Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Tag: Las Vegas

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: Michael Mina at The Bellagio, Las Vegas, Nev.

Heirloom tomato salad, dressing on the side

At many a fine restaurant, you can get most anything you want — provided, of course, that you doesn’t mess with the chef’s grand vision.

A request for “sauce on the side” may be rebuffed. The chef believes that if you’ve chosen to eat at his restaurant, it must be because you’re there to celebrate his culinary genius. More charitably, he may believe that the dish will be dry or nearly inedible without that touch. And sometimes, he is indeed right.

But dieting is compromise, and so we ask. If you are fortunate enough to eat at James Beard Award winner Michael Mina‘s eponymous restaurant at The Bellagio, your wish will be granted without hesitation. And the food will not suffer in the least, whether you use a bit of the sauce or none at all.

Based on the chef’s own philosophy, that statement probably goes at his restaurants in San Francisco, Washington, Detroit, Seattle and so on.

“I don’t believe in whisper joints,” he is quoted as saying in a profile on his website. “You’re not in my restaurant to worship the food, but to have a fantastic dining experience.”

The Restaurant Dieter and his spouse are happy to report that we did.

Dinner started sharing a fresh and low-calorie chilled shellfish platter: lobster, shrimp, crab, prawns and ceviche. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and sweet enough without just a tiny tab of the accompanying mint aloli. The lobster was tossed in citrus dressing and topped with a daikon gelee. The ceviche had a light coconut foam. The crab was so sweet it required no accompaniment at all.

The real test came with the next two courses. Could I have the heirloom tomato salad “BLT” without the bacon and with the basil aioli and the dressing on the side? “Of course,” the server replied.

And can I also have the ginger vinagrette on the side for the “three seas” tasting of Japanese fish with bamboo rice? Of course.

Both were excellent.

The heirloom tomato salad was sort of a deconstruct itself, so dressing on the side wasn’t particularly difficult. It consisted of spring greens tossed with a series of chunks — of summer’s peak heirloom tomatoes, of crusty bread cubes, of avocado and of a peppered and well-drained plain yogurt. I used perhaps two teaspoons of both the dressing and the basil aioli. The component flavors were so strong that more really wasn’t necessary.

The Japanese fish tasting came with the vinaigrette on the side as requested. It was presented as a line, flanked on either side by a tempura hen-of-the-woods mushroom. These are among my favorite and suffered some from the overpowering tempura batter. I tasted one and gave the other to The Restaurant Dieter Spouse.

Between the mushrooms were the fish treatments. The first appeared to be a Greek dolmades — but instead was steamed bok choy filled with a scallop and mushroom mousse. It needed no vinaigrette.

A piece of chilean sea bass wore a slightly salty coat of miso, but the pink-centered tuna and scallop were perfectly cooked. A dab of the vinaigrette gave all of them a perfect spark; without it, the dish wouldn’t have tasted right.

But somewhere back in the kitchen was one of Mina’s chefs, apparently confident with the basics enough to give the dieter what he wanted.

Bravo.

Review: Jaleo at The Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas, Nev.

lobster salad

Don’t hate on the young because they’re beautiful. Hate on them because they deserve it.

The deserving young were much in evidence at Las Vegas’ too cool-for-school Cosmopolitan hotel  and casino. We were seated at one of the many ringside tables at Jaleo, the hot tapas restaurant. If it were any more integrated with the second floor lobby, Jaleo would be the lobby bar. In fact, given the menu of haute cocktails and small plates, it nearly is.
Clearly somebody made a deliberate decision to eliminate the restaurant walls and expose the eye candy passing through; who were we not to consume it? Especially because the eye candy proved oddly more satisfying than the meal itself.
The young flock toThe Cosmopolitan
 Young men swaggered in skinny jeans and low sneakers, skinny ties or restaurant shirts or faux-prep vintage 2011. To a T, the young women poured  –  and stuffed  or literally sausaged – themselves into variations of the same jersey dress. On top these girls were dressed to spill, and on the bottom – well, just what does one wear under a dress that short with heels that tall?
Our young server was a tad older than the crowd and therefore happy to join in our fun. She shared with us a game she and her friends played. It was called “tourist or hooker?”
It seems a shame to focus on the crowd when the restaurant is from chef Jose Andres, with a James Beard award under his belt and notable restaurants in several American cities. But this is a restaurant where the food couldn’t help but take a back seat to the scene.
This is despite considerable effort by the chef to serve the glitziest of small plates with prices and calorie counts to match. There’s little concession to the chunky and middle-aged here. Our server, asked to recommend something low fat, rolled her eyes.
The three-page menu is nearly all small plates, plus three large plates (one a 22-ounce ribeye) and a handful of paellas. But entire groupings of the small plates were off limits to a dieter – ham and pork sausages, cheeses. The  frituras section carried the slogan, “Frying is overrated…Yeah right!” It seemed safe to choose from among the verduras (vegetables) and sopas (soups).
For The Restaurant Dieter, that confidence was misplaced.
Gazpacho
The gazpacho was a wonder to look at – a diagonal dam of itty-bitty cucumber and onion chunks, holding back a lake of rosy broth on one side and a raging river of olive oil on the other. It was one of those gazpachos that falls into decadent territory rather than the salad-in-a-bowl we dieters hope for.

