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"Diet" food in restaurants


FoodMan
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Even foods that sound healthy ...are not??

Nothing much new about this article except the Marinara trick. I mean most of us know that restaurants use fats to boldster flavor, texture and appearance. It is no surprise that top notch restaurants do slather their steaks with butter and/or oil, let alone sauces. However, would a really respectable restaurant throw in butter to doctor up their Marinara sauce?

Also, do you think it is the waiter/chef/manager to inform those “dieters” that their safe choices might have been in contact with fat? Does it really matter? How much fat would some blanched vegetables hang on to anyways?

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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Many mumble years ago, I was into counting calories while I was pregnant with my daughter. This wasn't so much because of weight gain as I find that if I count calories, I automatically eat a more balanced diet. Over the years, I have developed a pretty good sense of what is in various dishes and what the counts are. When I was doing that, I adjusted by adding some numbers to a restaurant meal or I would only eat a portion of the dish, expecting the calories to be higher than typical. (I am not in the clean plate club.)

I was somewhat dismayed by the tone of the article in that, in some ways, it has that "fat is bad" tone. Yes, there is that element that a chef may put butter on or in something that you normally wouldn't expect so that the calories are higher than expected. I worry more about hidden sugar.

You should be able to ask and get a straight answer.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Fifi-

I got that tone from the article too, also they made it seem like chefs might somehow cheat their unwary patrons by dumping unneeded fat into food, especially in this comment by Ms. McDonald:

"People need to be suspicious all the time of restaurant food," she says. "I'm very often appalled when I go into the kitchen and see how much oil and butter chefs and cooks throw around in the kitchen."

her choice of words like "suspicious" and "appalled" made me ...well...appalled by her comment.

Elie

edit spelling

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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Here's the part that got me rattled.

"Be specific. Be a detective and ask questions," McDonald says. "Request that your food be grilled dry. Dry is a good word, because if you say `without butter,' they'll put on oil. And if you say `without fat,' they'll put on olive oil."

You'd think a chef would know that olive oil is a fat? Why should I have to say "dry" when I mean without fat? Asking for the chef to make me a "dry" chicken filet just feels wrong -- especially when there are other fat free seasonings that could be used.

Blanching vegetables in oil? Now that is horrifying. When I go out, I expect chefs to use way more fat than I do in the kitchen, but blanching in oil :huh:?

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"Blanching" vegetables in oil is a common technique. I used to do that all the time doing stir fries. Because of the high temperature of the oil, the flavor and texture is different than real blanching in boiling water. Sort of like frying chicken, when the temperature of the oil is high enough, very little remains on the food. Well... I guess brocolli florets could physically hold a lot in their little mop heads.

Request minimal oil or a pan spray be used when sautéeing, or get the kitchen to substitute chicken broth for the oil.

This one reminds me of that crazy lady on FTV years ago that had a show on no fat cooking. She actually sauted veggies in water. :wacko: Uh... I hate to tell you this but you can't saute in chicken broth. You can poach in it or boil in it but you can't saute in it. At saute temperatures, the chicken broth would jump out of the pan. If you want to eat crazy stuff like that, don't ask the chef to put out something like that. Stay home and cook it yourself.

(Strange that this one really has me in a lather. :biggrin: )

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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I am glad we are all on the same page about this McDonald lady. She just sounds too much like the "Fat Police".

however, what about butter in Marinara? Is this really that common, especially in high end well respected Italian restaurants?

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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I am glad we are all on the same page about this McDonald lady. She just sounds too much like the "Fat Police".

however, what about butter in Marinara? Is this really that common, especially in high end well respected Italian restaurants?

Elie

Depends on how you define high end and respected. Remeber the film, Big Night?

Fifi is absolutely right about sauteeing in a liquid. At those temperatures, you are striving to keep the pan itself from carbonizing! Also, it is the play of hot oil against its old foe, water - which it is madly evaporating off, while caramelizing any sugars present that, very crudely explained, covers the searing or browning action going on. Besides, you use very little fat when sauteeing properly.

