Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Tag: New American (page 1 of 2)

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: A great five-course tasting at Bacchanalia in Atlanta

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.

Several reasons:

  • 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.
  • The server was among the best ever encountered.

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Review: If you’re on a diet, call ahead to see what Atlanta’s Miller Union has on the menu

Field peas, peanuts, charred tomato and pepper salad

For a recent trip to Atlanta’s darling of farm-to-table dining, Miller Union, there were low expectations. The restaurant’s raison d’etre is a close partnership with local farmers and growers. By definition, that means no two-page menu with lots of choices. The kitchen uses what is locally available and cooks what it thinks will sell. The menu is limited and changes often.

This has won Miller Union all manner of foodie accolades, including notice from Bon Appetit, Esquire and the James Beard Foundation.

But previous visits left The Restaurant Dieter unable to bestow an award for those of us counting our Weight Watchers points.

This time, however, there was a pleasant surprise: the menu held two stand-out dishes that were incredibly fresh, faithful to the farm-to-table movement and relatively low in calories and fat.

A salad of crunchy peanuts and al dente field peas was dressed with a light vinaigrette and accented with charred tomato and peppers and a dollop of lemon ricotta on the bottom. Nothing in the dish masked the flavor of those peas, which were indeed fresh.

The selected entree was a low-country boil of shrimp, andouille sausage, tiny new potatoes and peppers. The method of cooking, of course, adds no fat to the dish, save for what’s in the sausage so it was easy to count. Four points for about 5 ounces of shrimp; 2 for a piece of corn on the cob; 2 for 3/4 cup of potatoes; and 7 for about 3 ounces of sausage.

A low country boil, carelessly done, can be a big ugly mash: It’s easy to wind up with lots of the ingredients overcooked — rubbery shrimp, limp corn and masticated potatoes. Not this time. These ingredients may have been cooked together, but a good guess is that they were added sequentially.

Both items are on the current online menu, but the website cautions: “Our online is updated weekly so may differ from the menu in the restaurant.” In other words, if you’re dieting and thinking of going, better to call ahead.

Low country boil

 

New York review: The Four Seasons caters well to dieters

Without asking, the waiter brought this…

 Instead of this…

When The Restaurant Dieter started on Weight Watchers, he threatened to have some little calling cards made. He would hand them to the server at the beginning of every restaurant meal. They would say:

“Hello. Nice to meet you. I’m happy to be here. After a lifetime of fighting my weight, I recently joined Weight Watchers. I’m excited and having some success. However, restaurant meals remain a challenge. You can help me, and if you do, you’ll be handsomely rewarded.

“So here’s what I need: Please don’t give me a pained expression when I ask for something special. Please don’t pretend I’m speaking Urdu and that you don’t understand. If I ask a question about how something is prepared and you don’t know, volunteer to go to the kitchen and ask. If you’re unsure, don’t guess. If I ask for something with the sauce on the side, check that it is before you bring the dish out. This is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I thank you in advance for your kind attention.”

Fellow dieters, I know: It’s a fantasy.

Yet at The Four Seasons Restaurant recently, that fantasy came true without a card to hand out.

The Four Seasons is the kind of restaurant that draws celebrities and Manhattan power couples. Was that elderly woman seated in the airy Pool Room across from us a celebrity? Or was that finely sculpted face reminiscent of Joan Rivers the work of the same plastic surgeon? It can be difficult to tell.

For the serving staff, it probably pays to assume everybody there is famous and to act accordinly. Perhaps that’s why our server was so attentive. Asked about what was good on the menu for somebody watching consumption of fats and oils, he merely asked, in perfectly accented French: What would you prefer?

The kitchen could and would adapt any of the ingredients on the menu to come up with something that would work. When I suggested a dish that had lentils, he demurred. No, they were soaked in rich ingredients and simply wouldn’t do.

It was almost vexing to have such freedom to choose. In that way, it’s also damn clever. If something came out that wasn’t to your liking…well, it is exactly as ordered.

He did endorse the selection of a king crab, apple and mache salad. It arrived looking fresh and clean. A giant lump of crab meat sat atop a spicy dressing, with mache and Granny Smith apple matchsticks to add a tart punch. I counted it as 5 Weight Watchers points — 3 for 6 ounces of lump crab meat and 2 for 2 tablespoons of Italian-type salad dressing.