 

A plate of oven fire-roasted red peppers, eggplant and sweet onions held perhaps an ounce of each swimming in at least a third cup of a heavily-oiled dressing. It went mostly untouched.
Grilled vegetables or oil?
A third round of ordering held more promise. I went for a dressing-on-the-side version of the lobster salad The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse ordered.  Chunks of lobster dotted baby frisee, red and green leaf lettuces, orange, grapefruit and pomegranate seeds. At $18, it was among the highest-priced small plates and good, but hardly transporting.
And a plate of two seared scallops atop romesco sauce arrived perfectly cooked and with an acceptable sheen of fat, but again, just OK.
Given the scene at Jaleo, maybe the food’s beside the point. Or maybe food for dieters is beside the point.
The young crowd certainly didn’t seem to mind at all. The girl in the micro-miniskirt decorated with an erect-penis print just chattered away with her bridesmaids, totally consumed with celebrating the sanctity of her upcoming marriage.

Review: Joel Robuchon, Las Vegas, Nev.

Heirloom tomato salad

 Once upon a time in Las Vegas, big name chefs like Michael Mina, Wolfgang Puck and Joel Robuchon were M.I.A. Sin City was more closely associated with the $9.95 prime rib buffet than with haute cuisine.

And then something happened. Six years ago, The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse invited him to the tail end of a business meeting in Las Vegas. “We’ve got the room free, and we can have a nice al fresco dinner by the canals at The Venetian,” he said. (It clearly wouldn’t be real, but gondoliers ferrying couples through a skinny swimming pool in a casino/shopping mall was surprising. Ah, the romance of Venice.)

The restaurant in question was Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio and the meal was quite good. In the years since, other big name chefs have set up shop. That explains how, on a recent trip, we found ourselves at Le’Atelier Joel Robuchon at the MGM Grand Casino.

We’d sampled his work once before at the critically acclaimed L’Atelier de Joel Rubochon in Paris. The meal is a distant memory from pre-weight-loss days, but it was sumptuous in every respect and served at a high counter top where every diner faced the open kitchen. It was our first experience with dinner as theater. Why pay attention to your spouse when you can watch the Cirque du Soliel of food prep?

Once again, we were figuratively face-to-face with the man dubbed “chef of the century.” (Figuratively, because he was somewhere in Paris, I suppose, while Vegas had slew of talented Yank stand-ins.)

Given his acclaim, was there really any other choice but to order the $155-a-person, Menu Decouverte de Saison (Seasonal Discovery Menu)? Nine courses, including two that were dessert?

That can easily ruin a diet. But as I’ve noted before, high-end cooking often relies on expensive herbs and ingredients to satiate customers, not the huge portions seasoned with sugar, fat and salt found at an Applebee’s restaurant.

We ordered thinking there was at least a chance I’d be safe. Wrong.

The saboteur was the bread basket: hard-crusted mini-baguette with deeply browned tips; a flaky croissant and a chewy roll. These are any carb-loving dieter’s real enemy, because of how the body processes  high-glycemic foods. They convert quickly to sugar in your bloodstream and dissipate just as fast. Your body wants more and soon enough, it’s off to the races.

I fell immediately. My share of the bread was gone before the amuse bouche and the server brought more.

Fortunately, what immediately followed was a parade of more diet friendly courses: an architectural and fresh salad of multicolored heirloom tomatoes finished with touch of basil oil and sea salt and a langoustine carpaccio splashed with a dab of lemon oil and studded with, micro chives, chile pepper and toasted poppy seed.

A tiny section of crab leg came topped with julienned bell pepper and carrot that had been softened in a lemongrass oil. But the crab itself was so tender and sweet it was easy to push the garnish aside.

