Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Spago Beverly Hills – A Decadent Ending

On the last day of our road trip, we said good-bye to San Luis Obispo and hello Los Angeles.  Before we left SLO, we stopped for brunch at Honeymoon Café, a casual beach spot recognizable by the huge barbeque on the outdoor patio.  Seeing humanely-raised pork on the menu, Lisa went straight for the pork tacos served with black beans.  Not having had a proper breakfast all week, McKenzie chose eggs and avocado.  Sitting in a sunny spot outside, neither one of us was disappointed.

We had planned to do some wine tasting that afternoon with McKenzie’s friend, Holly, but were quickly running out of time.  Note to selves:  Next road trip, we spend a minimum of two days in each town. 

We decided to visit Holly at her home instead.  We headed south on Route 101, making a quick detour in the sleepy little town of Los Alamos to check out a pizza place we heard about, Full of Life Flatbread.   It was closed (luckily for us, since we were still full from brunch), but we added it to our wish list.   

We continued through the Santa Ynez Valley wine country toward Solvang, a quaint picturesque Danish-style village complete with a Hans Christian Andersen Museum.  We arrived at Holly’s home, a sprawling Spanish colonial-style ranch house filled with her parents’ antiques from their furniture import business.   She greeted us with a smile and hugs at the door, before leading us to the kitchen where she was just putting the finishing touches on McKenzie’s favorite dessert—carrot cake, complete with cream cheese frosting.  We took slices of the (delicious!) cake outside to sit and talk on the patio, under an arbor draped with wisteria.  Perfect serenity.                

After catching up with Holly, and still wishing for time to slow down, we continued toward L.A. where we had made plans to meet two friends for dinner.  What better place to end our exploration of the California coast than in Wolfgang Puck’s flagship restaurant, Spago Beverly Hills

Anyone who saw the Wolfgang Puck episode from Season 7 of The Next Food Network Star, knows the chef is passionate about good food.  He coined the phrase, “Eat, Love, Live,” and was a pioneer in introducing the American palate to exotic flavors and luxurious foods.  In the ‘80’s, his smoked salmon pizza with caviar became a symbol of California cuisine (see Lisa’s scaled-down interpretation of this pizza, below). 

First of all, the restaurant feels like Beverly Hills, with impeccably dressed beautiful people sipping cocktails under twinkling lights, including a few celebrities.  It’s fun people watching.

Second of all, it’s not cheap.  But there are strategies to dining at an expensive restaurant without breaking the bank.  Go with people who like to share (this also has other benefits, as you’ll read below!) and choose mostly from the appetizer or small plate side of the menu. We usually find these items are more interesting anyway.  Finally, go light on the alcohol—those $14 glasses of wine add up quickly.  

Lastly, it’s totally worth it.  Spago may have opened in 1982, but it’s no antique relic still reliving the glory days.  The finely curated menu is current and the vibe swanky, albeit a bit loud.  We chose four small plates, two entrées and two desserts—with quite a few standouts.  A small plate with Adriatic figs, burrata and prosciutto and another featuring heirloom tomatoes both highlighted the beauty of simply-presented, perfect ingredients.

And the pan-roasted chicken with wild morel mushrooms won the prize for Best. Chicken. Ever.  Period.  It was crazy-good.  (Sorry, we were so excited to eat it, we didn’t take a picture.)

But here we are with our friend, Elie, very happy.

Well, there you have it – a week of our travels documented and dictated by the food along the way. Just to clarify (and in case you haven’t noticed): we love food & we love to eat.

While it may seem counterintuitive that two dietitians love food so much, we believe it makes perfect sense. You may be asking yourself, “Shouldn’t dietitians promote dieting?” Not us. Instead, we take a more realistic, achievable, and healthier approach. Eating well, feeling fabulous and looking great isn’t about what you can’t eat. It’s about what you can eat. We want you (and others) to focus on the benefits of eating healthy foods and all the wonderful things they can do for you and your body…

And now, for our Top 3 (non)Diet Tips…

#1. Listen and trust. Honor and listen to your biological hunger cues. As we mentioned before, it’s best to nourish your body every 3-5 hours. It’s also equally important to feel your fullness as you eat. After you finish a meal or snack, ask yourself, “Am I still hungry, do I feel satisfied, or am I stuffed?” These cues can tell you more than you think. Trust us.  Listen to these cues and learn from them.

#2. Share. A recent study conducted by Tufts University and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed calorie counts provided on restaurant menus and websites can actually be underestimated by quite a bit. While calorie counts and nutrition information can be a helpful tool in providing a frame of reference, they are not always 100% accurate. One thing we know for sure is that portion sizes are growing – and we don’t need nutrition information to tell us that. As a general rule when eating out, share your meal with a friend or take home half your meal for leftovers. It’s all about moderation.

#3. Be real. According to a 2010 article from the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, consuming artificial sweeteners may actually be counterproductive in regards to weight loss. The study suggests eating artificial sweeteners further fuels food seeking behavior. Why? Because the brain is unable to receive the message the body has been given food and we remain unsatisfied until we receive adequate nourishment. We recommend when you’re craving something sweet after your meal, allow yourself to have a small portion of the real thing. You’ll end up being more satisfied and less likely to overeat on something later.

1 prepared pizza dough
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoon shallot, minced
White pepper, to taste
Sea salt, to taste
Dash of hot sauce, to taste
1/2 cup sour cream or crème frâiche
10 oz. thinly sliced smoked salmon
4 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped, divided
2 tablespoons capers, well drained
Zest of one lemon

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Spread pizza dough on pizza stone or baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and spread red onions over pizza.  Place in oven and bake 6 – 8 minutes, or until golden brown and puffed.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, shallot, pepper, salt and hot sauce.  Let shallot mixture sit for 2 – 3 minutes, to allow the flavor of the shallot to distribute.  Stir in sour cream and dill.

Spread sour cream mixture over cooked pizza dough.  Top with smoked salmon, dill, capers and lemon zest.  Serve immediately. 

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