King crab, mache and apple salad

For the main, I ordered the filet mignon. The menu indicated it came with cauliflower and caperberries, which our server said were laden with fat. He consented to bring the caperberry sauce on the side and said the kitchen would simply steam the cauliflower. All good.

With late night theater tickets, The Restaurant Dieter and his husband opted out of dessert, so what followed next was the meal’s highlight.

Before the check, the server brought the kitchen’s standard petit fours — tiny cookies and sweets, in this case — for The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse. For me, he brought a cup of exquisitely fresh blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.

Never did I have to whip out my fantasy calling card.

A shout out to Wisteria in Atlanta

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.

Review Mustard’s Last Stand, Evanston, IL: Just ignore the Chicago dog

This place is famous. Been here since 1969. It’s all about the Chicago dog, which is a hotdog with mustard, onions, hot peppers, relish, celery salt and a pickle.

I had a chicken sandwich. For a Weight Watchers member, that’s about all you can do.

Review: WD-50, New York City: Starvation by molecular gastronomy

Everything bagel with smoked salmon threads and crispy cream cheese
The Restaurant Dieter has been dreading this review. It will rain on his spouse’s parade. I hate harshing his mellow. Really.

The Restaurant Dieter’s spouse collects interesting and unusual restaurant experiences like a scout collects merit badges. If a restaurant has been featured on the New York page of Eater.com, it’s a must-do. Ditto for something on Food & Wine’s top restaurants list or the subject of a positive review in the New York Times or New York Magazine.

Two things motivated us to visit WD-50 on New York’s Lower East Side one recent Sunday night: Chef Wylie Dufresne‘s appearances on Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” and his renown as a chef who engages in “molecular gastronomy.”

Eggs Benedict

You’re probably familiar with the term if you’ve seen “Top Chef.” Its practitioners may be heavily gloved and wearing goggles, pouring a vat of smoking liquid nitrogen over something. Or they may be mixing up magic powders with food to create something that looks completely unlike food. The phrase “mad scientist” comes to mind. Molecular gastronomy makes use of substances such as transglutaminase (a protein binder called meat glue) and , for thicking, something called hydrocolloids. At Gastroarte in New York City, a deconstructed salad came to the table dusted with olive oil powder, which was likely created using something called maltodextrin.

What’s that they say about pre-packaged food? If the ingredients on the label don’t sound like food, you shouldn’t eat it! Tell that to the TRD Spouse.

My first brush with molecular gastronomy came on a visit to Chicago. The TRD Spouse had snagged a reservation for four at Alinea, a hilarious experience — er, meal —  that I recounted in a previous blog post.

When it comes to hilarity, WD-50 served up an 11-course chef’s tasting menu that didn’t disappoint.

There was a miniature “everything” bagel that was actually ice cream with the flavors of garlic, onion and poppy seed, accented by a smoked salmon powder. A duck breast Reuben arrived looking like a DNA strand. Eggs Benedict consisted of a jelled egg yolk, English muffin chips and two deep-fried balls of Hollandaise sauce. One of the dessert courses was a paper-thin slice of mango, filled with a sake caramel (!), dots of sheep’s milk and again in powdered form, cashew.

The duck “Reuben”

Because there’s little control over what you’re served, it’s rarely a good idea for a dieter to order the tasting menu. But the house rules almost always require all persons at the table to partake. They figure that it will be awkward if somebody has three normal-sized courses and sits there while a parade of small tastes proceeds.

And so, for the sake of domestic harmony, I complied. Knowing that the caloric intake would be unpredictable, the rest of the day I restricted myself to high-fiber, low fat proteins and vegetables.

The funny thing about a meal like this: Even with 11 courses, nothing really satisfies. Each bite plays sight and taste games, but that’s it. They’re clever, but nothing sticks.

After a meal like this, I’d say there’s a very real danger of stopping off for a hamburger. I was tempted.

Mango with sake caramel, sheep’s milk cashew

New York’s Gramercy Tavern is heavy on flavor, light on fat, salt and sugar

Michael Anthony, chef, Gramercy Tavern

This past summer, a meal at New York’s Gramercy Tavern proved to be a dieter’s dream. The kitchen’s emphasis on fresh ingredients and cooking without a ton of added fat, sugar or salt was impressive. The menu had many healthful choices.

