Calories, schmalories: What to ditch the diet for and where to indulge.
If you’re going to have only one, make sure it’s the best!
Okay, summer’s in full swing and you’re trying to stay—or get—in shape. In between Pilates, cardio, and weights, you’ve been stoically avoiding all deliciousness. That means no cocktails, bread, wine, fried foods, or desserts. It’s been tough, but you know that sooner or later you’re going to yield—you’re going to allow yourself that little splurge.
So don’t blow it on run-of-the mill treats: no dull supermarket bread, blah cake, or mundane cocktail for you. You need the best and most delicious bang for your calorie buck. You need a treat so perfect, so delicious, so fulfilling, that its happy memory lasts—until you’ve earned your next splurge, that is.
So when you feel you’ve earned it, try these ultimate splurges.
Packed with sugar, cream, butter, liquor, chocolate, oil, and refined flours, our favorite desserts combine every category of fattening food within a single dish. Of course the news is bad, but then you already knew that. Crème brûlée? Two-hundred ten calories. A slice of chocolate cake: 235. Eight ounces of ice cream: 500 calories.
If you’ve earned the right to indulge, make sure that your dessert is perfect. Look for restaurants with on-staff pastry chefs whose sole mission is to create a changing roster of exciting house-made treats.
THE SPLURGE classic hot chocolate soufflé with chantilly cream and crème anglaise WHERE Xaviars at Piermont, 506 Piermont Ave, Piermont, NY (845) 359-7007.
WHY This haut chocolate stunner was inspired by the French dessert classic, amer soufflé, which traditionally is made with bitter chocolate. Instead, Xaviars soufflé uses Italian Amedei chocolate—a boutique brand, according to Executive Chef Peter X. Kelly, that packs an intense chocolate flavor without being aggressively bitter or too sweet. The warm soufflé is contrasted with cool vanilla-scented crème anglaise and fluffy chantilly cream for an over-the-top dessert indulgence.
How many calories are lurking in that drink? The truth is, plenty. While the recommended serving of pure distilled liquor (one ounce) contains only about 70 calories, most restaurant glasses hold over eight ounces. Then those multiple shots of
booze are paired with sugar-soaked juices and mixers. Forbes recently printed a list of the 10 most fattening cocktails, and the news was pretty dire. A mojito? One-hundred sixty calories. Champagne cocktail? Two-hundred seventy. A margarita? Seven-hundred forty. Long Island iced tea? Seven-hundred eighty. Ouch!
So let’s assume you’re going to have just one. Spoil yourself with top-shelf liquors that have been house-infused with herbs, exotic fruits, and spices. Insist on fresh-squeezed fruit juices, sparkling flavor combinations, and an over-the-top glamorous presentation—that’s what splurge-worthy cocktails are all about.
THE SPLURGE Sextini
This pretty copper-brown cocktail is made with Dr. Tea’s organic Asian sex tonic, a uniquely flavored herbal concoction that includes the Qi-enhancing herbs, ginseng and astragalus. The drink’s kick comes from X-Rated Fusion, an organic French vodka liqueur flavored with blood oranges, mango, and passion fruit.
WHERE Bloom, 19 Main St, Hastings-on-Hudson (914) 478-3250.
WHY Owner James Sklar spared no expense on Bloom’s beverage program. He consulted with Marty Vaz, drinks designer at Manhattan’s trendy Gin Lane and at Spice Market, where Vaz worked with superstar chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Vaz’s cocktails reflect Bloom’s all-organic mission: they use organic Square One vodka, G’Vine gin made from organic green grapes, and Sotol tequila, made from wild-harvested agave from Chihuahua, Mexico. All the juices that perk up Bloom’s cocktails are fresh-squeezed from organic fruits, and instead of sugary simple syrup, drinks are sweetened with agave nectar. And for drop-dead glamour, Bloom’s sophisticated, rainbow-hued cocktails come beautifully garnished with edible flowers.
Deep fat-fried food
Who doesn’t like fried food? Its very fat-soaked nature spells luxury. When famine was an ever-present threat, fatty foods provided insurance—their extravagant calories could mean the difference between life and death. Even though most of us are a few generations away from famine, as humans, we’re hard-wired to love fat.
