Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Category: Binges (page 1 of 2)

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

New York’s famed Carnegie Deli ‘will reopen in 2016’

Carnegie Deli says it’s determined to reopen in 2016. That message to its adoring fans comes via the restaurant’s website itself and, ironically, the website Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York.

“We would like to set the record straight. Carnegie Deli will reopen in 2016. We are ONLY temporarily closed,” according to the report. The midtown New York institution closed in April because of an unauthorized gas hookup and has had a string of troubles since.

Carnegie’s reputation in part comes from superhuman portions  — typically 1 pound of meat per sandwich — and sharing charges that discourage sharing. Yes, I have in fact eaten a whole sandwich there. And yes, the restaurant’s motto is, “If you can finish your meal, we’ve done something wrong.”

Just for sport, The Restaurant Dieter Googled the phrases “Carnegie Deli” and “Weight Watchers” and this is all that came up.

You’d be justifed for wondering how an item about Carnegie turned up on this website. Well, it turns out that Carnegie Deli does in fact have some good salads on the menu. And you can always go with a friend and take the tiniest bite of his Reuben. Heaven.

Travel makes it hard for Weight Watchers

Nothing upsets Weight Watchers progress like travel does. In October, The Restaurant Dieter returned from 21 days in China, close to 10 pounds shy of his all-time-high weight. It’s more muscle this time around, but it was still too close for comfort. Literally. The pants were too tight.

Travel makes eating right and dieting hard

Travel makes eating right and dieting hard

He started the current holiday at The Lodge at Sea Island, a luxury golf resort where the staff was so obsequious that it almost hurt. Breakfast was a winner: 3 egg omelet with spinach and shrimp. By leaving the hash browns, he started yesterday off right.

Now he’s at the Lodge on Little St. Simons Island, off the Georgia coast, with friends for a long weekend. The private island is owned by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. This annual weekend is the kind of holiday that could be all about the activity and recreation — or about the food. This one is both. There are all kinds of activities from which to choose: biking, hiking, kayaking, fishing, bird watching.

But the whole group of about 30 gets together over meals. What comes out of the kitchen is invariably good. This morning it was vegetable frittata, fresh biscuits, butter and jam, creamy cheesy grits, bacon, fruit. A normal breakfast is a single egg, a slice of low-fat cheese and two pieces of dry, whole wheat toast. When you’re traveling on holiday, things just add up.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. Yesterday, before arriving on the island, I made the car stop at the local market. I bought apples, clementines, walnuts, humus, shredded wheat and a couple of packages of baby carrots. Yesterday before dinner, I had some carrots and humus in the hope of reducing consumption once things started rolling. But then, once among the crowd, I engaged with the cheese platter, had the pretzels with hot mustard and then at dinner, ate a couple of pieces of the crusty raisin walnut loaf, two-and-a-half crab cakes, cous cous and roasted cauliflower. I tasted but left most of the too-sweet caramel ice cream.

But still, by the time I went to bed, heartburn — from eating late, from eating rich, from eating too much. Ugh.

Lunch is likely to be a shrimp boil at the beach. Most years, we bike to the beach for this event. But it was rainy yesterday, and the road is likely to be full of rainy potholes. The shuttle it is. Weenie.

A Weight Watchers take on Eater’s list of 38 essential restaurants

The website Eater just released its “National Eater 38: Where to Eat in 2016.” The list was compiled by Eater’s excellent critic, Bill Addison, whom I once tried to hire to write about restaurants for a major publication. Here’s my take on the three restaurants that I’ve sampled, two of them before The Restaurant Dieter launched.

Alinea, Chicago

This place was high on the husband’s list, in part because it’s been honored and celebrated like there’s no tomorrow. The chef is Grant Achatz, who has the distinction of being this genius chef — who lost his sense of taste due to cancer. Really. You couldn’t make this up.

Our meal consisted of like 19 itty-bitty tasting menu courses that might have been invented by a mad scientist. Each time one arrived, our helpful server explained precisely how to eat it. The little white ball in a green liquid was to be tossed back all at once, allowing the ball to collapse and merge its contents with the green liquid. Another dish was set on a pillow of scented air, which slowly deflated and added — we were told — to the sensory experience. Today I can’t remember a thing about the dishes, only the voluble instruction.

The scene was so ripe for parody that when coffee arrived, I asked the server: “Is there some special way we’re supposed to consume this?”

Gunshow, Atlanta

I was so eager to try this restaurant for several reasons: One, the chef was Kevin Gillespie, whose food, whose aw-shucks geniality and ginger bear modesty made him the fan favorite on Bravo’s sixth season of “Top Chef.” Two, I’d eaten at his Woodfire Grill in Atlanta, which was excellent. Three, the restaurant adopted a new serving style akin to Chinese dim sum. The cooks make the rounds with trays and carts; diners choose what looks good, as many or as few plates as they like.

