After a day of eating too many biscotti on a visit to my family in suburban Detroit, it was time to buckle down to lean protein and vegetables. So when we got to Wild Coney, I went for the large Greek salad, dressing and feta on the side, of course. The menu wasn't kidding when it said large.
I certainly engaged in some of that with a recent post about the impending news that the southern-fried restauranteur and cooking show star, Paula Deen, had Type 2 Diabetes. It was kind of delicious, and her decision to come out certainly had its commercial benefits. She's touting a diabetes drug now, and one of her son's is launching a cooking show featuring more healthful cooking.
But former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni had an interesting piece lately. It noted that meals created by some of the world's more high-brow chefs can be just as bad as the white trash cooking for which Deen is known. So there.
Most interesting, however, was that some of these same chefs and food industry professionals work hard to maintain their movie star looks with diets and exercise regimes that one might not suspect.
Leading up to filming a season of "Top Chef," frequent judge and "Just Desserts" host Gail Simmons does a 10-day mostly vegetarian diet including a juice cleanse. Several cook basic meals like roast chicken for themselves and have personal trainers.
But somehow, amid tasting all those rich meals on TV, nobody fesses up. Viewers are left to embrace the fiction that they, too, can eat like kings but have the lean figure of a starving commoner.
This past weekend's Weight Watchers weigh-in showed minor progress -- down .2, wearing the exact same clothing as last week. That made me 15.6 over my goal weight of 190 pounds. Despite my having reached goal a couple of years back, lifetime members must pay a fee when they weigh in over at a meeting.
It was not the most conducive week for a diet. The weekend before, I'd had to euthanize my 15-year-old lab, which was emotional. The work week had been a long one. I'd had several early-start days where I couldn't get to the gym and a lot of catered-in work lunches and dinners. One was at a Mexican restaurant where I managed to avoid the passed hors d'oeuvre, but at dinner plopped down right in front of the basket of fried tortilla chips, plantain and pork rind. Because it was a work dinner, we had a set menu with few options.
I didn't expect a big loss on Saturday, but I went anyway.
There's the story of a Weight Watchers member who, afraid she'd gained from the previous week, skipped the meeting and weigh-in. Then, faced with the same dilemma the following week, skipped again. This continued until she was finally forced to return -- tens of pounds heavier than she was for that first skipped meeting. In fact, the company claims that its own research suggests that those who attend meetings experience more success than those who go it alone.
The story may be apocryphal, and certainly that claim has been challenged, but there's a ring of truth to it. The best way to conquer the monkey on your back -- whatever it may be -- is to be mindful of it. A half hour once a week to think about how you really want to look and feel can often inspire.
It certainly did this weekend. Grocery shopping Saturday after the meeting yielded bananas, two boxes of clementines, broccoli rabe, asparagus, apples, lean chicken breasts, high-fiber breads and wraps, nonfat yogurt and cottage cheese, lean and low-sodium chicken breast. As a result, most of the day was a case study in smart, healthful and really satisfying eating.
But Saturday night was a friend's wedding reception, and from the passed canapés on, a failure. I neglected to take my own best advice: eat some protein before going to any party where food can be consumed standing up. It's incredibly easy to get caught up in the moment and dive into whatever is at hand. Sigh.
At least I have a refrigerator full of what I'll need to make sure the next weigh-in goes better.
Yet another chain restaurant wants to cash in on our health concerns without really backing it up.
This time it's the cafeteria chain, Luby's, with something they're calling the Livin' Smart menu. I'm always hopeful when I read something like this, and then I dig in deeper.
More accurate would be Livin' Ignorant, as Luby's seems to think none of us cares about the level of sodium in our food and has helpfully left that metric off. So we can't tell if, like much restaurant food, it is salty and addictive. They must have missed the recent New York Times story on sodium.
Nothing about The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Atlanta will knock your socks off. It's not inventive, it's not especially creative and god knows, it's certainly not modern.
