of superfluous sauce on either side. On top of each beet slice was a dollop of cashew cheese. The combination was wonderfully rich and didn’t seem affected one way or another by a smear of the sauces, described as olive pesto. I couldn’t find a listing for cashew cheese, so I assessed 6 Weight Watchers SmartPoints for 2 tablespoons of cashew butter.

The entree was filling enough that a starter wasn’t really needed at all. A large spinach wrap was stuffed to capacity with quinoa, spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, mashed sweet potato and avocado. It nudged the edge of pool of chipolte aioli, and the small dish of a vegan cheese came on the side, as requested. It was accompanied by a small cup of earthy butternut squash soup and a green salad with a bright, ginger dressing.

Even without the cheese, the burrito was thick and rich. It didn’t look shiny, as if the vegetables had been bathed in an olive oil. But what was inside felt undoubtedly substantial. This clocked in at 6 smartpoints for a cup of quinoa, 5 for a half an avocado, 6 for the spinach wrap. Even with no visible fat, it seemed wise to throw in another 3-4 smartpoints to cover that potential plus the couple of times the burrito hit the chipolte aioli.

Quinoa avocado burrito with butternut squash soup and green salad

Quinoa avocado burrito with butternut squash soup and green salad

For lunch, 26 is a substantial expenditure of points. Too much, really. Half the burrito would have sufficed. The Restaurant Dieter paid for it, too.

The whole affair called for a nap that ended with heartburn — a rare event when I’m eating light and healthy. All the contributing factors were probably at play: the position of the lower esophageal sphincter when laying down, too much food, meals high in fats and oils (animal or vegetable) and likely, garlic and onions somewere in the preparation.

But I couldn’t stop.

On my second visit, I resolved to consume fewer calories and ordered a decent squash soup and the warm quinoa veg plate. On the latter, the name proved as accurate and boring as the dish itself. I’m sure the chef would say it was my own fault.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Ravioli

Ravioli

Meanwhile, my companions reveled in the menu’s delights: excellent steamed dumplings with cabbage, carrot, tofu and black mushrooms; crispy (read: deep fried) brussels sprouts; the sunflower burger; and the Kabocha squash ravioli.

I felt so deprived that I wound up ordering a slice of their rich, dense, coconut cake and eating every crumb.

Wonderful yes, but not a low fat outing.

Coconut cake

Coconut cake

 

Why exotic locales are hell on your diet

Going on vacation is hell on a diet, period. This is doubly true in a country where one has to be careful about what he eats and drinks — say Mexico, China and Cuba.

Two of the three above landed The Restaurant Dieter on an antibiotic. For the Mexico trip some years back, I thought those fears about the water were overblown. So I ate lots of produce washed in the local stuff and consumed water and ice cubes with abandon. I brushed my teeth with the bottled water the hotel provided and figured that was enough. Until it wasn’t.

For China in fall 2015, I followed the U.S. Department of State’s advice on eating abroad and returned without incident. But my diet was lacking in satisfying, uncooked and low fat fruits and vegetables. I came home heavier than I’d been in quite awhile.

Earlier this month, in Cuba, I took a Pepto Bismol before every meal and tried to strike a balance. At the start, I skipped the healthful vegetables and ate meat-and-carb-laden meals: pork, chicken, lobster, black beans and rice; and ropa vieja, the shredded beef that is the national dish.

Paella

Paella

But I missed raw vegetables and gradually added them back in as the week went on. The result? Cipro again.

The problem, of course, is that while the water in many countries is perfectly safe for those used to drinking it, there may be pathogens that our bodies cannot tolerate.

Flan

Flan

Of course, complaining about dieting in Cuba misses the point. Cuba’s economy is reeling from the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and a U.S. embargo that was strengthened in the 1990s. During that period, our guide said food was so hard to come by that every Cuban lost 25 percent of his body weight.

