Eating Well: in Restaurants - #124

BURT WOLF: Restaurants -- North Americans are eating more than half of their meals in restaurants, a good reason to find out how to read a menu so you get the best nutrition for the fewest calories. They're also the place to get some of the world's best recipes. We'll do just that in the company of Eli Wallach and Alan King. We'll make the culinary trip from New York to Venice and receive Lady Fishbourne's Guide To Proper Table Manners. Join me, Burt Wolf Eating Well in Restaurants. 

Every day, some 70 million Americans eat at least one meal outside their home. And I guess if their home cooking isn't so good, they probably eat more outside. In the process, they spend over half the nation's food budget. There are over 300,000 restaurants in the United States alone, so everybody's got a wide choice of where and what to eat. But when you're not in control in the kitchen, good food for good health can be a little harder to get, but only a little harder, and things are getting better. 

During the past few years, menus have shifted toward healthier selections. More grilled fish, skinless chicken, more vegetables, less deep- frying, a greater selection of low-fat dishes. Also, restaurants are becoming more responsive to the needs of individual customers. They serve dishes with the sauce and dressing on the side. They'll grill a food instead of frying it. They'll make a greater effort to alter their standard dishes to meet your nutritional needs. Of course, they can't take the cream out of the soup once it's made, but they can take a fish that's offered on the menu as fried, and just grill it. 

The most important thing to remember when you're eating out is to read between the lines of the menu. The menu will give you a wonderful description of the dish, but it may not tell you all of the ingredients that are in the recipe. There are four things you want to know about a restaurant dish before you order it. 

What kind of fat is in the dish? Are we dealing with saturated fat, like butter or cream, or is the chef using heart-healthy oils, like safflower or canola. Are there high-sodium ingredients, like bacon or sausage. Are the cuts of meat, fish, and poultry lean? And what cooking technique is being used? Grilling, broiling, and roasting on a rack will let fat drip away. So will steaming. But sauteing and deep-fat frying will add fat-filled calories. 

If you get the key information about the ingredients and how the dish is prepared, you will have gained the knowledge necessary to make a good nutritional choice. It's the old story. Knowledge is power.

And speaking of power, we visited the Regency Hotel in New York City, home of the Power Breakfast... the time and the place where business meets branflakes and contracts come along with the coffee. The dining room of the deal makers is presided over by Jonathan Tisch, president of the Loew's Hotels. 

JONATHAN TISCH: It's an incredible institution. It started when the city was having some problems, and some very concerned New Yorkers like Bob Tisch, Lou Rudin, Field Croton would get together for breakfast every morning to discuss how to save New York City. And Bob Tisch said, well, I have a place for them to meet. It's called the Regency Hotel. We've got a restaurant here, so we'll be able to get a table. The city was saved, and the idea has just evolved over the years and it has become the quintessential place for New Yorkers to meet to start their day.

BURT WOLF: So the first people in are going down to Wall Street, those who still have jobs there; how does their breakfast differ from the other people? Is there a pattern? Do different industries eat different ways?

JONATHAN TISCH: It's interesting because you can see patterns in the way people arrive at the power breakfast. At 7:00 o'clock, the people start coming in, the ones who have to go down to Wall Street, the ones who have the biggest trip ahead of them, and they have their meetings.

At about 8:00 o'clock, you start to see some of the politicos and some of the people that are involved in-- in the real business of New York. And then at 9:00 o'clock, you start to see many of our Hollywood guests. The Regency is known as Hollywood East. Our largest clientele base at the Regency are people from LA, producers, directors, agents. And they start arriving about 9:00 A.M., because they're still on LA time. So it's about 6:00 or 6:30 by the time that they have their breakfast. And so, depending on the time that you can come in, you can see different industries represented at the power breakfast.

BURT WOLF: And it's not only the hot shots of business who are catching on to the trend of the power breakfast. 

JONATHAN TISCH: There's a story of a woman who came in on a weekend and asked the waiter what was happening and the waiter gave her a menu and she said, "No, I don't need a menu. I just want a Power Breakfast." She thought that, you know, here was her power breakfast.

BURT WOLF: In the 15 years that Power Breakfasts have been eaten here at the Regency, how has the pattern of food changed? Things getting more healthy?