When you're sitting in a dining room tricked up to make you feel like you're eating on the Queen Mary, and dessert includes baked Alaska, only a patron as mad as old King George III would expect nouvelle cuisine, farm-to-table or molecular gastronomy.
No, this is a safe and predictable "expense account" kind of fish joint, with prices to match, and what's on the menu here is seafood, fresh and executed well. After weighing in 3 pounds lighter than a week ago at Weight Watchers, The Restaurant Dieter and some pals had good more reason to choose safe and stay the course.
While we ate at the Atlanta location, this small of 12 chain has restaurants in Washington D.C., Dallas, Denver and Houston, Boston, Miami and Minneapolis. Didn't I say this was an "expense account" kind of places with prices to match? ($32.95 for about 6-8 ounces of Florida Grouper, served with absolutely nothing. All other accompaniments a la carte.)
For the non-dieter, the Oceanaire menu offers all manner of preparations that can send you home having doffed a 3,000-calorie-plus meal. You can get fish fried, with drawn butter and Louied. You can get something turf-y with rich crab Oscar on top. You can get vegetables sauteed or covered in Hollandaise sauce. And then there's the aforementioned baked Alaska.
Skip the bread in favor of the relish dish
But there are also enough signals that the dieter will not only be accommodated, but celebrated. That sense starts with the dish of crudites that arrive at the table at the moment a basket of the crusty bread does. Carrot sticks, cherry peppers, olives, cucumber slices sit atop a cold bed of ice. How often do you see that? It's like a big welcome sign.
Thanks to that gesture of thoughtfulness, The Restaurant Dieter managed to pass up the bread. And when his companions appetizers "for the table" arrived, he similarly bypassed the fried calamari in favor of his own seafood chopped salad. It consisted of lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives, capers, hard-cooked egg, cold boiled shrimp and crab and feta cheese. The kitchen was happy to put the feta and vinaigrette on the side.
Rather than use the only spoon at the table -- a large one that came with the calamari -- I waited for a server to bring another and ladled on two ice tea spoonfuls of dressing and about an ounce of feta. With all the other chopped ingredients oozing their own juices, it was plenty -- even on such a large salad.
The entree was a grilled grouper that arrived without having been bathed in the lemon butter at my request. It also was a large meaty portion. For a side, I had the steamed asparagus with the Hollandaise, which already comes on the side and was politely ignored. The spears were big and fat. I ate them with my fingers, just like my companions ate their Parmesan and truffle oil French fries.
And for dessert, my companions ordered the baked Alaska for two, which really served four. Once the fire died down, a spoonful was enough to send me home safe, sound and satisfied. When you're trying to watch your weight, sometimes that's enough.
Call it New Year's marketing masquerading as health news.
Restaurant.com reports the results of a survey by Applebee's about food related New Year's resolutions. Undertaken on behalf of the chain, it says 9 of 10 people break resolutions to eat healthier, with the most popular reason being "I like to eat what I want, when I want."
The item goes on to tout how this is possible with Applebee's Under 550 menu. However, back at corporate HQ, the survey likely confirmed that this casual theme dinner house is on the right track from a business perspective: largely ignore the obesity crisis because you can make a lot more money selling mostly high fat-salt-sugar combinations masquerading as meals.
There are exactly six entrees on the Under 550 menu, and they even carry Weight Watchers Points Plus tracking values. But they are salty and incredibly unhealthy for that reason alone. They range in sodium content from 1,520 mg to 3,180 mg -- despite the fact that 1,500 mg a day is considered the maximum any adult over 50 should eat.
And then there is that asterisk about how variations in preparation can increase or decrease the nutritional values. Having eaten their Weight Watchers entrees before, I'm pretty sure it's the former rather than the latter. The food was overly shiny, and the portions easily compared with a typical Applebee's meal. Indeed, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2011 found errors of 100 calories or more about 19 percent of the time.