Although the Cuban state provides a guaranteed allocation of food for every person in need, it’s meager. The state-run ration store we visited had mostly empty shelves, and the extras were expensive. A can of beans cost 56 cents — in a country where the average wage is $20 a month. Cubans are pinning all their hopes for a stronger economy on President Obama’s visit and a subsequent thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations, but nothing is certain.

It makes you realize how much of a privilege it is to be eating from the cream of Cuba’s burgeoning restaurant scene and dieting at all.

A 60-cent can of beans is expensive on a $20 a month salary

A 60-cent can of beans is expensive on a $20 a month salary

Weight Watchers weigh-in: Steady is good

Sometimes a weigh-in that’s steady or even slightly up is good enough. That’s especially true after two weeks of travel for both pleasure and business.

“I’m sure there’s something there that you can eat,” they say.

The only non-beef sandwich is a veggie burger that clocks in at 520 calories, 25 grams of fat, 57 of carbs and 18 of protein.

And as I’ve reported before, there is nothing remotely healthy about the gourmet burger menus, however grass fed the beef may be.

Review: Assembling your own salad at Atlanta’s Mi Cocina is smart indeed

When the subject is eating healthy, a Mexican chain restaurant seems an unlikely choice. But this Weight Watcher passed by two other restaurants to eat at Mi Cocina in Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood.

Two reasons:

  1. The menu offers a perfectly dieter-friendly ceviche that is spicy, fresh and quite filling.
  2. The Mexican restaurant ubiquitous basket of tortilla chips is not salted, making it possible to eat just six and no more. A salty meal, with its addictive properties, can trigger a binge day that doesn’t end.
The lettuce

The lettuce

The ceviche is full of healthy ingredients

The ceviche is full of healthy ingredients

Mi Cocina appears to be a small chain based in Texas, with restaurants in Dallas and Houston. The menu is pretty typical: tacos, enchiladas, some salads, guacamole, fajitas and nachos. Usually at a Mexican restaurant, I order fajitas. I request that the cook pluck them from whatever oily marinade they are in, rinse them under the sink and grill them dry. With some pico de gallo, guacamole and corn tortillas, it’s a reasonable choice.

Mi Cocina’s ceviche is a smaller portion than it used to be, but it is still a nice mix of shrimp, jicama, mango, avocado and red onion in a cilantro-lime vinaigrette. The restaurant does not publish nutritional information, but My Fitness Pal estimates it at 109 calories, 4 grams of fat and 10 grams of protein. That comes to 3 Weight Watchers SmartPoints.

The ceviche great on its own, but today I ordered a salad — blue cheese dressing on the side, no bacon and no crisp friend onions. The server was so stunned, he stammered: “Without those things, there really isn’t anything to the salad but the lettuce.” Perfect.

When it arrived, I dumped the ceviche over the lettuce, added about a tablespoon of the dressing and mixed it all up. “That’s pretty smart,” he said.

Yes, it was. So smart I had six of those unsalted chips.

Tortilla chips come unsalted

Tortilla chips come unsalted

 

 

 

Weight Watchers weigh-in: down .6 is at least down

After one weigh-in where my weight was up, I took no chances. I wore the thinest microfiber T-shirt and yoga pants. Whew. Down .6 pounds.

 

Can a person watching his weight eat at these restaurants that the foodies are honoring?

The James Beard Awards have become the Oscars of the restaurant world in the 30 years the foodie world has doled them out. Atlanta typically fares pretty good — at least in the nominations phase. This year is no exception.

Staplehouse in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward was nominated for Best New Restaurant. I’ve eaten there, although not for a regular review. I was with friends who did all the paying and ordering. It was amazingly well-cooked food, and some of it was healthy if not quite low fat .

For example, a dish of roasted mushrooms, farro piccolo, sunflower and egg was earthy and filling in that way that whole grains are. (A half cup of uncooked farro is 170 calories, 1.5 grams of fat and 6 of protein.) But it managed to taste rich and decadent at the same time, thanks to the oozy egg. Our table liked it so much that the host ordered a second. It is still on the constantly changing menu. Most of the rest of what we consumed that night is not, but it was all good.