Butter in the marinara? Most places would have margarine or a butter/margarine mix (think: food cost, bottom line, p&l, etc). Any restaurant that would see the need to use 100% butter, would likely understand that it does not belong in marinara. That alone should tell you all you need to know about that 'respected' restaurant.

In all but a very few true palaces of the palate, waitstaff is rarely knowledgeable about food, and less rarely expected to become so. If there are pre-service meetings of the wait staff to go over specials, etc., it is not common for there to be anything more than a lose, adjective strewn explanation, combined with one bite to 'educate' them about the foods, and what goes into them. They are dismissed to the restaurant floor with the ringing admonition to 'upsell.'

Most hot - not truly haute - kitchens pride themselves on how many covers they can turn out in one service period. They are known in the trade as 'slam kitchens.' Chefs are proud of heading or working in a slam kitchen. At one of my positions in a hot, self-anointed haute, kitchen everyone at the end of the evening would take on a chemically orgasmic look when it was announced that we had just run over 400 covers. Fine European kitchens are rated in stars or toques, here, fine kitchens are rated in number of covers per service period, rather like fast food outlets. I will leave it to you to decide whether you can have really fine dining, be a respected restaurant (at least as I understand the term) when you are serving 400+ per service period.

RE: the oil. Yes, it flows like the rivers of Babylon in a kitchen. It is, in many cases over used, to wit: vegetables are indeed blanched, shocked in cold water, dried, and held for service. At service, a handful of the veg is tossed into a hot saute pan, typically on the heels of an over generous dousing of the pan with oil.

Fat, per se, is not the demon. I think I will likely get little argument from you that processed fats, hydrogenated fats, chemically engineered fats (like Melfry tm, full of surfactants and anti-foaming agents, and used in deep fat fryers, treated to withstand constant heating, and the introduction of large amounts of water and seasonings that come from frozen, institutional french fries, etc, without breaking down. To fry in pure canola oil would cost a fortune, because it would have to be dumped at least daily.) Or places that use margarine for all but the finishing dollop on top of the entree just before it leaves the kitchen.

It is not the fat, rather it is the type and quality of the fat, and the total quantity. I am a great fan of saturated fats as well as olive and nut oils, etc. All you have to do is eat one tamal made with Crisco, and one with homemade lard to know the difference. I have no problem eating fat ... I just want to know what kinds, and how much. There are places where it is appropriate to the food items. And there are places where it is not.

Mc Donald picks up on some things worth considering and discussing, but for all the wrong reasons.

And just for a giggle, guess what the favorite foods are for the uninformed, pc, fat phobic habitue of high end restaurants? Caviare (unless, of course they plead salt phobia, or are to shaken to eat fish eggs), and foie gras. And they are shocked, shocked! to learn that both are like 459% fat ... saturated at that. As for the foie gras, may as well eat a stick of butter.

There are valid reasons for being aware of one's fat intake, by amount and by type. McDonald's are not the ones - at least for me. Speaking from the inside of restaurant kitchens, where most sane folks do not venture, and about which most food servers know little (cooking and preparation), fat can be a dirty little secret, and a way to take some shortcuts instead of preparing the food items in question appropriately for maximum flavor, texture, etc.

That said - Julia died while I was deep in a barranca in Mexico. The news reached us, even there. Since returning, while teaching my classes, I have found myself about to use butter for something, or having just been asked by a student if you HAVE to use butter, when I ask for a moment of silence for Ms. Child. In all sincerity, to note a great loss to us all, and to make a point. She once told an interviewer (to paraphrase) There is too much fear of fat in this land. That from a lady who knew her fats and used them well.

Theabroma

Sharon Peters aka "theabroma"

The lunatics have overtaken the asylum

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however, what about butter in Marinara? Is this really that common, especially in high end well respected Italian restaurants?

Elie

I don't know that it is common but I always assumed that there was stuff in there that I may not have added in my kitchen. That is why when I was counting calories I always added numbers when in a restaurant. I just always assumed that the chef would add calorific ingredients that weren't taken into account for my published calorie numbers for Marinara.

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Sharon-

That was amazing, now if only the Chronicle asked you about the subject instead of Ms. McDonald. Yours was a very well informed, detailed and logical explanation of the use of fats in restaurant meals. Someone should e-mail this thread to the Chronicle.