You might guess what happened: Our foursome wanted to taste everything, often taking more than one of each. We wound up eating way more than we should have — not good for one watching calorie intake carefully. When the bill arrived, it was more than $400 — without alcohol. Gulp.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Las Vegas

This was my second visit to one of Joel Robuchon’s restaurants; I’d visited its twin in Paris. Both featured tasting menus, served at counters that offered a bird’s eye view of the kitchen doing the work. Every course was modest and crafted with considerable care. Were it not for the crusty French bread, it might have been a modestly healthy meal. But good bread is hard to resist. The full review is here.

 

Review: Little Park in New York City’s TriBeCa

The Restaurant Dieter has said it before: When the reservation is at a restaurant serving only a prix fixe or tasting menu, there’s not a whole lot a Weight Watchers member can do. This is especially true when the occasion is New Year’s Eve at Little Park in TriBeCa with friends.

Depending on how you behave with the bread basket, the situation can either wind up an all-out binge or a reasonable meal that wipes out your weekly bonus of Weight Watchers SmartPoints. I chose the latter.

Lobster, charred meyer lemon, mustard greens

Lobster, charred meyer lemon, mustard greens

Little Park is one of those places I’d never heard of, but my friend who is up on the New York restaurant scene said it had become the favorite of women doing power lunches. It makes the New York Times’ best list at The Scoop.

Each of the courses offered a choice of two options, so I asked the server what would be healthiest and lowest fat. Then I followed her direction for all courses, except for the last one, where I picked the lobster with charred meyer lemon and mustard greens.  If you’re going to make a decision not to count points, embrace it.

The meal took a leisurely three hours, providing lots of time to catch up with friends. Each course was excellent. Portions were modest, as tends to be the case on tasting menus at fine restaurants. A rich dish like the squash tart with brown butter, sage and maple arrives at a modest 2-3 ounces. It was so rich and earthy that a second or third might have been nice. (It’s on the regular dinner menu, by the way.)

Rye corzetti with potato, smoked trout roe

Rye corzetti with potato, smoked trout roe

The server had recommended the rye corzetti over the cauliflower risotto for the pasta course. Corzetti was a mystery, but it turns out to be large circles of pasta. The combination of the rye flower, an almost-not-there sauce, the size of the portion and the perfect al dente preparation made it almost seem like a diet food. Again, I could have eaten a large bowl.

Which suggests a future visit along with New York’s power-lunching women. The menu has lots of items that call to folks trying to eat healthy. The brunch menu, in particular, has great offerings such as a multigrain waffle and coconut and spelt pancakes. See you there.

 

 

 

Candy at lunch, but I don’t have to starve the rest of the day

I thought this was it for the day, but the rest of the day was just salad and eggs. Still have 9 pts left for dinner.

Dieting aboard the Queen Mary 2 is nearly impossible

Scones with clotted cream and jam in Bath, England; we started eating them before we even got on the ship

For a chunk of June, healthy eating disappeared for this Weight Watchers member. Once aboard the floating luxury hotel that is the Queen Mary 2, all diets were escorted quickly to the gang plank and marched off the end into the Atlantic Ocean.

And the passengers cheered: “Bring us tea with sandwiches, pastries and scones with clotted cream and jam!”

The Restaurant Dieter’s Spouse had wanted to do an Atlantic Ocean crossing for some time. Note the choice of words. A cruise is a trip on which one sails from port to port, getting off for day trips. In fact, the QM2 has some cruises on its schedule.

But this was a voyage on an ocean liner. It crossed the 7.8 million square mile body of water in seven days. We  boarded at Southhampton, England, and disembarked a week later after passing the Statue of Liberty on our way to New York City.

The QM2 never stops, leaving plenty of time for on-board activities. These include reading, exercising, playing board games or shuffleboard, watching movies, listening to live music or a lecture, dancing, competing at trivia and napping to the sound of the waves.

Oh, did I mention eating? Yes, that, too.

In fact, food was available all day. And much of it was excellent, whether in the second-class dining room or at the buffet. Cunard, which operates the QM2 and other ships, prides itself in the quality of its high-end cooking and celebrated chefs.

To secure a stateroom with chaise lounges on the balcony, we booked for what is essentially second class. That meant we took our meals in the fairly intimate Princess Grill. Third class dined in the cavernous Britannia Restaurant, with two assigned seatings every night. For those with the big bucks, there was the Queens Grill. Everyone was welcome to partake in the Kings Court buffet, which was fairly well mobbed during lunch and dinner.

The QM2 is notable for its partnership with the health spa, Canyon Ranch, which we’ve visited both in Tucson and The Berkshires. The exercise and spa facilities were branded Canyon Ranch, and a Canyon Ranch balanced meal was on the menus at both lunch and dinner. They provided enough information to accurately assess how many Weight Watchers points were in a meal.

But did I order the CR selection? Hell no I didn’t. You think I’m nuts?

There was one night when the Princess Grill menu offered chateaubriand and grilled lobster tails. Pasha, our ever-diligent waiter, suggested that both could be combined into a really nice surf-and-turf. But he brought them out as separate plates, so I wound up with the steak plus two meaty lobster tails. Of course we ate them both.

