By now you know that my husband drags me to restaurants I would never think of going. I’d stop at the sandwich shop for lunch, but he wants to dine.
Feeling a little chunky this morning, when the subject of lunch came up I said I just wanted a salad. He looked for a restaurant in Soho on Open Table and picked David Burke Kitchen. (It goes without saying that if a restaurant isn’t in Open Table, it might as well not exist for my husband.)
Asked how he learned of it, he said, “he’s a boldface-name chef,” as if that explained everything. So be it: David Burke, this one’s for you.
My husband had apparently checked the menu before making the reservation and saw it had salads. Only it didn’t — at least not on the brunch menu. “There’s a chicken sandwich,” he said hopefully.
I resigned myself to the sandwich and ordered the starter of raw and pickled vegetables. That began my evolution from negative to positive. The vegetables included crunchy tart fennel, baby carrots, cucumber slices and endive with a portion cup of artichoke puree.
My husband, of course, ordered the tater tots with caviar and crème fraiche — a perfect Baby Boomer food snob dish.
The chicken sandwich came with a nice salad of spinach, arugula and raddichio. The sandwich itself was piled high on buttered toasted focaccia: chicken, a homemade mayo with some heat, a celery root slaw, a fat slice of tomato and red onion.
It was delicious, especially because the paillard of chicken was surprisingly warm and juicy. It’s so easy to overcook and dry out a piece of chicken pounded flat.
The whole lunch was more fattening than my modest salad would have been. But I left most of the bread and salad to compensate.
As I write this, hubby is having dessert — a chocolate hazelnut flan — and a leisurely second glass of wine. He’s happy.
And me? Happy too. Life’s full of compromises, and some of them result in good blog posts.
Carnegie’s reputation in part comes from superhuman portions — typically 1 pound of meat per sandwich — and sharing charges that discourage sharing. Yes, I have in fact eaten a whole sandwich there. And yes, the restaurant’s motto is, “If you can finish your meal, we’ve done something wrong.”
Just for sport, The Restaurant Dieter Googled the phrases “Carnegie Deli” and “Weight Watchers” and this is all that came up.
You’d be justifed for wondering how an item about Carnegie turned up on this website. Well, it turns out that Carnegie Deli does in fact have some good salads on the menu. And you can always go with a friend and take the tiniest bite of his Reuben. Heaven.
“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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
The restaurant’s signature image, from a time when a fuller-figured gal was just as sexy.
Cafe Luxembourg is French, with all the steak and frites that implies, but lunch still has great options for a person on Weight Watchers. That shouldn’t have surprised The Restaurant Dieter; it’s an Upper West Side place that celebrities apparently love. And you know how they are about their weight.
On my first visit some years ago, tucked into a booth surrounded by what looked like a gaggle of gay men sat the diminutive Broadway queen Kristin Chenoweth. Yesterday, it was Broadway, film and television actor, Michael McKean and his wife, actress Annette O’Toole. McKean sat close enough for me to lean over and say something stupid like: “I loved you in ‘Laverne and Shirley.'”
Cafe Luxembourg tuna burger
Instead, following appropriate New York protocol, I read the menu and pretended I had not noticed him. The lunch menu has suitably low-fat classics like roasted autumn vegetables, steak tartare, salmon tartare, Cobb salad and even steak (assuming one holds the frites and gets the green salad instead).
I was in a mood for something substantial and went for the tuna burger, green salad on the side. I counted the SmartPoints as 1 for a tablespoon of salad dressing; 4 for the tuna burger (no breadcrumbs, our server said); and 5 for a sesame bun.
The Restaurant Dieter typically does not really rely on Yelp for recommendations. One reason is the ying-yang nature of the crowd: “it’s the best place ever” co-exists with “They served me fried rat and the host was so rude to me!” Another is the potential for a business to work the system with fake reviews.
But in an unfamiliar area, I do open the app up from time to time just to see what is close by. And I do glance at the reviews. It’s hard not to. I just temper my expectations.
When the claim is “the best turkey sandwich ever,” one has to wonder. I don’t know if I can support that claim, but it was good.
The turkey is not Dietz and Watson or Boarshead or anything else from the deli case. It’s fresh and apparently roasted in the kitchen and sliced to order.
Imagine the surprise of being asked this follow-up question after ordering the dieter staple: “White, dark or both?”
What arrived on the cheapest paper plate was slices of seasoned, but not salty, meat, so juicy it threatened to soak the bread. This kitchen spends the money on what counts.
With a banana, it brought lunch to 6 Weight Watcher points.
If you’re in the village, stop by for a higher quality turkey sandwich than you’re most likely to find anywhere — except your own home perhaps.
At Tenth Avenue Cookshop, everything on the brunch menu looks good. The pastry basket looks wonderful. People all over the place are having big hearty cast iron skillets with luscious huevos rancheros, three eggs with black beans, jack cheese and creme fraiche. The fries are heaping mounds of thin fried goodness. It seemed like a poor choice for a dieter.
