Halibut with clams, butter beans and a fennel foam
The Restaurant Dieter has no earthly clue how many Weight Watcher points to assess for a recent five-course tasting menu at Bacchanalia, nor does he care. This is a restaurant and a menu that can be endorsed for dieters without hesitation.
Among the 32 items from which one selects five, there was at least one good choice for each course.
The portions were so modest that even if decadent, the damage wouldn’t be too bad.
Nobody blinked when I brought in my own Fresca because Diet Coke has so much caffeine. The staff whisked it out of sight and refilled my glass until the can was empty, just as if I’d brought in a very special bottle of wine from home.
At $85 for five courses, it was an extremely well priced tasting menu.
For a place named for eggs, there sure are a lot of carbs on the menu at Another Broken Egg in Atlanta: in the Monster Cinnamon Roll, in the pancakes, in the French Toast. The egg dishes lean toward the decadent, too, as in the lobster and Brie omelette. Gotta please today’s public.
But there is a “healthy side” menu with a fruit plate, a skinny omelette, salmon salad, granola fruit and quinoa. Just what us folks on Weight Watchers need.
The waiter didn’t miss a beat when asked to skinny the omelette more: cut the goat cheese and the roasted garlic cloves (not that the latter are fattening) and use cooking spray.
It arrived as requested and packed with red pepper, green onion and asparagus. The fruit on the side was a nice melange, including kiwi.
The only off note was that the English muffin came buttered. One could knock the waiter for not asking; who asks for cooking spay but wants buttered toast?
I have no doubt it would have been replaced free had I asked. A grandfather and grandson were surprised by the pulp in the grandson’s orange juice. The very same waiter took it away and replaced it with apple. No charge.
Carb temptations aside, this is worth another visit.
The menu at Wisteria in Atlanta said the black-eyed pea hummus came with chips. I asked if I could get vegetables instead, and the kitchen cut and cleaned carrot and cuke into a beautiful appetizer. Thanks Wisteria. Next to nothing in Weight Watchers points.
Restaurants like the hot, hot No. 246 in Decatur Ga. and Bocado in Atlanta, aren’t diet hostile per se. They’re just a little short on strategies in the kitchen to layer on flavor without layering on fat.
All that farm-to-table, local, Italian-ish stuff on the menu relies heavily on butter, oil or other fattening ingredients to impart taste. And in the end, rather than celebrating the ingredients, it’s as if every single dish is buried deep in the folds of a down comforter of fat.
Even if you’re not The Restaurant Dieter, it’s got to get boring. Can’t a vegetable like sweet potatoes exist on Bocado’s nightly changing menu without layering in nuts, brown butter or covering brussels sprouts in a bath of EVOO? Why are all the vegetable preparations among the sides at No. 246 fattening?
This past weekend was an all-eat-out weekend for us. Helpful servers found themselves pointing helplessly to the fish on the menu — as if that alone made something low fat. One did the eye roll and that friendly mock groan that said, “Buddy, you’ve come to the wrong place.” He followed it by saying, sheepishly, “Our chef is French.”
At both restaurants, I ordered the chicken, peeled off the fat crusted skin and ignored the fat transference vehicles such as the grits at Bocado and the bacon-and-sherry sauce at No. 246.
Bocado’s beet salad
Both servers did their best. They cheerfully assented to cheese and dressing “on the side” for salads. At No. 246 it was an uninspired salad with greens, strawberries, farmer cheese and pistachios with a balsamic vinaigrette. Bocado did better with a salad of beet, orange, avocado, hazelnuts, fennel, faro and a balsamic vinaigrette. The crunchy fennel and orange, combined with just a touch of the feta, both provided a kick that made it even easier to go light on the dressing.
If you’re not dieting, throw that down comforter of fat over yourself and go. Yawn.
Nothing about The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Atlanta will knock your socks off. It’s not inventive, it’s not especially creative and god knows, it’s certainly not modern.
When you’re sitting in a dining room tricked up to make you feel like you’re eating on the Queen Mary, and dessert includes baked Alaska, only a patron as mad as old King George III would expect nouvelle cuisine, farm-to-table or molecular gastronomy.
No, this is a safe and predictable “expense account” kind of fish joint, with prices to match, and what’s on the menu here is seafood, fresh and executed well. After weighing in 3 pounds lighter than a week ago at Weight Watchers, The Restaurant Dieter and some pals had good more reason to choose safe and stay the course.
While we ate at the Atlanta location, this small of 12 chain has restaurants in Washington D.C., Dallas, Denver and Houston, Boston, Miami and Minneapolis. Didn’t I say this was an “expense account” kind of places with prices to match? ($32.95 for about 6-8 ounces of Florida Grouper, served with absolutely nothing. All other accompaniments a la carte.)
