Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Category: Reviews (page 2 of 9)

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.

 

 

 

Review: Cafe Luxembourg in New York

IMG_4669

The restaurant’s signature image, from a time when a fuller-figured gal was just as sexy.

Cafe Luxembourg is French, with all the steak and frites that implies, but lunch still has great options for a person on Weight Watchers. That shouldn’t have surprised The Restaurant Dieter; it’s an Upper West Side place that celebrities apparently love. And you know how they are about their weight.

On my first visit some years ago, tucked into a booth surrounded by what looked like a gaggle of gay men sat the diminutive Broadway queen Kristin Chenoweth. Yesterday, it was Broadway, film and television actor, Michael McKean and his wife, actress Annette O’Toole. McKean sat close enough for me to lean  over and say something stupid like: “I loved you in ‘Laverne and Shirley.'”

Cafe Luxembourg tuna burger

Cafe Luxembourg tuna burger

Instead, following appropriate New York protocol, I read the menu and pretended I had not noticed him. The lunch menu has suitably low-fat classics like roasted autumn vegetables, steak tartare, salmon tartare, Cobb salad and even steak (assuming one holds the frites and gets the green salad instead).

I was in a mood for something substantial and went for the tuna burger, green salad on the side. I counted the SmartPoints as 1 for a tablespoon of salad dressing; 4 for the tuna burger (no breadcrumbs, our server said); and 5 for a sesame bun.

Cafe Luxembourg chicken paillard

Cafe Luxembourg chicken paillard

My companion had the chicken paillard, which was simply grilled chicken and a green salad. That dish often comes covered in breadcrumbs and fried.

But of course it wouldn’t here. At 4-feet-11, Miss Kristin Chenoweth and the other celebrities of the Upper West Side have to watch what they eat.

 

 

Review: Atlanta’s ‘dinner-and-a-movie’ theaters

Later on, there will be some nitpicking about the menu. But let’s just start with the most important thing: Thanks to the in-theater dining trend, finally there is something besides movie popcorn, candy and liquid-cheese nachos to eat at the theater. For someone trying to eat healthy, it’s an improvement.

The Wall Street Journal pegged the trend to trouble in the movie industry overall. Adding food was hoped to bring back adults, who have found the movies themselves lacking, it said.

Earlier this week, we caught the 3D “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at The AMC Dine-In Theaters Bulkhead 6. Last night, we wound up at CineBistro at Town Brookhaven for “The Big Short.” (Note: The latter theater says kids under 21 are not allowed at shows after 6 p.m. and before that only if accompanied by an adult.)

Both have menus that seem right off the Sysco truck, but that’s to be expected. They just need to have enough choices to satisfy most people without a lot of food waste or the need for high-end chefs to cook it.

At the AMC Bulkhead 6, the menu actually had the calorie counts for each dish. OK, so calories alone don’t tell you much about the healthfulness of food, but at least it’s something.

I had the grilled chicken quinoa, which clocked in at 720 calories. It was probably a cup-and-a-half of quinoa (9 points on the new Weight Watchers system), 3 ounces of grilled chicken (2 points), a quarter-cup slivered almonds (5 points), a quarter cup of feta cheese (4 points) and 3-4 tablespoons dressing (4-6 points). The asparagus and tomato amounted to 0 points, although one suspects there was some oil used in the roasting of the asparagus.

"Crispy" brussels sprouts

“Crispy” brussels sprouts

All in all, it was a pretty expensive entree, points-wise. It was small enough that I found myself ordering the crispy brussels sprouts, which were listed at 230 calories. The 1 1/2 cups of brussels sprouts themselves would have been about 57 calories, so the rest of the calories came from being stuck in a deep fryer.

Adding that was a mistake. As it was when I ordered it last night again at CineBistro. They are a favorite vegetable, but this whole trend of throwing them in a deep fryer doesn’t do them any favors.

CineBistro’s menu is more varied and has greater ambitions: Moroccan lamb chop and fig-and-brie flatbread, for instance. That’s not necessarily a good thing. The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse has a rule of thumb: If you suspect that the kitchen’s ambitions exceed the likely skill, order the hamburger.

He did just that, and I ordered the grilled chicken BLT, no B with a Caesar salad on the side instead of the fries. I left the bun and ate only the chicken and the Swiss cheese and smear of guacamole that came on it. The salad was pretty lightly dressed, so I ate that too, leaving aside the huge, fried cracker of parmesan that came on top.

With the unfortunate crispy sprouts, neither meal was exactly a nutritional or diet winner. On the other hand, it beats a  nutritionally vapid tub of “buttered” movie popcorn and giant package of Twizlers.

 

Review: Nothing special at Rain in Atlanta

Sometimes, a guy’s got to eat. Choosing carefully based on your desires or diet isn’t practical. So you wind up with what’s close by — in this case,close by  the Tara Cinema in Atlanta.

So we found ourselves at Rain, which bills itself as a “Thai and sushi bar.” The menu spanned at least 6 pages, all with photos, with enough decent choices. The nutritional bargain for me was the lemongrass soup. Hunting around on the web, I found what I think is the basic nutritional information. I counted it as 4 Weight Watchers points.

Review: Brezza Cucina a welcome addition to Atlanta’s Ponce City Market

The big, hulking former Sears, Roebuck & Co. building on Ponce de Leon has become Ponce City Market. What sat nearly vacant for many years is a collection of pricey condos, pricey shops and upscale restaurants.

The restaurants include several by well-known Atlanta restauranteurs plus Brezza Cecina from noted chef Jonathan Waxman. The whole market is a buzzy new space in Atlanta, and as the largest restaurant, Brezza Cecina is the buzziest. Even on the Friday before Christmas, it was wall-to-wall young professionals.

Most were too svelte to care about watching caloric intake, but that is The Restaurant Dieter’s lot. And Brezza Cecina accommodated nicely. From the single-page menu, my non-dieting friend got a huge serving of butternut squash risotto that would kill any diet.

I , too, left satisfied, thanks to some luck and guidance from a great server. He recommended the kale salad lightly dressed, which was fine. But the best bet was the verdure salad, full of roasted vegetables in a light dressing. I got the remains of my husband’s and shared with a friend. We ended up ordering a second.

Then the roast chicken was another good recommendation.

Give Brezza a try.

New York review: Red Farm has a big salad, but it’s not very good

Time to re-charge The Restaurant Dieter, and what better place to do it but New York City, where there are so many good restaurants.

One that recently opened in our neighborhood on the Upper West Side is Red Farm, which bills itself as: “Innovative, Inspired Chinese Cuisine with Greenmarket Sensibility.” Well.

It was OK. Just OK. Bottom line: there are a few dishes for us Weight Watcher types to savor, but regrettably, the chicken salad isn’t one of them.

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