Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Category: Reviews (page 1 of 9)

Review: David Burke Kitchen in New York; dead at brunch but the food was good

By now you know that my husband drags me to restaurants I would never think of going. I’d stop at the sandwich shop for lunch, but he wants to dine

Feeling a little chunky this morning, when the subject of lunch came up I said I just wanted a salad. He looked for a restaurant in Soho on Open Table and picked David Burke Kitchen. (It goes without saying that if a restaurant isn’t in Open Table, it might as well not exist for my husband.)

Asked how he learned of it, he said, “he’s a boldface-name chef,” as if that explained everything. So be it: David Burke, this one’s for you.

My husband had apparently checked the menu before making the reservation and saw it had salads. Only it didn’t —  at least not on the brunch menu. “There’s a chicken sandwich,” he said hopefully.

I resigned myself to the sandwich and ordered the starter of raw and pickled vegetables. That began my evolution from negative to positive. The vegetables included crunchy tart fennel, baby carrots, cucumber slices and endive with a portion cup of artichoke puree.


My husband, of course, ordered the tater tots with caviar and crème fraiche — a perfect Baby Boomer food snob dish.


The chicken sandwich came with a nice salad of spinach, arugula and raddichio. The sandwich itself was piled high on buttered toasted focaccia: chicken, a homemade mayo with some heat, a celery root slaw, a fat slice of tomato and red onion.

It was delicious, especially because the paillard of chicken was surprisingly warm and juicy. It’s so easy to overcook and dry out a piece of chicken pounded flat.

The whole lunch was more fattening than my modest salad would have been. But I left most of the bread and salad to compensate.


As I write this, hubby is having dessert — a chocolate hazelnut flan — and a leisurely second glass of wine. He’s happy.


And me? Happy too. Life’s full of compromises, and some of them result in good blog posts.

Here’s to you David Burke.

Review: Hao Noodle and Tea by Madam Zhu’s Kitchen in New York

Any restaurant that makes a Top 10 list by a respected critic is likely to please my husband. He collects foodie merit badges like an over eager Boy Scout. So I said, “Next time we are in New York, let’s try this place.”

In this case the list was by Adam Platt of New York Magazine and Grubstreet and the restaurant was Hao Noodle and Tea by Madam Zhu’s Kitchen. The line on this West Village spot is that it’s run by a real Chinese person who isn’t cooking from the Americanized Chinese restaurant guide. “Zhu comes from Chongqing, Sichuan, and operates restaurants in Shanghai, Beijing, and Hangzhou, and she and her chefs create a menu which reflects elements of all of these evolving regional cuisines,” Platt says.

The restaurant also receives high marks for ambience and decor. There are no red lacquer tables and dragon heads here; only a cool farm-to-table vibe. It’s a far cry from the Americanized Chinese  restaurants whose names seem taken interchangably from Column A or Column B of the same limited vocabulary: lucky, Budda, dragon, golden, pearl, garden, lotus, jade, China, Hunan and so on.


From the perspective of one trying to eat in moderation, this is a Chinese restaurant that forgoes the typical American Chinese cuisine. There’s no endless bowl of nutritionally vapid white rice, no portions big enough to wreck a diet in one sitting or provide an enormous portion for the next day or two. Portions are said to be shared, but split among four persons, they amount to a  bite or two each at most. The food itself is not low in fat, but you won’t go home stuffed either.

The menu is seasonally influenced and divided by the type of course: cold salads, hot starters, noodles, mains, dim sum and dessert. It’s unclear how to juggle among them, in what order they will appear or what utensils besides one’s own chopsticks to use to serve oneself or others. Go with people who you like and aren’t worried about germs.

The standouts were delicate, tiny fried meatballs; clay pot dumplings made of minced pork with an egg crepe skin in a savory chicken broth; cauliflower stir-fired with chiles and a seafood pancake that was crispy fried but not greasy. The dan dan noodles were silkier and more subtle than the peanut butter laden variety of a typical restaurant, but kind of bland and boring as a result. Overall, it’s a good bet.

Review: Eat light the rest of the day before going to Revival in Decatur

The only way to eat mindfully at Decatur’s Revival is to eat light the rest of the day. This is not a restaurant with a lot of light-and-healthy choices. It’s a splurge, and a really good one at that.

Revival is an interesting name for this restaurant situated in an old Decatur home just off the downtown area. It’s been the location of at least two failed restaurants. This effort seems likelier to be successful. It’s by Chef Kevin Gillespie, who also owns the new American dim sum restaurant Gunshow in Atlanta.