Among the others mentioned, here’s what I can tell you

The nominees will be narrowed to finalists March 15 with winners announced May 2, according to ajc.com.

Yes, you can eat healthily at the Delta Sky Club. Here’s how.

Finally, something to drink: mint-cucumber water and unsweetened ice tea

Finally, something to drink: mint-cucumber water and unsweetened ice tea.

In my fantasy, a new branch of the Transportation Security Administration has taken over at U.S. airports. Instead of screening for terrorists, it screens for the kind of awful food that repels most people and makes dieters fat.

“Please empty your trucks of all huge cookies over 3 inches in diameter. All of them,” the stern TSA agent says when the restaurant supply truck arrives. “Fast food, too. I’m sorry, but there is no Chick-fil-A allowed beyond the screening point.”

Alas, Delta Airlines is subject to no such screening in real life, so the food at its many Sky Clubs is a mixed bag. The menu has undergone some experimentation in the last year or so, and more healthy choices have been added. I can remember a time when it was pretty much cocktails, beer and wine, soda, salty snacks and cookies.

Vegetables are always welcome

Vegetables are always welcome

The most recent visit took me to the Sky Club on Concourse T of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport for an evening flight. The club had recently been renovated. One area had been renovated to look like a little cafe with a buffet.

There were several new choices to cheer:

  • Cucumber and mint water and unsweetened ice tea. So many people have given up any soda, so this is a great addition.

    Hummus

    Hummus

  • Hummus
  • Lettuce
  • Cauliflower florets, celery sticks, broccoli and baby carrots
  • Lightly salted popcorn
  • Oranges, apples, bananas
  • A Texas caviar made of black-eyed peas and vegetables

Less helpful were:

  • Soft cookies
  • Those incredibly tempting salty snacks
  • The pimento cheese

    The vegetables in this antipasto salad are sitting in a thick coating of fat.

    The vegetables in this antipasto salad are sitting in a thick coating of fat.

  • The soups. Like most commercial soups, they are salty and set that salt craving binge in motion. One bowl and you’re binging the rest of the night.
  • An antipasto salad that was all vegetables, though soaked in a ton of oil

At breakfast, there are now hard-cooked eggs (though strangely perfectly formed and kind of tasteless), better-tasting yogurt and a citrus salad besides the huge, bready and nutritionally vapid bagels.

Hat’s off to Delta for all the changes.

image

Hard-cooked eggs at a Delta Sky Club

 

 

Weight Watchers weigh-in: A bad day registers a gain, but a good walk helps

The weather app said the temperature in New York was 18 degrees, but would feel like 1 degree with the wind chill. It did.

The weather app said the temperature in New York was 18 degrees, but would feel like 1 degree with the wind chill. It did.

The day before my most recent weigh-in was one of those days when one questionable decision leads to many. The result was on the scale: For the first time since October, I’d gained weight from one Weight Watchers weigh-in to the next.

I was up 1.6 pounds. It all started with a single doughnut hole. It ended with me snacking on shredded wheat squares out of the box just before bedtime, which a really bad idea with a weigh-in the next morning.

The new, more forgiving and Oprah-fied Weight Watchers is trying to squelch the self-recrimination that some people feel when they have a less-than-desirable weigh-in. That makes sense to me. Nothing encourages an emotional eater to eat more than guilt does. It’s more important to set it aside and refocus anew.

Which is what I did with a walk around New York, from our place on the Upper West Side to the Bryant Park-Public Library area and then to Times Square for a show. My weather app said it was 18 degrees, but felt 1 degree with the wind chill. So I bundled up and it was fine. And by mid-day, I’d already walked almost 4 1/2 miles.

We walk a lot when we are in New York

We walk a lot when we are in New York

Older posts Newer posts