Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Category: Reviews (page 2 of 9)

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.

 

 

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: Leaving hungry from Bread & Butterfly in Atlanta’s Inman Park neighborhood

Potato and Raclette gratin

Potato and Raclette gratin

When Bread & Butterfly opened in Atlanta’s Inman Park neighborhood a month or so ago, The Atlanta Journal Constitution said it evoked “cozy Euro-style cafés, whether in Paris or Manhattan, with copper ceiling tiles, patterned floor tiles, marble accents and, of course, café tables.” Perhaps that’s why the portions are so small.

That might seem like a lucky break for someone on Weight Watchers. The portion size at some American restaurants — Cheesecake Factory, for instance  — often is gargantuan.

Soft scrambled eggs and cold smoked trout

Soft scrambled eggs and cold smoked trout

But the portions here were so tiny that The Restaurant Dieter left hungry and just had an apple with some deli turkey. The only thing that emerged from the kitchen as a standard portion was pancakes that a friend ordered.

The brunch menu has just 17 items. including two high-fat sides (frites and creamed kale) and marinated olives for $5. So it was a pretty limited menu.

Three salads: marinated beets, celery root auvergne, lentils and mushrooms

Three salads: marinated beets, celery root auvergne, lentils and mushrooms

I opted for the three salads: marinated beets, celery root auvergne and lentils and mushrooms.

The dish came with three slices of baguette; 1/2 to 3/4 cup of lentils in a vinaigrette; a single beet; and celery root in a thin mayonnaise-based dressing. I figured 3 Weight Watchers Smart Points for the dressings and 4 for the lentils and left the bread.

As a starter, I had the citrus with yogurt and honey. It consisted of a few grapefruit sections, a few clementine sections atop and honey on the side, as requested.

Citrus, yogurt and honey

Citrus, yogurt and honey

It was a nice menu option, but again tiny. I counted it as the fruit (0 points) and 1/2 cup plain regular-fat yogurt (3 points).

There’s no reason a 10-point meal should leave one hungry. But this one did.

Topping it off, a friend asked for a skim milk latte. Answer: we don’t have it. The requested dinner menu never arrived, so no telling whether it’s any better later in the day.

Ice tea

Ice tea

About the only high point was the iced tea, which came with a nice carafe for multiple refills.

 

Review: Pearl & Ash in New York City

When The Restaurant Dieter asked how his husband discovered Pearl & Ash, he slyly replied, “Oh, I’ve seen it on some lists.” While The RD struggles to count Weight Watchers points, his spouse lives for sampling The Restaurants That Count. Apparently Pearl & Ash is one of them.

“Since it opened in February, the restaurant has become the city’s most exciting place to drink wine,” the New York Times critic Pete Wells said in 2013. The RD’s husband also is a wine snob. He subscribes to several wineries’ mail order programs, has the wine delivered to the office and stored in an undisclosed location away from home and away from my prying eyes. You can imagine the pull that review exerted.

The upside is that his hobby provides plenty of material for The Restaurant Dieter, so I guess everybody wins.

The winningest thing about my meal this week was the server, who was engaging and accommodating. Of course, we ate at the ungodly hour of 5:30 p.m. Saturday, and even she confessed there wasn’t much else to do.

The dinner menu was small — a half an 8 1/2-by-11 sheet of paper — with about 20 items including dessert. Normally, this is a bad sign for plentiful healthy options, but there were several the server recommended. I tried them all:

  • Charred rapini, parmesan, fresno chiles and sour peanuts. The parmesan came in the form of a thick paste smeared on the bottom of the bowl, with everything else smeared on top.
    Rapini with parmesan

    Rapini with parmesan

    This could have been a lower fat dish by eating less of the parmesan paste. The server said it was 2 parts heavy cream to 1 part parmesan cheese. The slightly bitter rapini combined with the creamy parmesan worked. I smeared up every bit of it. That turned this little starter into 6 Weight Watchers Smart Points (2 tablespoons heavy cream and 1 of parmesan).

  • Beets, satsuma orange, pistachios and aged pecorino. Everybody’s got a beet salad, and despite the visual display of all sizes, shapes and colors, this one was really pretty average. The satsuma orange could just as easily been a Mandarin from a can. I had to look it up. A satsuma is…a type of Mandarin orange. Meh.
  • A perfectly cooked portion of cod with diced fennel, nicoise olives in an onion broth. It came in a bowl and with a spoon, of course.
    Cod in onion broth

    Cod in onion broth

    Given the size of the portion — the server said 3 ounces — I treated it like the soup it seemed to be. I estimated it at 1 point for the cod, and another 2 points for any mysterious fat in the preparation.

The best thing I tasted, unfortunately, was my spouse’s dessert: a rich brownie, sitting in a pool of the darkest caramel sauce I’ve ever seen, topped with a bourbon ice cream and a meringue. Two tastes of that had to be another 2-3 points.

Through all this, The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse read the wine list and occasionally made small talk. The “city’s most exciting place to drink wine.” Uh-huh.

Brownie with bourbon ice cream

Brownie with bourbon ice cream

 

Review: Bar Américain in New York City

To call Bobby Flay a celebrity chef is an understatement. The guy is everywhere — on Iron Chef and other cooking shows; on game shows like “Jeopardy” and “Celebrity Poker Throwdown”; on TMZ dueling with his ex over her boob job.

Chef Bobby Flay

Chef Bobby Flay

Is one of his restaurants really the place to go on New Year’s Day for brunch when you’re dead serious about eating healthy? Um, yes.

The Restaurant Dieter’s pals had reserved Bar Americain, described as an American brasserie. The brunch menu mixes things up with a hint of French, some Southern, some Southwestern.  But there are plenty of choices for a Weight Watchers member hoping to keep the points expenditure to a minimum.

They start with an extensive raw bar and shellfish platters going for $75 and $120. Then there are salads like a southwestern Cobb, mani-mahi tacos and spicy tuna tartare. And should your friends want something richer there are two kinds of eggs Benedict, croissant French toast and a burger.

Housemate chips with blue cheese dip

Housemate chips with blue cheese dip

The staff pushes a side of hot potato chips with a blue cheese sauce for a side, which we, of course, ordered. I had one large chip with the barest taste of the blue cheese sauce. It tasted exactly as you’d expect — very Flay-like and totally unsubtle. One guesses this $9 side does quite well for him, but I wasn’t dying for more.

That same server who pushed the chips, however, was a complete pro when it came to adjusting my choice, the tacos. “I can leave the sauce on the side,” he offered, without my asking.

The entire dish comes pretty well deconstructed anyway — two 3-inch flour tortillas, bib lettuce for wrapping, a pineapple-and-macadamia-nut relish, pickled onions, a hot red pepper sauce and julienned papaya and cabbage slaw. Mine came with a citrus sauce on the side, thanks to the accommodating server’s offer. It wasn’t needed, anyway. There were plenty of interesting flavors among the condiments that were provided.

I tracked the whole of it as 1 flour tortilla (3 points); 4 ounces mahi-mahi (1 point); 1 teaspoon macadamia nuts (1 point); and 3 safety points for fats and other stuff I couldn’t quite figure out.

Call it a good start to a new year.

 

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.

 

 

 

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