The Restaurant Dieter typically does not really rely on Yelp for recommendations. One reason is the ying-yang nature of the crowd: “it’s the best place ever” co-exists with “They served me fried rat and the host was so rude to me!” Another is the potential for a business to work the system with fake reviews.
But in an unfamiliar area, I do open the app up from time to time just to see what is close by. And I do glance at the reviews. It’s hard not to. I just temper my expectations.
When the claim is “the best turkey sandwich ever,” one has to wonder. I don’t know if I can support that claim, but it was good.
The turkey is not Dietz and Watson or Boarshead or anything else from the deli case. It’s fresh and apparently roasted in the kitchen and sliced to order.
Imagine the surprise of being asked this follow-up question after ordering the dieter staple: “White, dark or both?”
What arrived on the cheapest paper plate was slices of seasoned, but not salty, meat, so juicy it threatened to soak the bread. This kitchen spends the money on what counts.
With a banana, it brought lunch to 6 Weight Watcher points.
If you’re in the village, stop by for a higher quality turkey sandwich than you’re most likely to find anywhere — except your own home perhaps.
At Tenth Avenue Cookshop, everything on the brunch menu looks good. The pastry basket looks wonderful. People all over the place are having big hearty cast iron skillets with luscious huevos rancheros, three eggs with black beans, jack cheese and creme fraiche. The fries are heaping mounds of thin fried goodness. It seemed like a poor choice for a dieter.
There were two salads, the most promising of which was a shrimp salad with radish, shaved carrot and fennel. I ordered that.
We’d sat at the bar and watched the bartenders making drinks. For one popular one, they shoved a fat slice of grapefruit into the glass first. It looked inviting.
The grapefruit was a gift
Although not on the menu, The Restaurant Dieter asked. The server was only too glad to comply, and it didn’t even end up on the bill. The grapefruit was at the peak of season — tart but also sweet. As an unexpected bonus, the salad itself had a few fat slices.
The Weight Watchers point tally was a mere 3 points — 2 for 4 ounces of shrimp and 1 for 1 tablespoon of vinaigrette. It was so low that we ordered the assorted housemade treats — the kind of small sweet things that often turn up at a fine restaurant with the bill. These included a wonderful cherry pistachio nougat and tiny disc of intense orange olive oil cake. I tried them all, assessing myself another 5 points.
If you go, sit and the bar. The folks there will treat you well.
Vegetarian and vegan dining is far from healthy. Tofu and vegetables sound potentially virtuous, but a dish fried in canola oil or sauteed in extra virgin olive oil still drips (often literally) in fat. That glossy sheen is unmistakable.
An awful lot of the food on the menu of Gobo, in the West Village, is likely fattening. Braised tofu, pineapple fried rice, yam fries, crispy spinach and soy cheese wontons; just going down the list makes one think: “Hell, I could just order a Chinese stir fry and be done with it.”
Steamed vegetables with tahini dressing
But the menu is wide, and at least a few items are clearly intended to appeal to the dieter. Take the steamed farm vegetables with tahini dressing or the salt-and-pepper edamame. A meal based on these, with some brown rice on the side, is satisfying indeed. In Weight Watcher points, it was a bargain. A couple of points for the dressing and a couple for a cup of edamame still in their shells.
The item most difficult to assess was a won ton soup. The won tons themselves were meaty, although no meat was used. And the spinach was fresh, barely cooked, from being thrust into a savory (but fortunately not salty) vegetable broth.
With the exception of chains that post their dubious nutritional information online, it’s rare to find a sit-down restaurant that is so transparent.
So imagine the surprise when the menu at Rouge Tomate says a diner need only ask to see complete nutritional information — on everything. “Just a moment,” the waiter says, and suddenly a ring binder lands on the two-top.
Under vinyl page protectors is everything a dieter would want to know, and every single dish appears to be well within that dieter’s reach. Amazing.
A recent Saturday night meal at Rouge Tomate goes down in dieting history as the first and only time The Restaurant Dieter has been able to use Weight Watchers E-tools and figure the points value on before the food came to the table.
Dinner rounded out at a healthy 28 points. I probably ate more than I would have ordinarily, but only because the whole affair was so relatively guiltless.
Where does a restaurant like this come from? The website says the restaurant follows a charter called Sanitas Per Escam, which is Latin for Health Through Food. The whole thing appears to be both a restaurant and a consulting gig rolled into one.
The restaurant is the work of one Emmanuel Verstraeten, a “serial entrepreneur” (his website’s quotation marks, by the way). It’s the New York outpost of a similar restaurant he opened in 2001 in Brussels, according to the website. He is also the founder and CEO of SPE Development US Inc., a consulting company in the area of — you guessed it — healthy food.
In what appears to be a nod toward keeping an ethical distance, the SPE website notes that Rouge Tomate itself is not SPE-certified because “It is SPE Certified’s policy to provide third-party certification only.” Hence the use of the phrase “follows a charter” and the arm’s length. There will be no nutritional self-dealing here apparently.
Anyway, the food was, for the most part, quite good.
Ricotta and carrot spreads
Dinner started with crusty whole grain rolls, accompanied not with butter but two spreads: a savory carrot puree and a house made ricotta cheese. Had I known that, I might not have ordered the toasts, but at 2-3 Weight Watcher points each, why not?
Three come for $13. The spaghetti squash version was the standout, with Maryland crab, honeycrisp apple, jalapeno and cilantro. The cranberry tapanade tasted like…cranberry. The wild mushroom, redolent of thyme on a bed of ricotta, tasted pretty much like the mushroom pate from “The Moosewood Cookbook,” the much-beloved vegetarian cooking bible from the 1970s and 1980s.
