By The Restaurant Dieter

Tag: vegan

Review: Cafe Sunflower in Atlanta is great vegan, but not necessarily ideal for weight watchers

Vegetarian and vegan restaurants evoke thoughts of healthful plant foods and grains, if not Birkenstocks and skinny people whose thighs are no bigger than my wrist. If you’re watching your weight and looking for that kind of vegetarian restaurant, Cafe Sunflower, with locations in Atlanta  and Sandy Springs, is probably not for you.

It is a wonderful restaurant that elevates vegetables to a sinful delight, and you are just as likely to get fat eating there as not. Like Dirt Candy in New York City, the extensive menu reads and tastes decadent.

My first visit to the Atlanta location was on an unseasonably warm day after Christmas. It was nice enough to sit outside on the narrow patio. It was late in the day for lunch and the hostess was firm: “We close in 10 minutes.”

“Does that mean that I can order?”

“Yes, but quickly.”

OK, not the best welcome, but I learned later from the server that the cooks do indeed hightail it out after the end of the lunch service at 2:30 p.m. Dinner begins at 5 p.m., presumably with a second crew of cooks.

Their hasty departure did not prevent them from serving me a lunch that, while vegan, was sumptuous. Just imagine: those two words together in the same sentence.

Beet carpaccio with cashew cheese and olive pesto

Beet carpaccio with cashew cheese and olive pesto

The starter was a beet carpaccio. Thin raw slices were arranged on a long, rectangular plate with squiggles of superfluous sauce on either side. On top of each beet slice was a dollop of cashew cheese. The combination was wonderfully rich and didn’t seem affected one way or another by a smear of the sauces, described as olive pesto. I couldn’t find a listing for cashew cheese, so I assessed 6 Weight Watchers SmartPoints for 2 tablespoons of cashew butter.

The entree was filling enough that a starter wasn’t really needed at all. A large spinach wrap was stuffed to capacity with quinoa, spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, mashed sweet potato and avocado. It nudged the edge of pool of chipolte aioli, and the small dish of a vegan cheese came on the side, as requested. It was accompanied by a small cup of earthy butternut squash soup and a green salad with a bright, ginger dressing.

Even without the cheese, the burrito was thick and rich. It didn’t look shiny, as if the vegetables had been bathed in an olive oil. But what was inside felt undoubtedly substantial. This clocked in at 6 smartpoints for a cup of quinoa, 5 for a half an avocado, 6 for the spinach wrap. Even with no visible fat, it seemed wise to throw in another 3-4 smartpoints to cover that potential plus the couple of times the burrito hit the chipolte aioli.

Quinoa avocado burrito with butternut squash soup and green salad

Quinoa avocado burrito with butternut squash soup and green salad

For lunch, 26 is a substantial expenditure of points. Too much, really. Half the burrito would have sufficed. The Restaurant Dieter paid for it, too.

The whole affair called for a nap that ended with heartburn — a rare event when I’m eating light and healthy. All the contributing factors were probably at play: the position of the lower esophageal sphincter when laying down, too much food, meals high in fats and oils (animal or vegetable) and likely, garlic and onions somewere in the preparation.

But I couldn’t stop.

On my second visit, I resolved to consume fewer calories and ordered a decent squash soup and the warm quinoa veg plate. On the latter, the name proved as accurate and boring as the dish itself. I’m sure the chef would say it was my own fault.

Crispy Brussels Sprouts

Crispy Brussels Sprouts



Meanwhile, my companions reveled in the menu’s delights: excellent steamed dumplings with cabbage, carrot, tofu and black mushrooms; crispy (read: deep fried) brussels sprouts; the sunflower burger; and the Kabocha squash ravioli.

I felt so deprived that I wound up ordering a slice of their rich, dense, coconut cake and eating every crumb.

Wonderful yes, but not a low fat outing.

Coconut cake

Coconut cake


Review: Peacefood Cafe and Le Relais de Venise, New York City

TRD Spouse goes his own way for lunch in NYC — steak frites at Le Relais de Venise

Even after 16 happy years of marriage, some couples find they have no other choice but to go their own ways. It happened to us.  No lawyers needed, though.

So The Restaurant Dieter wound up at Peacefood Cafe on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and TRD Spouse at Le Relais de Venise in Midtown. The names alone should be sufficient to capture the irreconcilable divide, but the details are too amusing not to be chewed over again.

Quinoa salad with a side of baked tempeh

I’ve previously written about our household culinary divide. It heightens every time we get off the plane at LaGuardia. I want to stop at the Fairway on Broadway to stock up on fruit. He hopes it’s not too late to get a chocolate eclair up the street at Beard Papa. Yesterday’s lunch was 16 years of marriage, played out in a single meal.

TRD: Peacefood is a neighborhood joint, one of two where the stroller-pushing lefties who inhabit this stretch of the Upper West Side can get their fix of kale soup while the children eat chicken-nugget-ish baked soy with fresh herbed vegan mayo. Everything about it is clean, from the wide open windows and whitewashed walls to the menu that proclaims “eat differently” at this “vegan kitchen and bakery.” Even the waitstaff is clean, in a sort of skinny, scruffy hipster way. Would you like an organic cotton hoodie with your tempeh avocado sandwich?

