At the urging of my fiancé, I’ve decided to introduce a new feature to my blog: restaurant reviews! I’m calling it “Healthy outside the home” and my primary focus will be on how well or easily you can make healthy choices at the restaurants I’m considering. For my inaugural post in the series: Brasserie Les Halles, described as the “home base” of Anthony Bourdain. Some people love Anthony Bourdain. I’ve always thought he’s a little too acerbic and lacks the charm that makes that sort of attitude work for oh, let’s say, House. But the guy is successful, so one has to assume he knows his way around the kitchen.
Anyway, ’tis the season for holiday festivities both in and outside the workplace. On Wednesday, my department had a holiday lunch, which took place at Brasserie Les Halles. I’m going to say right off the bat that I’m not trying to find reasons why the restaurant (or any restaurant I review on the blog) is or isn’t a “healthy” choice, but rather look into what kind of healthy options are available there, and how one can maintain a healthy lifestyle while still getting a chance to celebrate with co-workers, friends, family, or anyone else for that matter.
Our group trekked from our office building down several blocks to the restaurant. The atmosphere is pretty warm and inviting, sort of a typical French brasserie kind of setting with darker, more subdued colors, traditional chairs, tables, and place settings, and artwork like vintage posters for wine and other French foodstuffs decorating the walls. The menu is also pretty standard for an American version of a brasserie, and seems to cover what Americans think of as French cuisine. Bourdain is a connoisseur of French food, but it seems his aim with this restaurant is not to bring “haute cuisine” to the discerning palate. Instead, he’s making traditional French fare available to a sort of mid-range (and in the case of the location we visited, corporate) diner who may want to have a French meal without going too far outside their comfort zone. In other words, this is a place where you can get what is probably a good French onion soup, a good cheese plate, a nice steak frites, and wash it all down with a nice red wine. I can’t say for sure, because I didn’t order any of those things (I did have two glasses of red, but I didn’t pick out the bottle. It was good. I don’t normally drink reds, though, so my opinion here shouldn’t mean much). But I do think this conveys my point.
When I’m trying to make healthy choices at a restaurant, especially one where I’m not all that familiar with the menu, I tend to look first at the side dishes and appetizers or small plates to see what sorts of combinations I can put together for a balanced meal. As a vegetarian, I am usually aiming for something consisting of a grain of some sort (whole if it’s available), vegetables, and a protein. It’s important to keep in mind that you are always entitled to ask for a half portion when you’re in a restaurant. One of the reasons I like to consider small plates and sides is because the portions are much more reasonably sized (which means I generally won’t need to ask for a half portion), and because it also gives you more options and the opportunity to taste a few things on the menu rather than just one entrée. Since this is a French restaurant, the grain and protein options were somewhat limited–essentially there was bread, pasta, cheese, and eggs; however, there were a few salads that looked good. Realizing that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to find a high quality grain or protein, I decided to focus more on the salad and ordered one of greens, bleu d’auvergne, walnuts, and apples with a light vinaigrette. I also ordered the mushroom ravioli, a small plate. The waiter warned me about the size of both my dishes, which, to be honest, I took as a good sign. This probably just means you’re getting a reasonable amount of food rather than the huge pile of stuff restaurants usually serve. When I got both my orders, I was happy with the size of both–the ravioli (a single ravioli, but with a diameter of about four inches) was a perfect taste of a dish but didn’t put me in a position where I felt like I was eating too much or trying to deal with a dish that was too rich. The salad was the highlight of my meal. There was just enough dressing and definitely not an excessive amount, and the flavors blended really well. I don’t usually love blue cheese but it was great in this dish.
I came away from the meal feeling like I had eaten a reasonable lunch given the options that were available to me. I wasn’t overly full and I was happy to have gotten a decent serving of vegetables as well as a variety of foods. Although everyone talks all the time about how the French never get fat, French food in American restaurants is usually very far from what is considered “light” fare; however, it’s certainly not impossible to get a relatively healthy meal in a place like this. I also made sure to drink plenty of water, and to avoid eating liberally from the bread basket. I did have one small slice with a bit of butter, but since the bread wasn’t all that great, I had no problem cutting myself off.
I’d say Brasserie Les Halles was appropriate for the occasion we were celebrating. I’m not sure that I would go back there, but I also wouldn’t refuse if someone suggested it. If nothing else, it definitely gave me a chance to employ some strategies for staying healthy in this sort of situation.
Are there any strategies you like to use when you go out to eat? If so, I’d love to hear about them. I’ll also try to use them on my next restaurant trip!