The menu offered rich selections such as gratin dauphinoise potatoes, baked Alaska and duck a l’orange, some of it dramatically finished at the table. It was possible to have both a dessert and a cheese course. The servers didn’t stint: the latter might include 2-3 ounces each of five different cheeses.

The servings on the cheese plate were huge

Tea was every day at 3 or 3:30 p.m. — barely after lunch. It included little finger sandwiches with cucumber, egg salad or shrimp salad, but also pastries and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. In the Queens Grill Lounge, where first and second classes took their tea, the scones came out hot, soft and fresh in the hands of white-gloved waiters.

If the regular dining room or the buffet didn’t tempt, there was a grill on the top deck serving burgers and a pub a few decks below that offered fish-and-chips, cottage pie and bangers-and-mash every day. After a night out, walking back to the stateroom could involve passing through the buffet, where the late snack might include sandwiches, Chinese food, prepared salads, pizza, pasta and cakes and pies. The Commodore Club, where we stopped for a drink nearly every day before dinner, had a 12 page menu with no food. Whew! But even then, waiters came by with pate or brie-and-grapes on crackers or battered shrimp and chicken bites.

For breakfast in particular, I tried to be good, at least after I started ordering a vegetable omelet, made using cooking spray instead of butter. It took a couple of days of British-style scrambled eggs first, however. I didn’t know then that their soft, fluffy texture comes from using cream, whole milk or creme fraiche in the preparation.

One day, I badly needed a large salad, which wasn’t on the menu. Pasha merely asked the kitchen to double one of the salads on the menu, put the dressing on the side and add a grilled chicken breast and hard-cooked egg.

But that was one day in an otherwise wild-ass food orgy. I went to the gym every day and ate right the week I returned. I managed to weigh in only 1 pound over my typical 207 pounds.

And that felt good. Not nearly as good, mind you, as the food coma that comes right after tea, but good.

Home, where we lapse into our bad habits

The Restaurant Dieter is visiting family in suburban Detroit again. Yesterday’s post was about a virtuous lunch at Red Lobster. Then for dinner, we cooked grilled chicken, broccoli, salad and corn on the cob. No butter or oil, except on the salad.

Q: So why did I finish the day with half a bag of potato chips?

A: Because it’s there, of course. Old patterns die hard

Post NRA breakfast: Back to normal

Let’s hope today gets The Restaurant Dieter back on track. After two grueling food days at The National Restaurant Association show in Chicago, I’m back in Atlanta. Breakfast today was a high-fiber English muffin, a poached egg and a slice of no-fat Swiss cheese.

Time for a shower and to scour the closet for the loosest trousers I own.

NRA Show Report: I feel sleepy and fat

Broasted? It looks fried to me

For two days now, The Restaurant Dieter has eaten like a typical American. At the National Restaurant Association annual show at McCormick Place in Chicago. I’ve sampled fried chicken fingers, Philly cheesesteaks, flatbread pizzas, meatballs, German soft pretzels, gelato, quinoa salad and one heckuva good little red velvet cupcake.

Pastries anyone?

Is it any wonder that I’m waiting in the Delta Sky Club and can barely keep my eyes open. I feel sluggish, bloated and incredibly fat. I want to take a nap.

An antidote might be the kind of nutritionally virtuous meals I try to eat, mostly at home where I can control the ingedients, the final result and the portion: Lots of lean proteins and vegetables, unrefined carbs like brown rice and quinoa. It’s amazing how quickly food that’s good for you can power up the body and make one feel better.

But I am stuck at O’Hare Airport, where the choices are the salty and sweet snacks that are free inside the Sky Club or the Chili’s by Gate F3.

Which brings me back to the show and all it says about eating out in the good old USA. It’s a mixed bag — but mostly depressing, really. President Bill Clinton gave the Sunday keynote address, lauding the industry for its effort to combat childhood obesity. It seems unlikely he toured the exhibit hall, however. The newly vegan and thinner Bill would have been appalled at what he saw.

More desserts

There were some encouraging signs. A section of the exhibit hall was devoted to organic and natural products, with gluten-free being all the rage. Beverage exhibitors offered more  fortified waters, juices and teas to balance the high fructose corn syrup products that have liability lawyers sniffing around Coke and Pepsi like they were the tobacco lobby.

One of the products winning an innovation award was a “no salt” tomato sauce from ConAgra, the giant food service company typically blamed for our obesity problem. Another was from two entrepreneurs who say they’ve managed to create a whole wheat pasta from a proprietary wheat that tastes more like white pasta.

But unhealthy food just plain overshadowed these efforts.

One section of the hall was labeled “Healthier Kids Fare,” but it had just 14 exhibitors. The only fresh vegetables were at the booths hawking knives and cutting equipment. The show comprised 1,800 exhibitors showing items such as dishwashing systems, menu boards, knives, dishes, smokers, fry machines (of course) and carry out containers.

In the next few weeks, I’ll continue to report on the show. Right now, I hear the Sky Club’s mustard pretzel mix calling.

Sigh.

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