Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Tag: Italian

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: 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: Cafe Fiorello satisfies everybody

I believe I’ve mentioned before that Cafe Fiorello on the Upper West Side is one of my very favorite New York restaurants.

It satisfies my need for fresh, veggie-centric meals with its cold antipasti bar. Today I had shrimp and scallop salad, sundried tomatoes, roasted beets and large white beans.

My whole meal was 7 Weight Watcher points including a piece of great focaccia.

The TRD Spouse had a light lunch of thin crust meatball pizza and profiteroles, drenched in Fiorello’s dark, rich chocolate sauce. My niece Hazel had the pizza and sorbet.

Everybody was happy.

Bean salad
Sundried tomato salad
Profiteroles for the spouse

Review: Salumeria Rosi, New York: You’ll pay lot of bread for these high-fat vegetables

Restaurants that have vegetables other than potatoes on the menu are always welcome. That’s especially true if they include legumes, which offer some protein The only problem is that they tend to prepare vegetables with lots of fat, as no one will eat them otherwise.

Witness these two plates from Salumeria Rossi on New York’s Upper West Side. The restaurant’s speciality is mostly Italian meats and cheeses. It’s close by our apartment, and The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse has been eager to try it.

Spotting a caponata and a melange of beans on the menu seemed fortuitous. But what arrived was slathered in oil. Moreover, it was outrageously expensive, even by New York standards. Nine bucks each for a plate of beans and a cup of eggplant?

Review: No. 246 in Decatur, Ga. and Bocado in Atlanta: Bring on the fat. Yawn.

The chicken at Bocado
The chicken at No. 246

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.

Review: Moro’s of Allen Park, Mich.

This bowl of fruit just arrived, gratis

Another visit home to care for Mom, another opportunity to stuff my face until it hurts.

Although visits home are typically when the worst comes out, the most recent trip to suburban Detroit yielded a surprise worth mentioning.

Mom and I went to Moro’s. The restaurant has a long history in the suburbs south of Detroit. My generation took dates there before a big school dance like the prom.

It’s tiny, dark and cozy, with white linen tablecloths and waiters in tuxedos, even on a Tuesday night. The waiters mix the salad at your table.

The menu is not, in itself, diet friendly. It’s heavy on classic red-sauce Italian dishes like veal parmesan, chicken cacciatore and fettuccine Alfredo, even though there are a few dishes like broiled cod.

I was in full, face-stuff mode and went for the cannelloni. I hadn’t had it in years. It was meaty, both inside the pasta shells and from the thick bolognese. Mom had veal picante. The Greek salad we ordered was drenched in olive oil by an artistic swing of the server’s arm, but I didn’t have the heart to stop his show.

But what surprised and delighted us: at the end of the meal, a bowl of fresh fruit and nuts arrives, courtesy of the house. Perhaps it costs them a few dessert orders. More likely, it inspires gratitude from folks like The Restaurant Dieter and the dessert eaters still pass it by for the cherries jubilee.

Way to go Moro’s.

Review: Lincoln Ristorante, New York City

The first paragraph of the “about” page on Lincoln Ristorante’s website is about the building. About its open kitchen architecture and the sloping grass roof one can sit on and take in the  Lincoln Center plaza. The second paragraph is about how this restaurant is “a breakout role” for chef Jonathan Benno after 10 years of cooking at the famed French Laundry and Per Se.
Accordingly, the second paragraph of this review will be about something. About how the food is pretty average. About how it’s not a very diet friendly menu. About how a diner or a dieter can do better at any number of Italian restaurants in New York. About how the prices remain crazily high, even with the much-criticized $24 single scallop appetizer off the menu. Heck, about how that open kitchen is really closed in by a giant wall of glass.
About the only thing that exceeded expectations were the comfortable swivel chairs. You can swivel slightly sideways, throw your legs out and slink back comfortably in your chair.
Our server, asked to identify the most diet-friendly dishes, pointed to the five fish entrees on the menu and then proceeded to describe one where the fish sat atop a pile of sautéed greens. OK, clearly we’re on our own here.
I selected an entree of branzino with pole beans and tomatoes. For an appetizer, I selected a mushroom salad with roasted broccoli and potatoes. It came with a pine-nut condiment, which the server said could be served on the side. The entire selection aimed for a satisfying meal heavy on fiber-rich ingredients.
First to arrive was an amuse bouche which consisted of a two-bite piece of toast with an incredibly salty mushroom topping. Bad sign. You know how I feel about overly salted foods.
The salad arrived as requested with the condiment on the side. A small bowl held a lumpy brown mixture that our server said consisted of anchovies, pine nuts, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. On the salad or off, it did nothing but add unpleasant bitterness. The salad itself was tiny — a few leaves of greens, three or four broccoli florets, three or four firm white mushrooms and a couple small fingerling potatoes of various colors, halved. At $21, one almost yearned for the $24 scallop bargain.
The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse ordered a primi special consisting of a robiola-stuffed ravoli in a béchamel sauce with New Jersey corn (!) and summer truffle shavings. We both miss our pre-diet membership to the Cheese of the Month Club at New York’s Artisanal, so I had to try one. Robiola is gooey, oozy strong cheese. Pairing it with a béchamel and truffles produced a dish that can only be described as cloying.
The branzino was a perfectly cooked rectangle, sitting atop a a melange of beans — nicely al dente cranberry beans, a few green and wax beans in a pool of pureed bean, extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. A few grape tomatoes provided the overwhelmingly brown dish with some much needed color. It was more successful, but hardly transporting for a $36 entree.
We were sufficiently unimpressed that we passed on desert altogether, so The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse could get a plate for profiteroles across the street at one of our favorite places, Fiorello’s. And this dieter assuaged his disappointment with a giant tartufo.
About this, I’ll say little.