Elie

edit: spelling

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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Hear! Hear! Sharon. A logical rebuttal if ever there was one.

Elie... there is a "Contact us" link at the Chronicle site. :biggrin:

Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

"Having spent most of my life searching for truth in the excitement of science, I am now in search of the perfectly seared foie gras without any sweet glop." Linda LaRose

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Sharon, thank you for a well spoken piece. So many diet fanatics want to completely remove all fats from their diets, thinking that will help them lose weight. Historically, did we really have that much problem assimilating fats in our bodies before synthetic fats were created? Transfats are scary things.

It is amazing to read articles from poorly informed writers. Apparently she did not do her research but went on what the diet doctors told her. Too bad.

It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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Of course on the other side of this, Dallas had a very heart healthy restaurant. It did not last long. The food simply was boring. Everything tasted ah like cereal pretty much.

It was a good idea, but even people with heart conditions etc. want to eat food that taste good when they eat out.

I never assume that any food I eat out is "healthy" But then again I also have a rule about not eating foods out that I can fix quickly, significantly better, significantly cheaper. But that's another thread.

Never trust a skinny chef

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Of course on the other side of this, Dallas had a very heart healthy restaurant.  It did not last long.  The food simply was boring.  Everything tasted  ah like cereal pretty much.

It was a good idea, but even people with heart conditions etc. want to eat food that taste good when they eat out.

There are too many ways to allow good food to taste good -- whether from your own kitchen or a restaurant kitchen. Although the occassional do-it-all meal out is not going to cancel out all the other healthy food choices one has made lately, if one wishes to toe the diet line while eating out you can request a variety of simple changes without sacrificing the dish or completely destroying your diet concept. No added salt, or butter/lards/oils (whatever is your particular concern), please serve sauces/dressings on the side (so you can dip and regulate the amount you consume while still enjoying the flavor). All fat is not bad -- we need some fats in our diet. If one is that phobic stick to salads and dip into the dressing or request lemon wedges or vinegar to flavor the salad.

"The Fat Police" describes her approach in this article all too well, FoodMan.

Judith Love

North of the 30th parallel

One woman very courteously approached me in a grocery store, saying, "Excuse me, but I must ask why you've brought your dog into the store." I told her that Grace is a service dog.... "Excuse me, but you told me that your dog is allowed in the store because she's a service dog. Is she Army or Navy?" Terry Thistlewaite

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I am glad we are all on the same page about this McDonald lady. She just sounds too much like the "Fat Police".

however, what about butter in Marinara? Is this really that common, especially in high end well respected Italian restaurants?

Elie

I can't find my copy of Kitchen Confidential, but in the chapter on "how to cook like a pro in your own kitchen" -- or, as he put it, "how to make your guests think you have the entire Troisgros family chained to your stove" -- he devotes a section to butter -- lits of it. At one point he says something to the effect of "you know those snotty upscale Italian places that claim they use only olive oil? Look in their kitchen and you'll find butter."

So maybe there's a lot more butter going into Marinara sauce than we think.

Actually, the Busboy houshold does this regularly, only we call it "Nana's spaghetti sauce." It's a dish my wife's definitely un-Italian grandmother used to cook and the butter-to-tomato ratio is decidedly higher than the one in the Maggiano's recipe. Of course, being German, she didn't add any olive oil. It's pretty tasty.

Edited by Busboy (log)

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Quote from the article:

Jumping on the low-carb bandwagon, McDonald's, Burger King, Arby's, Taco Bell and Wendy's have introduced new salads in the last couple of years.

"And people are eating the salads because they sound healthy, but they're getting something that's not healthy at all," says Simon Chaitowitz, who helped put together the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine's survey on fast-food salads.

"A lot of the salads start off healthy with the greens, but then they start adding on the cheese, croutons, fried noodles and battered fried chicken. Things just kept adding up and up."