Nice try Applebee's. How about a real New Year's resolution from you?
Not every meal can be planned or a dining experience. I've been waiting at the vet for the doc to finish the blood work on our Labrador, Nan. It's lunchtime, I'm hungry and I have to stick around this area to pick her up.
I just needed something to eat. Let's see, there's Rocco's NY Pizza, Willy's Mexicana Grill, McDonald's (touting a "snack wrap" version of a guilty pleasure, the Big Mac) and a weirdly unfocused place called Kyoto Joe's International Cuisine.
Guess which won?
Joe's menu is a weird combination of Japanese teriyaki bowls and falafel. The new owner told me he's in the process of bringing clarity to the place. It will soon be "an international pita cafe," he said with a distinctly Middleastern accent. Maybe he'll rename it. Tarek's Pita Cafe?
Anyway, I opted for a teriyaki bowl with just chicken, vegetables and the sauce, which he told me is getting booted off the menu. I suppose there's always Greek Salad and chicken kebab in the future.
The Simply Filling plan has been really great. It's really helped me get back to eating right. Best of all, you can eat without tracking every single item or weighing everything, as long as you eat off a specific foods list. The list is extensive: flank steak, chicken, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, quinoa, all vegetables, fruit, brown rice, beans, lentils. It's foods I like anyway.
And at the restaurant last Saturday, I ordered lean proteins and vegetables, and had a great meal. I only had to assess a few points for the unknown oils and fats used in the preparation.
The internet is buzzing about the possibility that Paula Deen will soon announce that she has Type 2 diabetes. This is hardly surprising.
Several years back, before I really knew who she was, I turned on the TV and watched this southern fried blond with an accent so thick it could cut biscuit dough make sweet corn for dinner. She fried bacon, removed it and fried the corn in the fat. Then she added an entire stick of butter.
I've eaten once at her restaurant, The Lady & Sons. I was there with a large group of newspaper features section editors in Savannah for a meeting. If we hadn't been such a large group, we would have had to stand in the line that consistently circles the place.
I can't remember what I ate, but I'm pretty sure it involved copious amounts of cornbread, yeast rolls, fried chicken and a shrimp boil.
I don't remember if there was sweet corn in bacon fat with butter. I'm sure if there was, I would have eaten it. That was then; this is now.
Have I mentioned that, despite a family history of Type 2 diabetes, my blood sugar is normal?
There's this myth that some groups don't get fat. It surfaced in Mireille Guiliano's 2004 "French Women Don't Get Fat," which became a New York Times bestseller, and more recently, "Gay Men Don't Get Fat" in January 2012. The latter is by the elfin Simon Doonan, a former Barney's window dresser, who lives in New York with his equally elfin husband, the potter and home fashion retailer, Jonathan Adler.
Buenos Aires, 2005
Buenos Aires, 2005
(As an aside, I'd like to report that the famously thin people of Buenos Aires really aren't. Witness these pictures taken on my 2005 vacation, specifically to prove the guidebooks wrong.)
Anyway, a recent Saturday restaurant outing seemed destined to throw down the gauntlet on those myths. The Restaurant Dieter, his husband and two other couples had reservations at Atmosphere in Atlanta's Midtown neighborhood. The restaurant is French. The staff and quite a number of the guests speak with impossibly charming accents. The menu is mother-sauced within an inch of its life.
Our sextet, on the other hand, were all gay men of a certain age. None of us is as thin as Doonan & Adler. On the other hand, none of us is as....robust as the average suburban husband sitting down for a beer and football on a typical weekend. (As this review embraces stereotypes, why not add that The Restaurant Dieter's Spouse checked his Blackberry frequently throughout dinner for the score of the Detroit Lions game?) We were seated in the back room, right next to another group of gay men of a certain age. Did I miss the hostess tell our party: "Welcome to Atmosphere. Your table in the fat gay room is ready."
