Healthy Restaurant Eating

By The Restaurant Dieter

Tag: recommended

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.

 

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

New York review: Spring Natural Kitchen has a healthy and diverse menu for all

The Restaurant Dieter is in New York, entertaining his niece over the New Year holiday.

We avoided the insanity of Times Square and went to dinner near our place on the Upper West Side. We went to Spring Natural Kitchen on Columbus.

It is rapidly becoming my go-to place in the neighborhood. The menu is so diverse that a healthy eater and Weight Watchers member can find satisfaction, as can a companion who could care less.

I had steamed edamame and a wonderful salad nicoise. The whole meal was satisfying and protein packed at 10 Weight Watcher points,

The fact that the dessert menu included a bowl of fresh fruit — served with or without a scoop of sorbet — made it the perfect meal with which to start the new year.

Happy New Year Spring Natural Kitchen. I’ll be seeing you.

Salad Nicoise
A bowl of fresh fruit for dessert

Review: Gramercy Tavern, New York City

The muffin

Why do upscale restaurants feel the need to send you home with something for breakfast? The last time we were at Jean-Georges in New York, it was the most delicate little brioche. Once it was a tiny package of house made granola.

This past week at New York’s Gramercy Tavern, it was a cinnamon-sugar muffin. Not that I needed to wreck the perfectly healthy meal with that muffin the next morning. Wait, what actually happened is worse. The Restaurant Dieter’s Spouse left his muffin on the counter, so I ate both. I couldn’t throw it away.

The folks at Gramercy apparently couldn’t leave it at the plate of petit four that ended the meal — tiny cheese cake cups, macarons and deep rich chocolates.

This panna cotta arrived before dessert

And two courses before that, they’d served something new: the pre-desert desert. It was a tiny ramekin with a panna cotta, a dusting of granola and a single blackberry. Then came the low fat sorbet PLUS a plate of the regular ice cream, courtesy of the house, since the waiter worried that I was struggling over which sounded better.

(An important aside here: I do not announce myself as a restaurant reviewer and writer until I leave my business card at the end of the meal, although I do bring a tiny notepad and take photographs of my food. The surprise dessert is the first time I’ve wondered if the house suspected a reviewer was in their midst.)

All told, our three-course prix fixe menu wound up with eight items being brought to the table, starting with a goat cheese puff amuse-bouche that simply oozed cheese and fat. (Yes, it was wonderful.)

A dieter who watched intake more carefully than I could do rather well here. Three of the six entrees on the dinner menu were fish. The Restaurant Dieter’s Spouse had a fillet of halibut with fava beans, sun gold tomatoes and an herb vinaigrette. It was cooked so perfectly he felt compelled to ask if it had been prepared sous-vide. It wasn’t.

My starter was delicate ruby red shrimp with a salsa verde atop polenta. What really made the dish were slivers of tart, pickled ramp and the barely cooked bed of collard greens between the shrimp and the polenta. By just tasting a bit of the polenta, it qualified as diet food.

Sea bass with marinated cucumber and yogurt sauce

The highlight of the meal was a delicate pan-roasted sea bass that rested on a salad of cool marinated cucumber and a yogurt sauce flecked with mint and cilantro. The yogurt sauce was so creamy and rich that I suspected cream or buttermilk, but the server said it was just plain yogurt.

The sorbets — plum, peach and blueberry — were deep concentrations of the fruit. They were tart enough that one suspects little to no sugar was added.

With New York sweltering in record heat this past week, the sorbets and the sea bass combined for a meal a dieter could only dream of.

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?

Review: Floataway Cafe, Atlanta, Ga.

Heirloom tomato salad with a dollop of tomato sorbet



Growing up, we knew Summer was on for real when the tomato salad turned up on the menu. It had no recipe to speak of, only an insistence on seasonal ingredients: ripe tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, fresh basil. The tomates had to be homegrown, deep and red and oozing juice.
The juice was a key ingredient, for it had no dressing  — just a few tablespoons of water and some olive oil. A few aggressive stirs of the mixture produced a juice ideal for the crusty Italian bread that was the only unseasonal ingredient in this dish.

It was a peasant food before peasant food was haute. The older generation would be shocked to discover this humble dish, slightly upscaled, as a $12 starter on the menu at The Floataway Cafe. In this case, the upscaling took the form of a savory tomato sorbet, distilled from those very same juices. But everything else was the same, down to the little portion cups of olive oil and tomato water, as I had requested that the dressing be served on the side. Its only flaw was a slight bitterness to the whole basil leaves. Next time, use a chiffonade.

This was diet food that did not taste so. It was as rich and delicately flavorful as remembered from my childhood. Perhaps the only difference was that I made do with a single piece of crusty bread to soak up the juice, not the half loaf I might have eaten.