JONATHAN TISCH: I think people are very conscious of-- of eating the bran products, cutting down on cholesterol. You don't see many people eating eggs at breakfast these days. It really is very light. A lot of fruits, berries, and melons, and bananas, and having that with cereal, whether it be granola or Mueslix or something along those lines. And more people drinking decaffeinated coffee instead of coffee. And I guess, probably to the chagrin of some of the soda companies, you don't see many people downing a soda with their breakfast. That hasn't happened yet. People are definitely eating light, and we can definitely see it at breakfast. And also the other meals here at the Regency.

BURT WOLF: Research suggests that a restaurant meal should contain between 500 and 800 calories, and less than 30 per cent of those calories should come from fat. Here are a couple of tips that will help you hit that mark.

First of all, it's valuable to know that when you're hungry and you start eating, your stomach sends a signal to your brain that the food is coming in and it can turn off the hungry switch. The problem is, it takes about 20 minutes for that signal to go from your stomach to your brain and we do a lot of over-eating during that time. 

It's amazing, such a short distance from your stomach to your brain and such a long time to get the message. The other day I stubbed my toe and my brain got the message immediately. You know, it's true what they say: Bad news travels fast.

The way to deal with this problem is to start your meal with something that's low in calories and is eaten slowly, like a low-fat soup. Hot vegetable soup, like a minestrone is good, or a cold one like a gazpacho. 

Here's a wonderful recipe for a simple and elegant tomato and basil soup. And we traveled to New England to find out how to make it.

These are the picturesque Green Mountains of central Vermont. They're home to the Top Notch resort complex situated near the town of Stowe. Top Notch has tennis courts, a swimming pool, hiking trails, an equestrian center, and most important to me, a master Austrian chef named Anton Florey. Anton's got the recipe for an excellent tomato and basil soup. And fortunately, Anton's the kind of guy that shares his recipes. A chopped onion is sauteed in a little margarine. Four tomatoes are sliced and added to the sauce pan. A half cup of tomato paste, a little sugar, a teaspoon of thyme, a half cup of flour are added in. Finally, two cups of chicken stock. 

The soup is simmered for 15 minutes, and it's pureed and served with a garnish of fresh basil and a dollop of yogurt. This is an ideal recipe to start a meal with. It's low in calories and high in taste. By the way, if you can't get perfect tomatoes for your soup, you can use canned, imported Italian tomatoes. They'll do really well.

Tomatoes have not always been one of the world's most popular foods. They got their start in the Andes Mountains of South America and spread to to ancient Mexico, where they became very popular. But when Spanish Conquistadors brought them back to Europe during the 1500s, they were thought of as only a decorative plant. And that continued for hundreds of years.

Fortunately, the Italians, who have always had a great appreciation for good eating, realized that the tomato was an excellent food. And it was the Italians who immigrated to the United States who brought the tomato to its present state of acclaim. 

Each American eats about 20 pounds of tomatoes per year. In the sauce on pizza, sliced into salads, on sandwiches. The tomato is our third most popular produce item in the vegetable area of the market, right behind potatoes and lettuce. About half of those tomatoes are grown right here in Florida, and it looks like we're going to be eating even more tomatoes. 

A series of medical research projects indicate that fruits and vegetables that have a red color contain an element that may prove to be a cancer blocker. The tomato is a good example. A medium tomato contains about 35 calories, almost no fat, and quite a bit of potassium.

The picking takes place when the tomatoes reach the mature green stage, and are still firm enough to withstand the long distance transport to your supermarket. There are a number of fruits that are actually harvested at a point where they need some more time to ripen. Bananas, pears, avocados, and tomatoes are the most common. 

All that really means is that when you get them home, you have to let them rest for a few days until they're ready to eat. In the case of the tomato, what you want to do is keep it at room temperature, not in the refrigerator. You also want to keep it stem end up. The shoulders of the tomato are the most delicate part and they bruise easily. You also want to keep it out of the sun, because the sun can dry it up. Three to five days at room temperature, it's fully ripe and ready to eat. So let's eat some.

Here's a tomato recipe from the City by the Bay. The Sherman House in San Francisco is one of America's finest small hotels. Its chef, Donia Bijan, is making it famous as one of the city's best places for good food. Today, she's making a garlic pizza. Three heads of garlic are peeled, set into a saucepan, and covered with milk. About a half cup's worth. A quarter cup of honey is added, a little thyme, salt and pepper. Then the pan goes onto the heat and everything simmers for about 20 minutes. While that's cooking, thinly slice a few ripe tomatoes, roll out you favorite pie dough to a thickness of an eighth of an inch, and cut it into circles that are about four inches in diameter, or into small rounds about two inches wide.