For Vegetables, Craft and Cafe Fiorello Among New York’s Best

With a bazillion great restaurants in New York from which to choose, Craft and Cafe Fiorello are two of my favorites. Both manage to give vegetables equal billing to meat, fish, poultry and pasta. The last time I visited Craft, even fruit had a starring role.
But at too many restaurants, fruits and vegetables are nearly reduced to garnishes. That’s a shame, given some research reported this week in the New York Times on the close connection between eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains and maintaining healthy weight.
There’s further scientific evidence that eating MORE of these foods — rather than eating less of something else — helps keep the weight off. And by the way, this is based on a study of 120,877 men and women who were followed for 12-20 years. It wasn’t a few lab rats.
“There are good foods and bad foods, and the advice should be to eat the good foods more and the bad foods less,” Dr. Frank B. Hu, one of the study’s authors, told Personal Health columnist Jane Brody. “The notion that it’s OK to eat everything in moderation is just an excuse to eat whatever you want.”
That endorses the program change Weight Watchers launched in November. For the first time, nearly all fruits were free, meaning they counted as zero in Weight Watchers system of assigning point values to various foods. When a member at my meeting asked if that wasn’t giving us a loaded gun, the meeting leader responded: “I’ve never heard of anybody getting fat from eating too many bananas.”
Craft is from chef-owner Tom Colicchio, who is also a judge on Bravo TV’s Top Chef television show. Craft won the industry’s Oscar — the James Beard Award — as best new restaurant nationwide in 2002.
Hardly any high-end restaurant offers the array of vegetables that craft does. There are 20 on the current menu, only four of which are starchy potatoes. And four of those 20 are exquisitely prepared mushrooms, including the heavenly hen of the woods that is seldom seen. On my last visit, the desert menu offered a mix-and-match that allowed a diner to pair a slice of pound cake with a choice of sorbet or ice cream and a wide variety of vegetables. It isn’t on the current dessert menu, but there is a summer fruit option featuring blueberries, apricots, peaches and bing cherries.
Cafe Fiorello is less well known, but it’s just blocks from our place on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and across from Lincoln Center. It has a menu with all the standard Italian items, but what draws me there is the antipasti bar. It has a prominent place in the front of the restaurant. It’s chest high and ringed with bar stools. The food is beautifully displayed on white platters of various sizes and heights. Before a show, I like to duck in and grab a stool for a light dinner.
The offerings change daily, but might include a lentil salad, fried or gratineed cauliflower, broccoli rabe, brussels sprouts, braised fennel, cipollini onions, fat grilled asparagus spears, a whole-wheat couscous salad, roasted beets and a caponata. Four about $20, you can choose four items and even have them brought to a table if your companion wants to order from the regular menu. The Restaurant Dieter Spouse can get his veal marsala, and I can get my vegetables.
We need more restaurants like these, because guess which common restaurant food contributed to weight gain? The ubiquitous French fry. Increased consumption of this food alone was linked to average weight gain of 3.4 pounds a year in each four-year period of the study.
Seen them on any restaurant menus lately?