Recently, Executive Chef and partner, Michael Anthony, consented to an interview to explain his philosophy.

 

Does your kitchen consciously keep dieters in mind as menus are prepared?


Our esthetic of cooking is to celebrate approachable dishes that leave diners feeling vibrant and energized. We hope everyone who dines with us, whether dieteing or not, will appreciate leaving the restaurant feeling healthy and invigorated.


Is that how a great dish like the sea bass with marinated cucumber and yogurt sauce finds a place on the menu?


Yes, that’s a great example of a light, wholesome dish that’s connected to a season.  The dish celebrates Persian cucumbers — it’s seasonal, not over-manipulated, and has a distinct story.


Can you tell me anything about the history or the process that resulted in that dish?


I was fascinated with the idea of serving a cold entrée.  This one is all about the layering.  The base is cucumbers that have been salted and marinated with Konbu to show off their texture.  Over that goes the gently sautéed fish.  Next, we layer different cuts and varieties of cucumber over the fish to amplify and celebrate the flavors.  With this method of preparation, the cucumber is the star of the dish, while the fish plays a supporting role.  We’ve found that an entrée that is served entirely cold isn’t always an instant hit with diners. So, we chose to introduce a little bit of warmth to the dish with the fish, providing diners with something familiar and comforting to quiet the surprising coolness of the cucumbers. 


It had a ton of flavor, but from what I could tell, very little fat. Is that true? Can you tell me approximately how much butter, fat or oil there would be in a serving?


There’s not much fat in the dish.  The Labne yogurt has a small fat content: we use about 2 tablespoons of the yogurt for 1 portion of fish (with 5g of fat per 2 Tbsp yogurt).  We use a touch of olive oil and butter to glaze the fish in the pan, and we season the cucumbers with a splash of olive oil, but very little olive oil and butter land on the plate.


What’s your philosophy in the kitchen when it comes to the three foods that cause dieters the most distress — fat, sugar and salt?
Everything in moderation.  We need these ingredients to prepare certain dishes, but their overuse is a mishandling of flavor and product.


Why do you think so many restaurants go heavy on the fat, salt and sugar?


To seduce guests.  These are elements that most people have instinctual cravings for, so using these ingredients is an easy way for restaurants to appeal to diners.


Dr. David Kessler, former FDA commissioner, has written that the restaurant industry uses them because they are addictive, but isn’t another factor cost? As seasonings go, fat, salt and sugar are inexpensive, aren’t they?


When you consider these categories as commodities, yes, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.  There are ways to lessen the use of fat, salt and sugar without compromising the budget. We thoughtfully source unprocessed foods to use as ingredients, and then we use them sparingly to tell a distinct story that highlights what is grown regionally.


Or would you say that’s a crutch — that chefs and home cooks can season inexpensively using other ingredients?


There are other ways to think about cooking flavorful foods. We can look to other cooking traditions to find healthy, exciting and delicious preparations that involve relatively inexpensive seasoning ingredients.  Chefs and home cooks can choose to work with whole grains, fresh vegetables, and pickled or fermented ingredients to build delicious flavors.  We can also rethink the role that protein plays in the daily diet.


Is it a function of cooking training? Intense flavor can be coaxed out of other ingredients, but it takes time and some knowledge to too do so, doesn’t it?
Any good cooking takes practice and attention, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.  Contemporary American cooking can inspire the way that everyone cooks, and can teach accessible techniques like using light broths, relying on produce that is in season, and avoiding heavy fats.


I found the Gramercy menu pretty accommodating for a dieter, but what if I hadn’t? How willing is the kitchen to alter or change dishes to suit a dieter?


Our goal is to make guests happy and provide a personalized experience, so we are happy to adapt to guests’ dietary requests.


Do you have to worry about weight yourself? If so, how do you manage it personally?


I’m not overly concerned about my weight; I try to eat well and exercise.  The biggest dietary vice for me, as with many people in this industry, is eating late at night. It’s a difficult habit to break. 


Not everyone can afford to eat at Gramercy Tavern. Where would you go to eat out healthy in New York? How about at a national chain restaurant? Any recommendations?


When I have the chance, I like to have lunch at City Bakery, right down the street.  They serve simple foods from the Greenmarket that are satisfying yet healthy.
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