Most stunning was an asparagus kebab topped with a tiny quail egg, swimming in a deep, woodsy mushroom foam and topped with sewing-needle-sized bits of Iberico ham. A slightly larger portion could have made an excellent vegetarian entree and — with careful rationing of the mushroom foam — a healthful diet dish.

But thanks to the bread, I’d thrown caution over, eaten two more savory courses (a turbot with a buttery shellfish sauce and a lamb shoulder confit) and both desserts.

The baguette that kills diets

Let me repeat that. Both. Desserts. Completely.

The first was strawberries with a moscato gelee and lemon sorbet, buried beneath white chocolate shell. The second was a warm apricot tart with almond cream, thyme foam and ginger ice cream. The subtle thyme accent complimented the sweetness of the tart and ice cream perfectly.

Consider this a post from The Failed Restaurant Dieter. Exceptional bread does it to me every time.

Review: The Wicked Spoon, Las Vegas, Nev.

The Cosmopolitan’s Wicked Spoon

In Las Vegas, the buffet is king. After the ubiquitous slot machine — few are “one armed bandits” anymore, alas — the most common species is your high school cafeteria, reimagined with a prime rib carving station.

There’s even been a documentary made on the subject: “Buffet: All You Can Eat Las Vegas.” In the film, one carver says, “The buffet is the happiest and saddest place.” He’s likely talking about the fact that with all those losses at the casino, the buffet may be the only place where some gamblers feel they’re actually winning. But it might just as well have been a comment on the food itself.

In a city more recently earning its stripes as a fine dining destination thanks to the likes of celebrity chefs, even the best buffets come off like the hillbilly cousin.

That’s why one buffet on a list of the 10 best in Las Vegas sounded particularly intriguing, especially because this one promised to be different and potentially better for The Restaurant Dieter. “The atmosphere is modern, chic and sophisticated,” it said. “Food is served in individual small portions on plates, but you can take as many as you like and create your own 10 course meal.”

It sounded like discovering a choose-your-own tasting menu for around 30 bucks. Not bad considering the $155-a-person 9-course tasting menu two nights before at L’Atelier Joel Robuchon. A chunk of the price differential, perhaps, lay in the name — Menu Decouverte de Saison (Seasonal Discovery Menu) — but you know how those French are.

The Wicked Spoon did indeed live up to the buildup. The room is dark with dramatic lighting in keeping with the youthful hip vibe of The Cosmopolitan. Many of the dishes are presented in discreet, individual servings, but there are some big league carving stations in concession to the pile-it-on crowd.

More than the sizes itself, though, there were plentiful options a dieter could love.

Watermelon and pineapple with cucumber and mint

Tiny servings of blueberry-raspberry fruit soup or gelato on the dessert bar, which also had two sugarless options: a sugar free cheesecake with berries on top and a pistachio/chocolate mousse. Lemongrass cod with a light coconut broth, asparagus and broccoli. Two-ounce portions of salmon with artichoke hearts and blistered cherry tomatoes. Sushi of several varieties. An inventive salad of watermelon and pineapple medallions dressed with razor-thin shavings of cucumber and mint.

The Wicked Spoon even has the temerity to offer red curry vegetables with tofu.

Lemongrass cod in coconut broth

Small individual portions

Should one want to taste the asiago stuffed gnocchi, or the au gratin potatoes with truffle oil, the portions were small enough to mitigate any diet damage.

I stuck to three carefully chosen servings, starting with the pedestrian cold boiled shrimp. At 28 calories and 0 fat per ounce, it’s lots of healthy protein for minimal investment. To that I added a couple tastes of gazpachos and a ceviche, an excellent heirloom tomato salad with basil and a so-so asparagus salad. The gazpacho tastes and ceviche were served in the tiny plastic cups a nurse might hand you in the hospital with your meds.

On a mains plate, I selected the salmon, lemongrass cod with coconut broth and some cavatelli with gorgonzola and walnuts. Buffets can be uneven; the remaining two items had sat around too long and were left unfinished, though around the time I was on dessert, both had been replenished with fresh.

Dessert was easy — the fruit soups and the two sugar free entries, which were a little less sweet but exactly the size you’d get from one of the Seasons 52 chain’s “mini-indulgences,” which can still add up.

Overall, you’d have to say hillbilly cousin hasn’t exactly moved uptown yet, but he’s at least in the suburbs.

Small indulgences

Protein and some healthful tastes as a starter