Both I and my spouse chose this as starters. Our friend had beau-soleil oysters, itself a light and lowfat choice. That the meal ended in an orgy of dessert was a testament to what makes Floataway Cafe (est: 1998) an enduring presence on Atlanta’s upscale restaurant scene. Everything is executed perfectly.

Floataway is from the stable of restaurants owned by Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison, who got their celebrated start in 1993 with Atlanta’s Bacchanalia.
The menu, which changes daily, is diet friendly. And if it is not, then the service at least is. When my companion asked if he could substitute the braised summerland farm greens for the pommes frites, our server responded brightly, “of course.” They arrived bathed in a fat of some kind, which turned them from diet to decadent. Had my companion asked for them steamed with a tad of butter on the side, I have no doubt the kitchen would have obliged.

Summer succotash

Besides the tomato salad, diet-friendly starters included a montauk bluefin tuna crudo with chilis and preserved orange and marinated roasted beets with housemade strained yogurt and avocado.

For my main, I chose the whole roasted loup de mer, served stuffed with lemon and fennel and served with a small salad of arugula. This was a fish dish that celebrated, rather than buried, the fish. A Georgia mountain trout with ratatouille looked like another good choice. My spouse had the roasted organic chicken, which might have worked for a dieter — save that it was sitting on top of a mound of the most buttery mashed potatoes I’ve ever tasted.

The fresh summer succotash side was a medley of fresh limas, corn, green beans, zuchini and peppers. The green beans actually had some bite left to them. This side, too, was bathed in a buttery fat, but given the healthy nature of the rest of the meal, I let it slide.

The dessert menu had the requisite mondo-chocolate cake of some kind, a vanilla cheesecake, a toffee cake and a warm peach upside down cake. The lightest thing on the menu appeared to be the popsicle plate. Our companion went for a blueberry brown butter tart, which paired wonderfully with a lemon buttermilk sorbet. I tasted just enough to appreciate the taste, but minimize any diet damage.

My bite of cinnamon ice cream

The Restaurant Dieter Spouse went for a trio of gelati — chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon. They came as three tiny scoops, so I had half of the cinnamon and felt pretty virtuous. It was creamy and intense, every bit as good as the Williams-Sonoma heavy cream cinnamon my spouse made during our fattest years.

Oh, and that disasterous orgy I mentioned? My spouse and companion decided they needed to taste the toffee cake with vanila gelato. I took a bite enough with just enough of the dark, rich, molten toffee to know it was dangerous and that I needed something to break the fall.

A sip of Floataway’s rich French press coffee was the antidote. Like nearly everything at Floataway, it was perfect.

Required reading: ‘The End of Overeating’

Dr. David A. Kessler’s “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite” should be required reading for anybody who’s waged a battle with weight.

I’ve lent this 2009 book out often that I no longer have my copy. I’ve given it to complete strangers in my weekly Weight Watchers meetings, because I believe so strongly in its message.

Here’s the gist: It’s not you. Salt, sugar and fat are highly addictive — and the combination much more so. I can’t cite the details off the top of my head, but the book is chock full of research citations and anecdotes from scientific studies. I tell friends they all add up to the same thing: A perfectly well fed mouse gets a taste of something salty or sweet, and runs through the electric fence until he’s dead to get more.

I know this well. A day of good behavior on the Weight Watchers plan can go out the window after a couple of tortilla chips. Spurred on by that craving for more salt and fat, two chips becomes seven. And seven becomes a whole basket.

Kessler was appointed commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration by President George H.W. Bush and also served in that role under President Bill Clinton. He’s a Harvard Med School grad.

Besides the scientific information, the book features comments from anonymous folks who work in product development for major restaurant chains. They strive to make foods super appealing by combining these addictive elements. It’s why chicken fingers, coated in a salty batter and then deep fried, are doused in a honey chipolte sauce. The dish hits all three addictive compass points — fat, salt, sugar.

I’m not pointing a finger at just the chains. Many restaurants go heavy on sugar, salt and fat because people like the taste. Bland food is unsold food; bland restaurants are empty restaurants. Other ingredients that impart flavor to a dish — say fresh herbs or vegetables at the peak of season — can be expensive and require more prep time in the kitchen, which also costs. So using fat, salt and sugar is economical.

When I’m vigilant, I turn the basket of chips away. Or don’t take any at all. I know that if I slip, it’s off to the races for the rest of the day. Sometimes, I can blunt the desire to keep eating by taking a banana, whose potassium counteracts the sodium.

All you can really do is be aware, and that’s why you want to read Kessler’s book. At least understand that it’s not some character flaw on your part.

Thanks Dr. Kessler.

You can follow him @DavidAKesslerMD on Twitter.