TRD Spouse:  A few weeks ago my boss was staying on the Upper East Side of New York and asked for some dining recommendations.  I suggested Le Relais de Venise, which is also called “L’Entrecote,” the French word for what Americans call a rib-eye.  He had a delicious meal and returned to the office with a receipt offering 20 percent off lunch, which he left on my desk.  How could I let it go to waste?

99 degrees and no takers for sidewalk dining.

The LRDV at  590 Lexington Ave (52nd St.) is New York outpost of a small chain of French bistros that started in Paris and expanded to two locations in London and the Big Apple.   There are a few outside tables along Lex (unused in this weekend’s miserable heat).  Indoors one finds black-and-white tile floors, dark wood wait stations, bright lights reflected in large mirrors, lots of flowers, a bar with bottles of wine lined up for service, comfy booths and chairs in different colors, and table tops covered with plasticky-basketweave paper covers over linen clothes, with bright yellow napkins on top.  The wait staff (all women) is dressed in crisp black-and-white uniforms (not really French maid — more French waitress).  In other words, walk in the door and it just says “Bonjour!”

TRD: Lunch offerings are on a single menu with salads, soups, vegetable bowls, sandwiches, panini, pizzas and sides. In the evening there’s an expanded list of specials. Like all such restaurants, it can be a mistake to confuse vegan or vegetarian with low fat and low calories. A look at the bakery window proves that: there’s no shortage of calories in the mile-high lemon vanilla layer cake or the coconut cream pie. And onions do not get caramelized with out some fat. But there are so many choices that celebrate the ingredients rather than fat and sugar. It’s easy to choose something that tastes light, healthy and virtuous.

TRD Spouse:  LRDV does one thing — steak frites — and it does it marvelously.  The “menu” announces what you’ll be having for lunch front and center:

“Today, trimmed Entrecote Steak “Porte Maillot” with its famous sauce French Fries and Green salad with walnuts….$24.95″

To get started, you tell the waiter how you’d like your steak done — I told her “medium” and she scribbled an “M” on my table.  The salad arrives right away — lightly dressed with a zingy mustard vinaigrette and crumbled walnuts on top.

One marker of being on vacation, even a short weekend one, is wine with lunch.  I ordered a glass of ’09 Pierre Amadieu, a tasty Cotes-du-Rhone, from the short list of French wines.  A second one followed.

The steak arrives with a green, tarragon-y sauce over the perfectly-prepared steak.  The frites are golden, crispy, chewy, duck-fat bathed beauties.

TRD: Peacefood’s wonderful selection of baked items and desserts beckoned, so lunch had to be light enough to accommodate a little dessert afterward. Protein is always a concern when I eat vegetarian, so I went for the fluffy quinoa salad with white beans and baby greens and asked for a side of baked tempeh. The idea was to add the latter, marinated only in tamari, to the salad. I nursed a $3 iced peppermint tea — $3? Even in New York? — and waited. One might expect the quinoa mounded atop the greens, but it arrived mixed. The creamy mustard lime vinaigrette was extremely subtle — none of the headline ingredients poked through. Instead, it served as a canvas from which all the component ingredients could stand out: crunchy raw corn kernels, peppery arugula, sweet red onion, red pepper, creamy avocado and finally, the nutty quinoa itself. It was wonderful. The only unfortunate note was the lack of beans. When I pointed that out, the server offered to get more of something else to bulk up the protein — avocado or more quinoa. Because of the mixed in tempeh (5 grams of protein per ounce) I let it go.

Peacefood cookie with carrot and chocolate chip

I was sorely tempted by a generous slice of the lemon vanilla cake — all the slices are generous — but in food-happy New York, with one meal for the day yet to go, I opted to conserve instead. A cookie with chocolate chips, coconut, pecans and carrot sufficed. It was chewy and rich, but not overly sweet. I’d call it a cookie for an adult.

TRDSpouse:  I have one hard-and-fast rule when dining out:  If profiteroles are on the menu, I’m ordering them.  And so I did, along with a cup of cafe Americain.

And they were delicious but, sadly, no second helping on dessert.

One quirk at LRDV is they don’t offer heat-ups on coffee.  Sayeth the server: “We don’t do refills.  If you’d like another one, I can bring it to you.”  And so she did.  For $3.25.

TRD: As with any restaurant meal, the nutritional information can be difficult to assess. The vegetables in the salad are all negligible; except the corn (perhaps 1/4 to 1/2 cup), they’re all zero points on Weight Watchers. The salad was dressed so lightly that at most, it would be two tablespoons of a full-fat dressing. Four ounces of baked tempeh are about 220 calories and 12 grams of fat. The cookie was modest sized, not the fashionable monster size that is more accurately at least six. For Weight Watchers points, I counted the corn at 1/2 cup and wound up at 15 points. Not bad for lunch in the big city.

TRD Spouse:  A crispy, zingy salad, a perfectly prepared steak and frites-of-the-Gods, a couple glasses of a spicy, fresh red, a plate of pastry, ice cream, and chocolate sauce with hot coffee — the perfect lunch.  I wandered out of Le Relais de Venise, $60 poorer (including the 20% off coupon), but fully sated and ready for an afternoon of shopping for glasses at Warby Parker, a nap and then an 8 p.m. show.  Ahhhhh…

Then, this morning, a 5 mile run through Central Park.