The toasts: mushroom, crab and cranberry tapanade
A roasted cauliflower salad with hazelnuts, salted grapes, bok choi and toasted buttermilk really needed a kick of some kind — something acidic or fiery. It arrived looking every bit like a Miro — dips and dabs and squiggles of color all over the plate. Perhaps it’s the trendy technique itself; when a dish is so deconstructed, it can be difficult to get it mixed enough to enjoy the whole effect. It clocked in at a meager 4 Weight Watcher points.
For the main course, 10 Weight Watcher points seemed a small price to pay for a fresh herb pasta tossed with a sauce made from fennel and lobster oil, with a touch of saffron and lemon. A couple fat claws and a small tail of lobster gave the dish enough protein to balance the perfectly al dente tagliatelle, studded here and there with bits of herb. With some broccoli and big wheels of leek to provide fiber, it was a meal any dieter would find satisfying.
The dessert menu offered a range of tiny treats, including a couple with dense chocolate, for as little as 3 points. When a pastry chef is confident enough to express himself or herself through a humble cookie, I’m inclined to order it. The portion for one person consisted of six miniature cookies, including a tiny biscotti and a date brownie, and came with a shooter of apple cider. The latter was so foamy it appeared to have been freshly extracted from a juicer back in the kitchen.
For this part of the meal, I only estimated. So confident was I in the kitchen’s discretion that I forgot to ask the server to bring over the nutritional ring binder one more time. The need for transparency had given way to trust. Now that’s something a dieting restaurant patron doesn’t do every day.
When The Restaurant Dieter started on Weight Watchers, he threatened to have some little calling cards made. He would hand them to the server at the beginning of every restaurant meal. They would say:
“Hello. Nice to meet you. I’m happy to be here. After a lifetime of fighting my weight, I recently joined Weight Watchers. I’m excited and having some success. However, restaurant meals remain a challenge. You can help me, and if you do, you’ll be handsomely rewarded.
“So here’s what I need: Please don’t give me a pained expression when I ask for something special. Please don’t pretend I’m speaking Urdu and that you don’t understand. If I ask a question about how something is prepared and you don’t know, volunteer to go to the kitchen and ask. If you’re unsure, don’t guess. If I ask for something with the sauce on the side, check that it is before you bring the dish out. This is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I thank you in advance for your kind attention.”
The Four Seasons is the kind of restaurant that draws celebrities and Manhattan power couples. Was that elderly woman seated in the airy Pool Room across from us a celebrity? Or was that finely sculpted face reminiscent of Joan Rivers the work of the same plastic surgeon? It can be difficult to tell.
For the serving staff, it probably pays to assume everybody there is famous and to act accordinly. Perhaps that’s why our server was so attentive. Asked about what was good on the menu for somebody watching consumption of fats and oils, he merely asked, in perfectly accented French: What would you prefer?
The kitchen could and would adapt any of the ingredients on the menu to come up with something that would work. When I suggested a dish that had lentils, he demurred. No, they were soaked in rich ingredients and simply wouldn’t do.
It was almost vexing to have such freedom to choose. In that way, it’s also damn clever. If something came out that wasn’t to your liking…well, it is exactly as ordered.
He did endorse the selection of a king crab, apple and mache salad. It arrived looking fresh and clean. A giant lump of crab meat sat atop a spicy dressing, with mache and Granny Smith apple matchsticks to add a tart punch. I counted it as 5 Weight Watchers points — 3 for 6 ounces of lump crab meat and 2 for 2 tablespoons of Italian-type salad dressing.
King crab, mache and apple salad
For the main, I ordered the filet mignon. The menu indicated it came with cauliflower and caperberries, which our server said were laden with fat. He consented to bring the caperberry sauce on the side and said the kitchen would simply steam the cauliflower. All good.
With late night theater tickets, The Restaurant Dieter and his husband opted out of dessert, so what followed next was the meal’s highlight.
Before the check, the server brought the kitchen’s standard petit fours — tiny cookies and sweets, in this case — for The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse. For me, he brought a cup of exquisitely fresh blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.
Never did I have to whip out my fantasy calling card.
In today’s New York Times, restaurant critic Pete Wells joins the long line of NYT reviewers awarding four stars to Le Bernardin.
The review talks about how the restaurant has managed to stay on top after 18 years under the guidance of Chef Eric Ripert. It is a combination of change — in menu and atmosphere — but staying true to fundamentals. And the essence at Le Bernardin is fish, fresh and wonderfully cooked.
It’s been at least four years since my last visit, but I remember it well. I was relatively new on Weight Watchers and uncertain if a meal at a famous restaurant would sabotage my efforts.
It did not. Each dish might be sauced, but the flavors were so rich that a tiny bit augmented the fish perfectly. My next weigh-in went great.
Wells review notes how quickly the menu changes, with one excellent dish replacing another. And last summer, the restaurant itself got a facelift.
Restaurants that have vegetables other than potatoes on the menu are always welcome. That’s especially true if they include legumes, which offer some protein The only problem is that they tend to prepare vegetables with lots of fat, as no one will eat them otherwise.
Witness these two plates from Salumeria Rossi on New York’s Upper West Side. The restaurant’s speciality is mostly Italian meats and cheeses. It’s close by our apartment, and The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse has been eager to try it.
Spotting a caponata and a melange of beans on the menu seemed fortuitous. But what arrived was slathered in oil. Moreover, it was outrageously expensive, even by New York standards. Nine bucks each for a plate of beans and a cup of eggplant?