The thin gays, some of them speaking French, were up front at the bar. On second thought, they might not have been gay at all. Anyone who's played the game, "Gay or European?" knows that. (For the clueless, Google the video from Broadway's "Legally Blond.")
As Midtown is the epicenter of gay Atlanta, this restaurant knows we'd all like to be as elfin as Doonan & Adler. So when asked, "What on the menu is light and low fat?" the server -- himself thin and either gay or European, or both -- didn't miss a beat. He identified a pan roasted trout amandine and said it could be prepared without added fat.
He also didn't blink when I asked that a salad of Belgian endive, apple, walnuts and Roquefort cheese in a red wine vinaigrette come to the table completely deconstructed. This allowed me to limit the fattening parts -- the cheese, dressing and nuts -- to about a tablespoon each, which didn't harm the combination in the least.
The trout picked up a slight sheen in the pan, probably from a little fat used to toast the slivered almonds. It was well-cooked, flaky but not dry, and tasted just fine with the almonds scraped off to the side. The added fat -- olive oil and capers -- came in a small portion cup that I left untouched. The fish came with haricot vert, baby carrots and fingerling potatoes, all prepared with minimal to no fat.
I left the restaurant feeling incredibly virtuous, especially because I didn't get dessert. Others went for the profiterolles, but as this was a gaggle of gay guys, of course they shared.
The Restaurant Dieter tends to be hard on the Darden Restaurant Group, and rightly so. The chain's casual theme dinner houses push out a lot of incredibly unhealthy food, despite a few good efforts such as Season's 52 and the Lighthouse menu at Red Lobster.
So he was interested in a recent article from Smart Money interviewing Darden CEO Clarence Otis Jr. about the chain's recent efforts to tinker with the Olive Garden menu. This included a gorgonzola and pear ravioli with shrimp that apparently bombed.
No tears will be shed at The Restaurant Dieter blog. The article notes that Olive Garden serves 9 million of those all-you-can eat, nutritionally vapid, white bread, fat soaked bread sticks a week?
Zingerman's deli in Ann Arbor, MI, is always crowded. Good sandwiches, salads, breads and baked goods bring in locals, tourists and University of Michigan Students alike. It is possible to behave on your diet there, even with so many great choices.
In recent years, however, it's evolved from a purely local institution to a growing mail order provider of food, including high end condiments like olive oils and cheeses, and gift items.
So when a wonderful maple walnut pound cake arrives as a gift from a friend yesterday...a week of good behavior went out the window.
Half gone already? Yikes. And just when I thought the holidays were over.
It's been a bit of a hiatus for The Restaurant Dieter, and no good has come from it.
The orgy at New York City's Veselka presaged an entire holiday season of excess. Parties, buffets and all manner of cookies, cupcake and candy were everywhere. I ate with abandon.
Thanksgiving dinner itself was Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Perry Street in New York, complete with all the trimmings. But there were also significant lapses at 16 Handles on the Upper West Side (sure it's yogurt, but hardly nonfat, and what's with all the candy on top?) and The Hunt Club in Jackson, MI.
At the latter restaurant, we ordered the specialty: a giant baked potato topped with hamburger, sautéed onions and mushrooms and cheese. Don't ask.
But the new year is here, and life is back to normal.
You've probably noticed that The Restaurant Dieter doesn't write much about lunch out.
That's by design. If eating out is one's passion, one has to accept some limits. As time often is in short supply, I tend to brown bag with something healthy and eat at my desk.
Today is pretty typical: low-sodium deli chicken breast on double-fiber wheat with Dijon mustard; carrots and a dip made from Greek yogurt, dill and finely minced cucumber; fruit; a Kashi fiber bar.
If I get hungry in the afternoon, it's often a piece of fruit; a hard-cooked egg, some nonfat plain yogurt with a tablespoon of jam or a few slices of deli turkey. In other words protein, which leaves you more satisfied than carbs.