This is insulting to anyone who has carefully looked at their diet and the nutritional content of food. Of course the green stuff is low fat and the cheese is high fat. The croutons are high carb and the cheese is low carb. DUH! I eat these salads all the time but pick out the parts that I don't want. Fast salads are a great invention! They allow me to work many longer hours at the office ... :sad:

*****

"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

*****

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Busboy-

Funny that you mention KC, since the "butter chapter" is what came to my mind as well while reading the article. But after a carefull review of the chapter, I am sure Bourdain does not implicate butter in the flavoring of marinara...not openly at least. He mainly discusses adding it to Risotto.

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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...I have found myself about to use butter for something, or having just been asked by a student if you HAVE to use butter, when I ask for a moment of silence for Ms. Child.  In all sincerity, to note a great loss to us all, and to make a point.  She once told an interviewer (to paraphrase) There is too much fear of fat in this land.  That from a lady who knew her fats and used them well.

Theabroma

I think that "fear of fat" was one of the greatest things she ever said, and was a much needed comment after all the fat police who warn us that the General Tso's Chicken that you eat because you think Chinese food is low-cal, is actually not. Well, if you're eating deep fried chicken chunks in sugary sauce and thinking it's low-cal, I think you're not the brightest kid on the block!

I also loved Pierre Franey. I remember that one episode of his show "Cusine Rapide" (at least I think it was that show) was devoted to diet food, and he explained that he was going to make a dish of chicken breasts that were pan seared (he may have used cooking spray or something dietetic at that point in the preparation) and finished with a balsamic vinegar reduction.

At the end of the dish, a moment before plating, he tossed a good bit of butter into the pan to mount the sauce and "give it some flavor", and then looked up, right into the close-up camera that they switched to just in time, and looking totally, and sincerely innocent, realized what people had to be thinking, and sort of shrugged, and said, eyes right into the camera as I've never seen before, "you know, a little butter never hurt anyone".

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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By the way...

Some time in the last few years, the Wednesday New York Times food section also had a story on its front page about hidden fats in restaurant foods where you'd least expect them. They told the story of one restaurant, whose name they gave but I have forgotten - that featured a menu item listed as "Poached Halibut". What the menu didn't say, though, was that the halibut was poached in goose fat. And I do believe that they showed a photo of the vat of goose fat (I was envious). Of course, if I were trying to diet and saw that item listed, I'd think it was safe, and probably be outraged to learn how they made it after I ate it. But my overwhelming thought was, gee, more foods should be made that way.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Apart from the fact that many Italain restaurants supposedly add butter to their marinara sauce I found absolutely nothing in that article which hasn't already appeared countless times elsewhere in nation, regional and local media - both print and television. The article is more or less a rehash and summarization of stuff that's been bandied about for quite awhile. If I really, truly want to lose weight and keep it off I either have to cook at home so I know exactly what's in every dish or just do the easy thing - when dining out just cut your entire dinner in half (including the starch and veggies) and take half home to stick in the freezer for a quick lunch or dinener on some other day. It really works.

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If I really, truly want to lose weight and keep it off I either have to cook at home so I know exactly what's in every dish or just do the easy thing - when dining out just cut your entire dinner in half (including the starch and veggies) and take half home to stick in the freezer for a quick lunch or dinener on some other day. It really works.

And there is one more thing. Since the diet will take place over time, you can find a restaurant (probably not a chain, or course) where the waitstaff can actually find out for you what's in the dish once you explain that you're dieting, and where the chef and kitchen would be willing to leave the butter and cream and excess oil out of what they make you. Not every restaurant can or will do that, but you can certainly find, and cultivate, ones that will. As long as you know what to ask for, that is. Don't ask for a low-cal version of the bacon ranch salad; ask for the broiled salmon with a wedge of lemon instead of the dill-butter sauce, and ask that they not oil or butter the fish before broiling. This can all be done. I used to do it before I just gave up.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Okay, so maybe a little butter never hurt anyone -- but what we're talking here is quite a lot of butter, in several things per restaurant plate. And it becomes a concern when paired with those other statistics, you know, the ones about how restaurant eating is now the norm for many meals of many families, rather than a special occasion.

Even if you are cutting your entrees in half, if each half-entree is still twice what you should be eating, that's gonna add up, if you eat out the average three to four times a week and have the leftovers for lunch.

