The Restaurant Dieter was visiting family in the Detroit area this past weekend.
Going home is fraught with diet peril. For starters, there’s the emotional baggage, no matter how much you love your family. And even when you can separate yourself some — I stayed with a friend — you can often fall into the same bad habits.
Food is love in my family. My spouse thinks it’s odd. He tells the story of what happened when my mom once offered him some treat after one of her huge holiday dinners.
“No thanks,” he said, falling into food coma on the couch.
“Why not?” she persisted.
“Boy that was big meal. I’m not hungry,” he replied.
“Why not?” she inquired, pushing the treat into his mouth until he succumbed.
That tale is another reason I often compare us to the couple in “My Fat Greek Wedding.” Food as love figures in their courtship.
By mid-Friday evening, I’d already gotten into the biscotti that my mother and sister bought at a bakery. I couldn’t say no, could I? They did it for me. (Insert the rationalization of your choice here.) I’m sure I had at least four. By the time I was off to my friend Rich’s house to sleep, that sweet taste lingered and had me salivating for something. Something…more. Actually, anything more.
I stopped at a convenience store to get some snacks. What’s that they say about folks who travel with their own alcohol, for fear there won’t be any where they’re going? I bought chips — baked, of course — plus peanut butter filled pretzels and unsalted almonds.
My friend and I picked at those until the late night dinner he’d arranged arrived: a pie from a Detroit institution called Pizza Papalis. It bills itself as Chicago-style pizza, but it has a Greek surname. The first location was in downtown Detroit’s Greektown neighborhood. The pizza is double crusted, with layers of cheese and fillings.
I had two pieces of the vegetarian. Pizza Papalis’ website doesn’t include nutritional information. Not that I stopped to think and look it up anyway. Two pieces racked up at least 1,000 calories and 80 grams of fat, judging by the nutritional information provided by the helpful folks at Uno Chicago Grill, which also specializes in deep dish.
Then — smack me silly for compounding the error — I went straight to bed. At 4 a.m. I woke to the wicked acid reflux moment I surely deserved. I chugged a Diet Coke and sat up at least an hour.
I resolved to behave the next day. Mom and I had lunch at Ram’s Horn. It draws a crowd Mom’s age — 85 — and has some decent large salads. I ordered a modified Cobb: yes chicken, no cheese, no bacon, fat-free raspberry dressing on the side.
When it arrived, I had a salad dressing epiphany: That fat-free raspberry vinaigrette, ordered many times at many restaurants, just tastes plain awful. A serving may only be 50 calories and no fat, but it’s just not worth it. Especially when water and high fructose corn syrup are the first two ingredients listed. Next time, I’ll spend the calories on a reasonable dressing, or ask for vinegar and oil. (The latter is no guarantee of a satisfactory dressing either, however; I’ve been handed canola oil and cider vinegar.)
For dinner, my sister had a coupon for Red Lobster. The full-color regular and specials menus are a case study in modern menu design. Flavors and fat layered until the fish is mostly obscured, but it’s what the customers seem to want. How about that spicy coconut and citrus shrimp from the specials menu? 1,230 calories, 70 grams fat and 3,490 grams of sodium — more than double what an adult over 51 should consume in a day.
It aims at a wider swath than the best fish restaurant I’ve been to: Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin in New York. I’d only been on Weight Watchers a few months when we went. We had the tasting menu, which was a parade of amazing dishes that highlighted, rather than buried, the fish. It was impossible to figure the points value, but it all tasted so clean and fresh that I didn’t even bother.
Last weekend, in more modest surroundings, I went for shrimp cocktail — always a good bet — and ordered grilled whitefish from the “Lighthouse” fresh catch menu. It was a half-sheet of paper, no color, no illustrations — clearly for the rare ascetic like myself. I requested my meal prepared with no fat; it came out with a sheen that told me: Even if my request was honored, it picked up some fat on the grill. The flavor was excellent — fish, rather than a coating, sauce or fat. With steamed asparagusas a side, I had a pretty good day.
Of course, I did have to have one of those ubiquitous cheddar biscuits, which added 150 calories, 8 grams of fat and 350 of sodium. Sabotage is everywhere, I’m afraid.
But give Red Lobster credit for trying. The Lighthouse menu saved me. And the company’s website has good information on healthy eating and a food calculator so you can plan your meal in advance.