There were two salads, the most promising of which was a shrimp salad with radish, shaved carrot and fennel. I ordered that.
We’d sat at the bar and watched the bartenders making drinks. For one popular one, they shoved a fat slice of grapefruit into the glass first. It looked inviting.
The grapefruit was a gift
Although not on the menu, The Restaurant Dieter asked. The server was only too glad to comply, and it didn’t even end up on the bill. The grapefruit was at the peak of season — tart but also sweet. As an unexpected bonus, the salad itself had a few fat slices.
The Weight Watchers point tally was a mere 3 points — 2 for 4 ounces of shrimp and 1 for 1 tablespoon of vinaigrette. It was so low that we ordered the assorted housemade treats — the kind of small sweet things that often turn up at a fine restaurant with the bill. These included a wonderful cherry pistachio nougat and tiny disc of intense orange olive oil cake. I tried them all, assessing myself another 5 points.
If you go, sit and the bar. The folks there will treat you well.
With the exception of chains that post their dubious nutritional information online, it’s rare to find a sit-down restaurant that is so transparent.
So imagine the surprise when the menu at Rouge Tomate says a diner need only ask to see complete nutritional information — on everything. “Just a moment,” the waiter says, and suddenly a ring binder lands on the two-top.
Under vinyl page protectors is everything a dieter would want to know, and every single dish appears to be well within that dieter’s reach. Amazing.
A recent Saturday night meal at Rouge Tomate goes down in dieting history as the first and only time The Restaurant Dieter has been able to use Weight Watchers E-tools and figure the points value on before the food came to the table.
Dinner rounded out at a healthy 28 points. I probably ate more than I would have ordinarily, but only because the whole affair was so relatively guiltless.
Where does a restaurant like this come from? The website says the restaurant follows a charter called Sanitas Per Escam, which is Latin for Health Through Food. The whole thing appears to be both a restaurant and a consulting gig rolled into one.
The restaurant is the work of one Emmanuel Verstraeten, a “serial entrepreneur” (his website’s quotation marks, by the way). It’s the New York outpost of a similar restaurant he opened in 2001 in Brussels, according to the website. He is also the founder and CEO of SPE Development US Inc., a consulting company in the area of — you guessed it — healthy food.
In what appears to be a nod toward keeping an ethical distance, the SPE website notes that Rouge Tomate itself is not SPE-certified because “It is SPE Certified’s policy to provide third-party certification only.” Hence the use of the phrase “follows a charter” and the arm’s length. There will be no nutritional self-dealing here apparently.
Anyway, the food was, for the most part, quite good.
Ricotta and carrot spreads
Dinner started with crusty whole grain rolls, accompanied not with butter but two spreads: a savory carrot puree and a house made ricotta cheese. Had I known that, I might not have ordered the toasts, but at 2-3 Weight Watcher points each, why not?
Three come for $13. The spaghetti squash version was the standout, with Maryland crab, honeycrisp apple, jalapeno and cilantro. The cranberry tapanade tasted like…cranberry. The wild mushroom, redolent of thyme on a bed of ricotta, tasted pretty much like the mushroom pate from “The Moosewood Cookbook,” the much-beloved vegetarian cooking bible from the 1970s and 1980s.
The toasts: mushroom, crab and cranberry tapanade
A roasted cauliflower salad with hazelnuts, salted grapes, bok choi and toasted buttermilk really needed a kick of some kind — something acidic or fiery. It arrived looking every bit like a Miro — dips and dabs and squiggles of color all over the plate. Perhaps it’s the trendy technique itself; when a dish is so deconstructed, it can be difficult to get it mixed enough to enjoy the whole effect. It clocked in at a meager 4 Weight Watcher points.
For the main course, 10 Weight Watcher points seemed a small price to pay for a fresh herb pasta tossed with a sauce made from fennel and lobster oil, with a touch of saffron and lemon. A couple fat claws and a small tail of lobster gave the dish enough protein to balance the perfectly al dente tagliatelle, studded here and there with bits of herb. With some broccoli and big wheels of leek to provide fiber, it was a meal any dieter would find satisfying.
The dessert menu offered a range of tiny treats, including a couple with dense chocolate, for as little as 3 points. When a pastry chef is confident enough to express himself or herself through a humble cookie, I’m inclined to order it. The portion for one person consisted of six miniature cookies, including a tiny biscotti and a date brownie, and came with a shooter of apple cider. The latter was so foamy it appeared to have been freshly extracted from a juicer back in the kitchen.
For this part of the meal, I only estimated. So confident was I in the kitchen’s discretion that I forgot to ask the server to bring over the nutritional ring binder one more time. The need for transparency had given way to trust. Now that’s something a dieting restaurant patron doesn’t do every day.