Indulge without guilt
Our list of New York City's best dishes is packed, by necessity, with rich, fatty treats. We called in a nutritionist to assess what's good for you as well.
Thu Dec 27 2007
Judging by the title of her book, Eat, Drink and Be Gorgeous, Esther Blum has a real grasp of what's important to New Yorkers. The Gotham-based dietitian and holistic nutritionist knows all about our inherent desire to eat out—often—yet miraculously not expand our waistlines (or send our hearts to ruin). We asked her to audit our 100 best dishes and highlight the healthy hidden treasure in each group.
From top-10 dishes
The healthy choice: Warm roasted-duck salad at Sripaphai
Blum's breakdown: Duck is actually a very healthy bird, provided you trim off the fat. It's not extremely high in calories and is a good source of protein. Eating protein shuts off the hunger mechanism in the brain—for that reason this dish would make a great appetizer. Also, cilantro is a natural way to help your body eliminate mercury, a neurotoxin that can cause memory loss, irritable bowel syndrome, depression and thyroid problems.
From "Jew vs. pig" (pork dishes)
The healthy choice: Pork-and-crabdumplings from Grand Sichuan
Blum's breakdown: This dish delivers all the punch and flavor of the pork without the saturated fat and grease of the rest of them. Like soup dumplings, they have broth oozing out of them. Though I wouldn't choose the lard bread, lard is actually very stable fat for cooking and baking that's not totally bad for you. Just don't use a huge quantity.
From "Worker's chomp"
The healthy choice: Toro caviar roll wrapped in avocado from Masa
Blum's breakdown: Avocados have omega-9 fats, another essential fatty acid, which makes our skin soft and supple. The toro, a fatty tuna, will also have a higher content of omega-3s than regular tuna. However, be aware that tuna has a high concentration of mercury, so treat this as a special-occasion food and not something to have every day (especially if trying to conceive, or pregnant). Those on low-carb diets can substitute the rice for cucumber.
From "Mouths from the South" (South American cuisine)
The healthy choice: Arroz con habichuelas (white rice and red beans) at La Nueva Conquista
Blum's breakdown: Yellow beans, red beans, it doesn't matter. They all have incredible antioxidant content and are high in fiber and resistant starch. This is great news if you intend to order dessert—the combination of the low-sugar-content and high fiber will blunt the effect of a sugary finisher. White rice is a gluten-free food, so people with celiac disease often tolerate it better, but if you can order brown rice with this dish, you get the added benefits of magnesium, B vitamins and iron.
From "The ultimate bread basket"
The healthy choice: Apricot-hazelnut parisienne from Silver Moon Bakery
Blum's breakdown: Hazelnuts are a very rich source of selenium, a trace element that's rare in our diets but helps support immune function. It helps our body eliminate heavy metals like mercury and lead. The dried apricots are a great way to get your fiber. Anyone who suffers from constipation should load up on these to get those bowels moving again. Unfortunately the bread will have the opposite effect.
From: "Best of the rest: Sandwiches" (includes Burgers)
The healthy choice: Super Heeb Sandwich at Russ & Daughters
Blum's breakdown: You'll get a bunch of omega-3 fats from the whitefish salad, which are great for treating dry skin, regulating hormones, improving cognitive function and decreasing symptoms of ADHD and depression. In other words, they're the perfect nutrients for winter. Although tasty, this is not the healthiest way to eat them since they're probably saturated in gobs of mayonnaise. Go easy on the horseradish cream cheese.
From: "Best of the rest: The classics"
The healthy choice: Porterhouse at Peter Luger
Blum's breakdown: The key here is to divide your steak into quarters – you should only consume four to six ounces of red meat (the size of a deck of cards) in one sitting. People sometimes feel sick after eating steak and that's because not everyone can digest these huge hunks of red meat. The saturated fat is acidic and inflammatory—a simple salad or some spinach will introduce alkali and facilitate digestion. Cow meat itself is not unhealthy but can be made so by the processes to which it's subjected before it reaches our plate. Opt for grass-fed meat wherever possible.
From: "Best of the rest: European" (includes Italian)
The healthy choice: Stuffed grape leaves at Bereket
Blum's breakdown: This is a great option for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Grape leaves are loaded with fiber and usually coated with a wonderful olive oil. The pine nuts contain essential fatty acids. I'm a fan of fat; good fats keep your cholesterol low and maintain blood-sugar levels for hours after you eat them, thus curbing hunger and keeping cravings at bay.
From: "Best of the rest: Middle Eastern"
The healthy choice: Hummus from Sahadi's
Blum's breakdown: Then main ingredient in hummus is chickpea, another fiber-heavy legume that happily contains resistant starch as well. This takes hours to be broken down into the bloodstream, which means it will keep you fuller and satisfied for longer. Tahini is essentially puréed sesame seed, an incredibly rich source of calcium. The lemon juice flushes toxins from the liver and charges up the gall bladder. As great as hummus tastes on pita chips, try it on carrots too.
From: "Best of the rest: Asian"
The healthy choice: Guizhou spicy chicken at Grand Sichuan International
Blum's breakdown: Those hot chilies are not only spicing up the chicken but are also helping to rev up your metabolism and facilitate digestion. Chilies are also great at killing off bacteria and fighting food-borne illness—an excellent food to be eating if you are traveling in "mysterious" places. This was the original idea behind heavily spiced food in Asia. Not only did it prevent food from perishing prematurely, it would help mask the taste if the ingredients were past their prime.
From: "Best of the rest: Treats"
The healthy choice: Nettlesome cheese from Valley Shepherd Creamery
Blum's breakdown: The popcorn and knish are carbohydrate-heavy and likely to make you sleepy during a movie, whereas the protein and fat from the Nettlesome cheese will keep up blood-sugar levels all the way through the improbably tidy Hollywood ending. Sheep's milk is much easier to digest than cow's because it's closer in composition to human milk. If somebody is allergic to cow's milk or has lactose intolerance, there's a good chance they'll tolerate goat's or sheep's milk better.
From: "Best of the rest: Desserts"
The healthy choice: Mint-chocolate dessert at Park Avenue Winter
Blum's breakdown: A flourless dessert is a great way to end the meal. I am a big fan of them because they leave you feeling less bloated, especially if you've already gorged on bread, pasta and wine. Additionally, if the bittersweet chocolate has 60 percent (or above) cocoa content, then it has a greater level of antioxidants. These are sheets of armor that help coat and protect our cells from environmental toxins, stress and the aging process.
From "Fries with that?"
The healthy choice: Goose-fat potatoes at Strip House
Blum's breakdown: The goose-fat fries are best, specifically because they're fried in goose-fat. The whole bummer about New York City switching to trans-free fats is that the restaurants are not using good-quality replacement fat. We would be much better off frying in goose-fat, beef tallow, coconut oil, or any other kind of saturated fat in fact, than we are frying in vegetable oil. Vegetable oil turns rancid at temperatures above 350 degrees and this translates to internal inflammation, heart disease, wrinkles, obesity, menstrual problems and hormonal disruption.
Blum's book, Eat, Drink and Be Gorgeous: A Nutritionist's Guide to Living Well While Living It Up (Chronicle Books, 2007), is in stores now. A full list of Esther's credentials can be found on her website.