For the non-dieter, the Oceanaire menu offers all manner of preparations that can send you home having doffed a 3,000-calorie-plus meal. You can get fish fried, with drawn butter and Louied. You can get something turf-y with rich crab Oscar on top. You can get vegetables sauteed or covered in Hollandaise sauce. And then there’s the aforementioned baked Alaska.
Skip the bread in favor of the relish dish
But there are also enough signals that the dieter will not only be accommodated, but celebrated. That sense starts with the dish of crudites that arrive at the table at the moment a basket of the crusty bread does. Carrot sticks, cherry peppers, olives, cucumber slices sit atop a cold bed of ice. How often do you see that? It’s like a big welcome sign.
Thanks to that gesture of thoughtfulness, The Restaurant Dieter managed to pass up the bread. And when his companions appetizers “for the table” arrived, he similarly bypassed the fried calamari in favor of his own seafood chopped salad. It consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives, capers, hard-cooked egg, cold boiled shrimp and crab and feta cheese. The kitchen was happy to put the feta and vinaigrette on the side.
Rather than use the only spoon at the table — a large one that came with the calamari — I waited for a server to bring another and ladled on two ice tea spoonfuls of dressing and about an ounce of feta. With all the other chopped ingredients oozing their own juices, it was plenty — even on such a large salad.
The entree was a grilled grouper that arrived without having been bathed in the lemon butter at my request. It also was a large meaty portion. For a side, I had the steamed asparagus with the Hollandaise, which already comes on the side and was politely ignored. The spears were big and fat. I ate them with my fingers, just like my companions ate their Parmesan and truffle oil French fries.
And for dessert, my companions ordered the baked Alaska for two, which really served four. Once the fire died down, a spoonful was enough to send me home safe, sound and satisfied. When you’re trying to watch your weight, sometimes that’s enough.
There’s this myth that some groups don’t get fat. It surfaced in Mireille Guiliano’s 2004 “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” which became a New York Times bestseller, and more recently, “Gay Men Don’t Get Fat” in January 2012. The latter is by the elfin Simon Doonan, a former Barney’s window dresser, who lives in New York with his equally elfin husband, the potter and home fashion retailer, Jonathan Adler.
Buenos Aires, 2005
Buenos Aires, 2005
(As an aside, I’d like to report that the famously thin people of Buenos Aires really aren’t. Witness these pictures taken on my 2005 vacation, specifically to prove the guidebooks wrong.)
Anyway, a recent Saturday restaurant outing seemed destined to throw down the gauntlet on those myths. The Restaurant Dieter, his husband and two other couples had reservations at Atmosphere in Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood. The restaurant is French. The staff and quite a number of the guests speak with impossibly charming accents. The menu is mother-sauced within an inch of its life.
Our sextet, on the other hand, were all gay men of a certain age. None of us is as thin as Doonan & Adler. On the other hand, none of us is as….robust as the average suburban husband sitting down for a beer and football on a typical weekend. (As this review embraces stereotypes, why not add that The Restaurant Dieter’s Spouse checked his Blackberry frequently throughout dinner for the score of the Detroit Lions game?) We were seated in the back room, right next to another group of gay men of a certain age. Did I miss the hostess tell our party: “Welcome to Atmosphere. Your table in the fat gay room is ready.”
The thin gays, some of them speaking French, were up front at the bar. On second thought, they might not have been gay at all. Anyone who’s played the game, “Gay or European?” knows that. (For the clueless, Google the video from Broadway’s “Legally Blond.”)
As Midtown is the epicenter of gay Atlanta, this restaurant knows we’d all like to be as elfin as Doonan & Adler. So when asked, “What on the menu is light and low fat?” the server — himself thin and either gay or European, or both — didn’t miss a beat. He identified a pan roasted trout amandine and said it could be prepared without added fat.
He also didn’t blink when I asked that a salad of Belgian endive, apple, walnuts and Roquefort cheese in a red wine vinaigrette come to the table completely deconstructed. This allowed me to limit the fattening parts — the cheese, dressing and nuts — to about a tablespoon each, which didn’t harm the combination in the least.
The trout picked up a slight sheen in the pan, probably from a little fat used to toast the slivered almonds. It was well-cooked, flaky but not dry, and tasted just fine with the almonds scraped off to the side. The added fat — olive oil and capers — came in a small portion cup that I left untouched. The fish came with haricot vert, baby carrots and fingerling potatoes, all prepared with minimal to no fat.
I left the restaurant feeling incredibly virtuous, especially because I didn’t get dessert. Others went for the profiterolles, but as this was a gaggle of gay guys, of course they shared.
A recent visit to Copeland’s of New Orleans suggests it might be time to rethink this blog’s subtitle. Maybe it should be: “Dieting and eating out shouldn’t be so boring.”