The dough circles go onto a parchment covered baking sheet. When the garlic is cooked, turn the mixture into a bowl and crush it into a paste. Spread some of the paste onto each of the rounds of dough, and arrange the tomato slices on top of the garlic paste. A little fresh pepper, a little thyme, and into a 375 degree oven for 25 minutes. When they come out, the larger rounds are served with a walnut salad as a first course, the small ones are served as appetizers.

The idea of a flat round bread goes back in history for thousands of years. As a matter of fact, the eastern Mediterranean flat breads were probably the godfather to the pizza, and made us an offer we couldn't refuse. 

That's actually what ovens looked like thousands of years ago, when they were first developed, kind of a dome shape. You put your wood in, you burn it down to coals, then you push the wood to the side, and clean off the center. The pizza, or whatever it is you're going to bake, goes onto that center stone and the heat from the coals are reflected up into the dome, and bounce down on top of the pizza that you're baking.

Americans spend over $20 billion a year on pizza. The first pizza made in the United States was probably made in the Spring Street area of New York City in 1905 by a man named Gennaro Lombardi. It's too bad he couldn't get a patent on it. Today, great pizzas are still made in the Spring Street district, but the present chefs are at the restaurant Mezzogiorno. The crust is rolled out, tomato sauce goes on, slices of onion and a generous topping of pecorino romano cheese, into the oven. 

There's an old saying: for fitness and health, breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper. And there's a sound basis for this advice. Recent scientific evidence indicates that we do a much better job of absorbing the nutrients in the food that we eat earlier in the day. It's good to be king, but only in the morning.

And it's good to be talking with Alan King who shares a personal rule about eating in restaurants.

ALAN KING: I will not eat alone. I will not eat alone. I'll stop off at a hot dog stand on a corner, you know, but I will not sit in a restaurant by myself. Because conversation and company is a very, very important part of eating and dining to me. My wife, she should be swimming upstream, because fish -- I say, why did the man just spend 20 minutes telling her we have the rosondi, the bandamini, with all the specials, and she looks and she says, "I'd like to have a piece of fish. What's fresh?” No. They don't-- they have-- what do you mean, as compared to stale? Broiled, no butter, well done. 

And I sit there, you know, like-- you know food is not funny. Weight isn't funny, you know, especially in Jewish restaurants, Romanian restaurants, Ratners on the Lower East Side, Lindy's, that whole European immigrant waiter, and they were marvelous. And you know, you used to go, Psst, oh, when you used to go, Psst, to get a waiter, and they say, "Who you pssst-ting?" You know, who are you poosing on? And the guy said, "What is this?" He said, "What did you order?" He says, "Is this going to be a riddle? What is it?" He said, "Milk." He looks at it, he says, "The milk it's cloudy." The waiter picks it up, he says, "Sure," he says, "The milk is not cloudy, the glass is dirty." So there are hundreds of those jokes about our old Jewish waiters. You didn't order. They told you what to eat. And you'd walk-- sit down, because we used to eat there four, five times a week, and he'd say, "Tonight, you're having," you know. 

BURT WOLF: The specials.

ALAN KING: Tonight you're having-- Don-- I don't want-- may I drop dead if you're not gonna eat it. He'd have a fight. Oh, they were famous for their waiters. I don't want it. You-- you-- you-- then you're not-- then don't come in here again. He wasn't an owner. He was just a waiter. "May I die," he says, "if this is not the best potato what ever was."

And so, the guy that went-- the guy that used to eat at-- at-- at the Romanian restaurant, and he'd always sit down and he'd say, "Today I will have--" And the waiter says, "Today you're gonna have herring. I gotta piece of herring," he says, "It's--" "I don't want herring," he says. "Just taste it. If you don't like it, you won't pay for it, buddy." They bring the herring, the whole trip, with the eye in the head, you know. And he couldn't stand it. "Put it away." And this went on. It was a long dinner. Every day he'd come in and the waiter would say, "You're gonna try the herring." He'd say, "I--” “Try the herring." And he'd look at that head and he couldn't stand it. 