The inspiration here isn’t the unlucky building, though. The name comes from the Sunday suppers of Gillespie’s youth. It’s southern with all the trimmings.

Diners can order a la carte from the menu, or choose their own entries as part of the family style dinner for $42 a person. Family style includes entree, the sides and choice of dessert. We chose family style, and it was a lot of food.

The amuse bouche was a pork belly — I gave mine away — with pickled green tomatoes.

The salad, if eaten alone, would have been a pretty healthy choice. It was kale, lightly bruised in a dressing of cider vinegar and egg, with apple chunks, pickled onion and locally sourced Thomasville Tomme cheese. It came with exceptionally tender corn bread and honey butter. Of course I had one.

The salad at Revival was was kale with apples, picked onion, Thomasville Tomme cheese and a boiled dressing of apple cider vinegar and egg

Revival’s corn muffins with honey butter

Two of our number had a juicy pork chop; the third the duck and I had the fried chicken. I limited myself to the one small breast piece, and gave away or left the rest. As with any southern restaurant, the sides starred as much as the main courses. The beans in the beans-and-rice were firm; the flavor and texture had not been cooked out of them. The mac ‘n cheese was gooey good. The greens were smoky and rich.

For dessert, three of our group had the fried apple pie with vanilla ice cream. The pastry itself was buttery, flaky, wonderful. I had a ginger cake with cream cheese ice cream. The latter is a strange flavor by itself, but it worked well with the cake. I tasted both desserts, enjoyed them, and shared or left most of mine.

That’s the secret to eating here. Leave some to take home, share with companions or consign to the food recycling gods.

Revival’s ginger cake with cream cheese ice cream

 

 

Review: Le Coq Rico in New York is real food

One wouldn’t call roast chicken a diet food. Some of its flavor surely comes from the oil or butter rubbed on the skin before roasting.

Still, at about 500 calories for 1/4 of the bird, it’s better than a lot of other choices. I don’t like or eat the skin anyway. And at Le Coq Rico it is at least real food, simply prepared and not shot full of fillers, marinades, hormones or antibiotics.

There are no tricks at all at this bistro that made the New York Times’ 10 best list for 2016. Everything, from the cream of chicken soup to the green salad with a tangy vinaigrette, is real food that might have been prepared by a talented home cook. Even the desserts, which included banana, ginger and a really distinctive chestnut ice cream, were homey.

And homey is definitely meant as a compliment here. Go.



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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

What’s it like to stay and eat at Georgia’s top hotel?

The Lodge at Sea Island, Ga., has been declared the best hotel in Georgia by U.S. News and World Report. It is surely the most luxe hotel The Restaurant Dieter has ever stayed in.

When we checked in, the clerk walked us all the way from the desk downstairs to our room on the second floor and gave us an extensive tour of its features. We were feeling pretty smug and important until the journey took us past the plaque on one room noting that Jordan’s King Abdullah had occupied it during the 30th G8 Summit in 2004.

On his tour of the room, the clerk showed us the form to request a nighttime snack of cookies and milk. To test them, I wrote in “chocolate” by the milk, which is, of course, how it arrived at the end of the evening.

We wound up not eating at The Lodge, instead going to its sister resort, The Cloister, which holds the U.S. News & World Report second slot for Georgia, and Southern Tide casual fish restaurant.

I wasn’t in a Restaurant Dieter mood — yes, sometimes I chuck it — and ordered the lobster pot pie. Lucky for me, it wasn’t that good, and I left most of it. The Restaurant Dieter’s husband had a meaty piece of grouper, but wound up with a fever of 103 the next day. The Grady Hospital ER doctor with us prescribed Cipro. Just sayin’.

The only meal at The Lodge was breakfast. The omelet was perfectly cooked, not too much fat, and full of spinach, mushroom and tomato. I managed to kick the hash browns aside, fortunately.

 

Review: Why the service at Murphy’s in Atlanta might save your diet

The Restaurant Dieter is not a mean person. No delight comes from trashing every restaurant. Plus Murphy’s in Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland neighborhood doesn’t deserve it.

It is a perfectly competent restaurant with an admirable track record. It has been around for decades and certainly has some things down pat. For example, if our server was any indication of how they all behave, Murphy’s is great for a person on Weight Watchers or otherwise trying to eat healthy. She recommended dishes and gladly made suggestions on how menu items could be customized to trim the fat.

She even rode to the rescue when I decided it was too cold in the outside patio for my husband and a companion to order desert. She talked to the manager and gave us some to go. Nice.

Otherwise, I’d have to say it was a pretty average night, with the notable distraction of the unseasonably cold weather. You could certainly do worse.

 

 

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