Copeland’s is like a lot of restaurants. Stripped of their normal tools to satisfy diners — fat, salt and sugar — many restaurants have little appetizing to offer. So a dieter can technically eat there, but leave so unsatisfied that a bad food binge is only a fast food drive-thru away.
With three metro-Atlanta locations, Copeland’s is a casual theme dinner house with a Cajun-Creole bent but something for everybody. Besides crawfish etouffee, the menu offers Buffalo this, Thai shrimp that, Caesar whatever and chicken parm. It leaves no pedestrian food trend untouched.
Such a menu pushes an experienced dieter immediately to the salads. With dressing on the side, perhaps somehow we’ll survive.
Instead, the server recommended the fresh fish of the day, which in this case turned out to be a swordfish. It came, grilled or blackened, with two sides.
“Can I get that grilled with little to no oil or fat? With steamed broccoli and red beans and rice.”
“Red beans and rice? That’s not low fat,” the server corrected. Give her credit for honesty.
“OK, make it a green salad. Dressing on the side.”
Everything came as ordered. The thoughtful server even brought extra lemon wedges. A victory for The Restaurant Dieter, right?
Welcome to the law of unintended consequences. Everything was so bland and tasteless, so I stopped by a CVS and got a bag of peanut butter pretzels on the way home.
On the website, the restaurant bills itself as “Decatur’s Finest Fish House.” This is an odd slogan. We are talking Decatur, Georgia, right? Next to Atlanta smack dab in the middle of the state? As land-locked as it gets? Where the only nearby body of water is man-made Lake Lanier?
With decor in weather-washed gray and nautical accents suggesting Maine, Harbour Bar & Fish House makes no locavore claims. Wonderful shrimp may be only hours away at the Georgia coast, but the shrimp could be sourced from anywhere as far as the marketing is concerned.
Its owners want to transport you to Maine, and we were. Sort of. The Restaurant Dieter and his spouse have discovered an excellent new dining option only blocks from the house. We’ll be back. It is Decatur’s finest fish house — and not only because it may be Decatur’s ONLY fish house.
There are abundant fish preparations, of both the low fat and high fat variety. The fried platters and chowders and bisques are balanced by peel-and-eat shrimp, main dish salads and boils based on shellfish, sausage, potatoes and corn. The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse ordered a shrimp boil. It came with hushpuppies, but the server was only too happy to substitute steamed vegetables.
The Restaurant Dieter started with a half-pound of steamed shrimp. They arrived in a stainless steel steamer basket on a bed of seaweed, with a pungent cocktail sauce. The shrimp were a little on the small side, probably in the 21-30 per pound category, but what do you want for 10 bucks? When one is dieting and trying to focus on protein, it’s hard to argue with 28 calories and 0 grams of fat per ounce.
The main-dish Thai salad wasn’t exactly geographically consistent with the theme, but it was a plate of fresh, crunchy vegetables with two skewers of small shrimp on top. The shrimp were grilled with little to no fat and had a pleasantly smoky flavor.
It came with — at my request — the dressings on the side. The low fat soy glaze gave just enough flavor. The curry dressing — curry? — was cast aside.
One could go on about the incongruities at “Decatur’s Finest Fish House,” but that would be missing the point entirely. Blocks from the house, there’s finally a place to stop in for, or take out, a dinner that won’t wreck a diet. I’m perfectly willing to smile and put on my best “ahoy, matey” if it’ll keep this new port open for business.
Going to a fish restaurant is often a good bet for a dieter.
Goin’ Coastal, a new restaurant in Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland neighborhood, is an even better bet. Restaurants that set out to accommodate dieters have the opportunity to exceed expectations. This unpretentious little “sustainable seafood joint” (as it calls itself) did exactly that.
Eating fish at this restaurant need not be penance for your non-dieting friends. They can order the fish-and-chips with hush puppies, coleslaw and buttered corn on the cob. But for you, there are abundant choices.
From the fresh catch board, one of the choices is an excellent baked preparation with vegetables, a lot of fresh basil and a lightly oiled marinara sauce. On the meaty swordfish, it was flavorful and healthy. It came with a choice of sides, which on that day included steamed broccoli.
But the kitchen really outdid itself when The Restaurant Dieter ordered poorly. As a starter, the half-pound of peel-and-eat shrimp seemed perfect: cold, meaty with a horseradish-infused cocktail sauce. But what arrived were shrimp doused in a oil-based marinade before being grilled. It was a high-fat dish, and I’d neglected to ask how it was prepared.
When the server realized this was not what I expected, she snapped it up. “Let me see if the kitchen will do this another way.”
Ten minutes later, the shrimp arrived, boiled and sitting atop a bed of ice. That’s the kind of service that keeps dieters coming back.