So one day, he decides to go to Ratner's instead of Romanian, and he walks in and the waiter says, "You gotta have our herring." He says, "I don't want it." He says, "Try the herring." They bring the herring. And he looks at the herring and the eye opens up and the herring says, "I see you're not eating at the Romanian restaurant any more."

BURT WOLF: Another native New York with his share of restaurant adventures is Eli Wallach. He's a veteran of films as diverse as "The Misfits," "The Magnificent Seven," and "The Godfather, Part 3." And with a stage and screen career that's lasted over 40 years, he's dined in restaurants all over the world... The good, the bad, and the ugly. 

“When you were working in Italy, other places around the world, did you feel that there was a difference in the way people ate and the way we eat here in the United States?” 

ELI WALLACH: There's a place outside of Palermo called L'Isla della Femina, the Island of Women. And there's a restaurant called Orca, after the killer whale. There you go in and there's no menu. You sit down and you eat 16 versions of fish, all kinds, from fried sardines to calamari, to all sorts of fish. But they never tell you what you're going to get. They just bring another dish, and another dish, and another--

It used to be “join the Navy and see the world.” Now it's “join the movies and see the world,” because I've eaten in -- I've spent three months in Crete, three months in the jungle in Cambodia, in Canada, in Mexico, in Spain, Italy, France, England, all over the world I've been. And each place I'm not afraid to test the food that they -- they put down for me. Some of it is -- I don't even dare ask what it is, but it's very well done.

BURT WOLF: How's your diet changed as you got older?

ELI WALLACH: As a child I wouldn't eat spinach, the white of eggs, fish. I -- I just couldn't eat a fish, because my mother used to bring home a live fish and put it in the tub, and I'd play with the fish, then she'd hit it over the head with a bat and then ask me to eat it. And I couldn't-- I couldn't do that.

BURT WOLF: Let's say there was a genie and it promised us that we could eat anything we want, and it wouldn't affect our cholesterol level and it wouldn't affect our weight. What would you have at this fantasy meal?

ELI WALLACH: Now, as you pose the question to me, it was like I'm going to be executed in the morning, and they just give you a choice of one meal. If I had to go, I'd make it a very exotic fish dish.

BURT WOLF: And who would you invite to this meal? If you could have anybody from history or the present?

ELI WALLACH: Well, Ben Franklin would be one of them, because I -- I recently -- a couple of years ago, played Ben Franklin in a movie that John Huston directed. And Ben Franklin says, "You know, if I had my last wish, I'd like to be preserved in a keg of Madeira wine." And I'd like Ben to be with me and Tom Jefferson. There are certain people I wouldn't want with me. I love what Agnes DeMille said. She said, "As you get older, your dear friends begin to die out on you. They begin to leave. The only consolation," she said, "is that your enemies are going, too." So there are a lot of people I wouldn't have at my table.

BURT WOLF: Be on the lookout for a common problem in restaurants. Portion size. You know, when it comes to food and good health, bigger is not always better. Restaurants want you to have the feeling that you are getting your money's worth. So very often, they will give you a portion that is much bigger than you need, and want to make you an offer that you can't refuse. However, there are some techniques in self-defense. 

The registered dieticians at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center taught me a wonderful thing. It's called the palm test. It's the way to tell how big a portion of meat, fish, or poultry should be. It should be about the same size as the inside of the palm of your hand and about the same thickness. 

You put you hand over the meat, fish, or poultry, you check the size, you cut away the excess and ask the waiter to put it in a bag and take it home for another meal. Just read your palm.

For hundreds of years, the City of Venice controlled the trade between the Arab world and the Far East on one side, and Europe on the other. It sat like the mid-point in an hourglass, deciding what and how much passed through. Venice became wealthy in many ways. 

Art, architecture, culture, for centuries the city has inspired its artists, Canelletto, the great Renaissance painter, presented a regatta on the Grand Canal. Monet, The palaces. Prendergast, Umbrellas In The Rain. Venice has also done quite well inspiring its culinary artists. The cooks of Venice had regular and common access to ingredients that were considered extremely rare in almost all the other cities of Europe. Their cooking became famous and the chefs began exporting their skills.