What better fat-delivery mechanism than deep fat-frying, a nearly universal cooking technique that seals in moisture while simultaneously creating a crunchy crust. Scratch the comfort food of any culture and you’ll find an irresistible cache of salty, greasy, deep-fried foods.
The bad news is that the calorie cost of these foods is staggering. One feather-light (1.8 ounces) glazed donut? Two-hundred calories. Three pieces of fried chicken? Five-hundred calories. One of those whole, battered, deep-fried onions? A whopping 2,210 calories. Not a part of anyone’s nutrition pyramid.
While tempura and fried chicken are all very nice, chances are—if you’re an American—what you really pine for is French fries (calories: 420 for a medium order at Wendy’s). Don’t waste your splurge on run-of-the-mill fries. If you’re going to spend the calories, make sure each crisp, golden baton is perfect.
THE SPLURGE A big hot stack of golden, perfectly-salted French fries
WHERE Le Jardin Du Roi , 95 King St, Chappaqua (914) 238-1368.
WHY Le Jardin Du Roi uses only fresh potatoes (and not — like many other restaurants — pre-cut, frozen spuds), and they prepare them in the classic pommes frites manner. The potatoes are actually deep-fried twice: first, at low temperature to cook their interiors, and then a second time to crisp them. This technique creates perfectly executed frites, snappably crisp outside and hollow/fluffy/steamy inside.
Now that Atkins mania has passed (Remember when carbs were rooted from our diets with the wild-eyed panic of a witch-hunt?), dieters are venturing back to the bread basket. Here’s the truth: bread is not bad for you. Its high carbohydrate content provides lots of energy, which is why marathoners traditionally “carb-load” before a race. A starchy feast of pasta and bread gives long-distance runners the fuel to reach the finish line.
Of course, most diners who tuck into a bread basket won’t be running 26 miles in the morning, so that energy might just get stored—and you know what that means. Worse, those bread baskets arrive on the table seductively paired with butter (100 calories per tablespoon), olive oil (120 per tablespoon), or other, equally fatty, spreads. And worse still, at American restaurants, the bread basket is the first food to hit the table. Hungry diners can easily (and often unconsciously) consume hundreds of calories before they’ve even seen their starters.
If you’ve been dreaming about bread, don’t waste your splurge on any old loaf. Spend those saved-up calories on richly flavored, artisan-crafted breads.
THE SPLURGE A luxe bread basket piled high with a variety of artisanal breads
WHERE A’Tavola Bistro, 385 Halstead Ave, Harrison (914) 381-6050.
WHY All of A’Tavola’s breads are baked at Port Chester’s The Kneaded Bread, Jennifer and Jeffrey Kohn’s much-loved artisanal bread bakery. Its hand-formed loaves are leavened with a carefully tended, nine-year-old natural starter, and each batch of dough is allowed a slow, two-day rise. This slow fermentation (paired with carefully sourced, boutique grains) ensures that each Kneaded Bread dough yields richly flavored, soulful loaves that pack a crunchy crust and perfect, chewy crumb.
Despite the heart-healthy effects of red wine (whose plaque-fighting properties reduce cholesterol build-up in the arteries), the calories in wine come without any real nutrients: it’s the nutritional equivalent of penny candy. And while the recommended serving of wine, four ounces, only holds between 85 and 100 calories, the average restaurant pour is more like six or eight ounces. Fortified wines (like sherry, Madeira, port, and cognac) pack more alcohol and consequently, even more calories. These bad boys will earn you about 200 nutrient-free calories per four-ounce pour, although in your favor, the average restaurant pour is closer to the recommended serving.
If you’re going to allow yourself a glass or two of wine, use your splurge where the selection is best. Don’t blow those hard-earned calories on mystery-maker merlot—demand fine vintages, small producers, and a cellar the size of a football field.
THE SPLURGE a glass of bordeaux rouge Chateau Faugeres, Saint Emilion,
WHERE Crabtree’s Kittle House, 11 Kittle Rd, Chappaqua (914) 666-8044.
WHY According to Don Castaldo, the Kittle House’s wine director, this wine is at a perfect drinking plateau right now. With four years of age, it’s soft and rich with plenty of earthy plum and chocolate notes. If you’re only having one glass, this quaff will deliver a huge, palate-pleasing punch.