Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Fancy Restaurant Diet

For several years I have been toying with writing a diet book.  I have the best plan: the fancy restaurant diet.  Seriously, the best and often most nutritious meals I make myself are like what I eat at my favorite restaurants.  An appetizer from Cafe Maude: Greens sauteed in butter, piled in a shallow soup plate and topped with a perfectly poached egg, a few crumbles of sheep milk feta, a sprinkle of pepitas, and shreds of crispy bacon, probably half a slice of bacon worth.  Any lunch at the Birchwood.  My favorite dinner from the Craftsman: a microgreen salad very lightly dressed with olive oil and wine vinegar, a 6 ounce hanger steak, and a few ounces of cheese with a half an apple very thinly sliced and a few walnuts for dessert.  I always get one perfect glass of red wine with the meal and a pot of tea with the cheese course.  The Bento boxes from Midori's Floating World are like a tutorial in complex and balanced elements, each jewel like and lovely.  Any meal at Restaurant Alma.

Fine food should be flavorful and delight your memories, your sight, and your emotions.  All of my favorite restaurants source local and organic whenever possible.  They use good fats, butter, olive oil, nut oils, and they aren't afraid of fat.  The serving sizes are small, but they feed the senses and satisfy because they are complex and visually delightful.  Consideration is given to variety, seasonality, and the progression from one course to another.  Protein is the focus, with lively and interesting vegetables on the side.  If you skip the bread basket, though one or two slices of fabulous fresh warm bread are almost certainly fine for you if you don't have Celiac, and if you don't drink too much wine, there is no reason you couldn't happily lose weight eating like this.  And lately all my favorite restaurants are increasing their use of local food by pickling foods to save for later seasons, and lacto-fremented vegetables are really healthful for you.

A condensed version of my fancy restaurant diet:

  • Focus each plate around a small serving of the best protein you can afford.
  • Grass fed meats, wild game, wild caught sustainable fish, duck eggs, homemade tofu and hand crafted tempeh, artisan cheeses, fresh seasonal beans like fava beans, and shellfish are the best proteins.
  • Select foods that are local, organic, and seasonal.
  • You should be able to list the farmers that produced your food, the names of their farms should be poetic.  
  • Authentic ethnic foods are always better for you.
  • Use great fats: homemade butter made from grass-fed milk, really good flavorful olive oil, delicate fresh nut oils, coconut oil for high heat and for richness in your curries and asian inspired foods.  Make your own ghee.  Many things taste better with a drizzle of white truffle oil.
  • Fat is filling and carries flavor, don't fear it.
  • Make sure that there is a balance of flavors and colors on each plate, make the plate vibrant with vegetables, fruits, and herbs.  Try to add smokey, toasty, or earthy flavors.
  • Include sour flavors from citrus, fruit reductions, fine vinegars.
  • Include crunchy textures from finely diced raw vegetables, lightly toasted nuts, small amounts of bacon.
  • Mushrooms, especially wild-crafted ones, are awesome.
  • Sauces should be a delicate complement to the authentic flavors of the food, use a light hand and don't overwhelm the food.
  • How your meal looks is almost as important as how it tastes.
  • A small serving of naturally fermented foods adds an intense burst of flavor, capers, diced pickle, a few delicate shreds of pickled beets, umeboshi, any kind of Japanese pickle.
  • The best snacks are like the amuse at a restaurant, a shot-glass of super rich soup, a morsel of cheese with some nuts and a tiny serving of fruit, a bit of fancy preserved meat with some raw vegetables. Pate with crispy crackers.
  • Dessert is important and it should be exquisite.  The very best dark chocolate with a perfect cup of espresso and a few walnuts, fresh berries with a dollop of whipped cream, a lovely cheese drizzled with local honey, rose-water and cardamom panna cotta.
  • Eat in courses when you can, each a delicate morsel.  Focus your full attention on each.
  • Breakfast should be hearty and special, lunch should be salad and soup, or salad with protein, dinner portions should be small and complex.
  • One great glass of wine, ample ice water, and a warm drink with dessert.
  • Make every meal a special occasion with family or friends.  When you eat alone light a candle, and read great poetry, or listen to soothing music.
  • Take your time and make sure to have lively and interesting conversations.
The best part of my diet plan is even if you don't lose weight your food will be much more enjoyable so you won't care.

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