Yeah. I remember being so afraid of eating in restaurants I'd be in tears at the thought of ordering. And then I'd get my "plain" grilled chicken breast, and it would still be glistening with oil, and to me at the time, inedible. It's tiring, having to explain, over and over, how your food needs to be. It turns restaurant eating from a special occasion (which it still is, for me) into a nasty obstacle course -- and, as the kind folks round here have pointed out again and again in many threads, the staff of most restaurants aren't in fact panting to help the diet-conscious stick to their ways. All those special-request, sauce-on-the-side people are no more than a big pain in the buttocks for everyone from the chef to the pearldivers, and are just as likely to have their steamed veggies drizzled with a giant chunk of lard while everyone in the back room cackles.

Still, I don't see any reason why "heart healthy" has to taste like All-Bran. I don't see why I can take a chicken breast and salad and make it reasonably interesting, while most restaurants think "no oil or fat" means "no seasoning of any kind" and still charge me fifteen to twenty dollars to choke it down. Not to mention me getting my sad little meal ten minutes after everyone else, usually... Granted, I am not eating in top-flight restaurants, but it's my impression that top-flight chefs are even more likely to pitch a tantrum if you try to destroy the Integrity of their Art with special requests.

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Just checking in on the Wonderful World of Fats!

BTW, had occasion to do some research on smoke points of various oils. Found the replacement for that nasty MelFry ™: avocado oil! Has a smoke point of over 500F! Whod'a thunk it? Now, if we can just knock over Ft. Knox, we might be able to fill the FryDaddy with it.

Is this a great subject, or what??

Regards,

Theabroma

Sharon Peters aka "theabroma"

The lunatics have overtaken the asylum

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All those special-request, sauce-on-the-side people are no more than a big pain in the buttocks for everyone from the chef to the pearldivers, and are just as likely to have their steamed veggies drizzled with a giant chunk of lard while everyone in the back room cackles.

OK. I plead guilty of being a pain in the ass sometimes. :raz:

However, as has been pointed out here, one can cultivate restaurant(s) you choose to make some allowances for dietary restrictions. I have actually had good results with making very specific requests of the kitchen. Right, don't order a meal you can't eat then ask the chef to change it into something you can eat. :blink:

But ordering with your own diet in mind -- and not all diet has to do with calorie/fat intake based on one's desire to lose/maintain weight -- and requesting that additional salt, etc., not be added, or to have a sauce or dressing served on the side has not been a problem for me.

Maybe I'm just lucky, maybe they like my smile. :wink:

Believe me, I would know if someone doused my veggies with lard!

Judith Love

North of the 30th parallel

One woman very courteously approached me in a grocery store, saying, "Excuse me, but I must ask why you've brought your dog into the store." I told her that Grace is a service dog.... "Excuse me, but you told me that your dog is allowed in the store because she's a service dog. Is she Army or Navy?" Terry Thistlewaite

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I saw that article in one of those magazines called Shape or something. It seemed like privileged glimpse of the obvious to me. I've been on Weight Watchers for a few months, keeping track of fat and calories, and I think I can tell when there's a lot of fat in a dish just by tasting it. I suppose there still are people who assume dumb things like that all "salads" are low-fat, but that's despite the fact that there are people telling you otherwise all over the place.

No question, if you are trying to lose weight or cut fat consumption and have to eat in restaurants a lot if can be a genuine problem. If you travel on business and eat out, especially if you can't choose the restaurant, ordering can be difficult. I kind of like it when they have a so-called "spa menu" or a few things where the nutritional content is listed. Not that I'm altogether sure you can trust the numbers. I ate at a PF Chang once, and I thought the numbers they gave for fat and sodium content in the dishes (they only give them for some) was suspiciously low. I would certainly not eat a lunch there every day trusting that it was only 450 calories or whatever they said.

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Still, I don't see any reason why "heart healthy" has to taste like All-Bran.

Here's a link to the Q&A with chef Michel Nischan from two years ago. The whole Q&A is interesting, and the thread linked explains his approach to "healthful upscale" dining at his New York restaurant, Heartbeat. (Is the restaurant still operating?) The chef also has a website http://www.michelnischan.com/

Hungry Monkey May 2009
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