You'll find an example of this at the Remi Restaurant in Manhattan. Its managing partner is a Venetian chef who has reproduced many of the classic dishes of his home city. Each day he makes a different risotto. Risotto is basically a mixture of rice with the addition of something else that you love. It could be a shellfish, like shrimp or small pieces of a vegetable; whatever you like, you just mix it in. Today's addition is asparagus. Francesco starts by putting a little olive oil in a sauce pan. Then two cups of rice. Stir and cook for about two minutes, then two cups of asparagus that have been cut up into half inch rounds.

Next a half cup of boiling chicken stock. Mix in the stock. At the point where the stock is almost completely absorbed by the rice, add in another half cup of boiling stock. Make sure the stock is always boiling, otherwise the rice will not be smooth. Keep stirring and adding stock until you've put in about six cups worth. Then about a quarter cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese, and you're ready to serve. Low-fat and packed with good complex carbohydrates. Great dish.

Another easy tip for good health is to order your restaurant meal one course at a time. That'll give you some great control over quantities. Also, what I like to do is to order an appetizer or a side dish as my main course. Those are usually much smaller portions. A perfect example of a side dish that makes a great main course is the rice pilaf at the Russian Tea Room.

The Russian Tea Room is one of New York City's landmark restaurants. It began life in 1926, when members of the Russian Imperial Ballet who had fled to America after the Revolution, founded a tea room where Russian emigres could meet. Among the specialties of the restaurant is rice pilaf.

Start by heating a little butter or oil in a saute pan. Add in two chopped onions and two cups of rice. Rice is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, and most nutritionists agree that half your daily calories should come from complex carbohydrates. Rice is also very low in calories. There are only about 80 calories to a cup of cooked rice. A little cinnamon, a few raisins, four cups of chicken stock, a couple of chopped tomatoes and some seasonings. 

The chef, Anthony Damiano, uses parsley, sage, coriander and black pepper. Bring that mixture to a simmer and let it cook uncovered for 20 minutes. This is a simple, easy, and healthful dish, which will hold well in your refrigerator, so make yourself a double recipe.

Finally, when you're dining out, it's essential to be polite. To assist you, we offer Lady Fishbourne's Complete Guide to Better Table Manners.

WOMAN: Pay close attention to this film. It will answer any questions or doubts you may have on how to behave in front of dinner guests at another person's home. 

Never be the first seated. Be certain all are present and you are at your own place setting. Repose at the table is a sign of dignity and respect. Never lounge in your chair. Sit up straight, keep your hands in your lap, and your feet on the floor. Your elbows should never wing out nor rest on the table. Of course there are a few rules that should have been learned in kindergarten. Don't try to attract attention by waving your cutlery in the air. Don't tap against glasses or plates, nor play with the salt and pepper shakers. Only the ill-bred provincial tucks his napkin into the top of his jacket. And talking when your mouth is full of food nauseates your neighbors.

Never reach out to get something at the table. Simply ask for it politely and it will be passed to you. Do not blow briskly on your food to cool it. It is an insult to your hostess, if you closely examine your food before eating it. And it is considered bold effrontery to refuse a dish that is offered to you. So is pushing your plate away after tasting the food. 

If you taste your food and discover that you do not like it, do not spit it out onto your fork or remove it with a napkin. When a morsel of food by an act of carelessness or stupidity is sent flying to the floor, it should be left for the servants to pick up. If you find something distasteful in your food, do not upset your fellow dinner guests by drawing attention to it. Handling it with due discretion is far more tactful. If you are so nauseated that you feel you must leave the room, do so immediately. Although today we can overlook many etiquette blunders without batting an eyelash, this does not hold true for bone picking. It is hard to believe but there are still people to be found, publicly gnawing large greasy bones, brandishing sticky chops and virtually attacking oversized drum sticks without the use of silverware. 

This sort of conduct is strictly a barbarian practice. Accidents happen at the table. And should one happen to you, be as calm and discreet as possible. The hostess should smile graciously and a new topic of conversation should be introduced immediately. You should not be too apologetic. An appealing glance, saying --

MAN: A thousand pardons. I was most revolting.

WOMAN: -- should suffice. We hope you have enjoyed our informal little lecture on basic table manners. And we know (SLURP) will result in a happier, more fulfilling life.

BURT WOLF: That's Eating Well In Restaurants. Please join us next time as we travel around the world, looking for foods that taste good and make it easier to eat well. I'm Burt Wolf.