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The Fine Art of Eating Out

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WITH EASY ACCESS TO SOME OF THE WORLD’S FINEST CUISINES, BAY AREA FOODIES CAN DINE OUT HAPPILY—AND HEALTHFULLY. HERE’S HOW.

San Francisco restaurants are famous for their virtually endless variety of palate-pleasing global cuisines, but it’s not always easy to pinpoint healthful selections on the menus—the ones that don’t pack on unwanted pounds or clog the arteries and are big on nutrition.

To get some practical tidbits of advice on this topic, we turned to Kathryn Jessup, a seasoned Bay Area food writer and restaurant critic. She not only has made it her business to frequent a wide array of eateries, she’s also devised a personal plan of attack—and lost weight and improved her health in the process.

Following, we dish up some of Jessup’s insights and tips for navigating local restaurants that feature international cuisine.

Cuisine: Japanese
Good choices: Sushi or soup
I recommend sushi that is raw fish alone. Maki, the rolls with rice and seaweed, are still light, but white rice adds up the calories. Other good bets: tamago nigiri, a wonderful slice of sweet omelet served over rice wrapped in seaweed, and vegetarian sushi rolls such as futomaki. Miso soup is very filling. If you have issues around salt, maybe have a half-cup of miso soup and get some green tea.
Smart strategies: Skip or split the tempura; share the edamame.
Instead of tempura, go for something like steamed gyoza, little dumplings with either vegetables or usually pork; either way it’s less calories and fat than getting a big plate of tempura. If you do get tempura, get it with a group and share it. Another good thing to share is the steamed edamame, which are baby soybeans in the pod.
Red-flag food: Steak
Steak is still steak whether it’s teriyaki steak or rib-eye on the grill, American-style. Dial back on red meats if you can.

Cuisine: Mexican
Good choices:
Fajitas and pozole
Fajitas are a good choice because the meat, fish or vegetables are grilled. The accoutrements are kept to the side so you decide how much guacamole and sour cream goes on. Ask if they have whole-grain tortillas; if not, I’d go with corn tortillas. Also ask for the black beans—they’re higher in fiber—but keep portion size between a half-cup to a cup to manage calories and ease digestion. Pozole, a broth soup made with hominy and chicken, is delicious and filling.
Smart strategies: Substitute iced tea with a lemon wedge for the margaritas with salt; nurse your sangria by adding bubbly water; limit chips.
My MO is to decide that I’m going to have one alcoholic drink and a few tortilla chips. That way, I don’t deny myself totally. I just put the brakes on sooner.
Red-flag foods: Enchiladas, chile rellenos and other fried foods
In traditional enchiladas, the tortillas are fried, filled, then covered with sauce and cheese and baked. That’s why they’re so delicious and why they’re so loaded with calories. Chile rellenos are also battered and fried.

Cuisine: Indian
Good choices:
Tikka, dahl and tandoori
Tikka, grilled skewers of chicken or lamb, can be a nice starter. Dahl is a fantastic lentil stew. Another good thing for starters or a main entree is tandoori, which is the equivalent of a grilled item and cooked in a tandoor, a clay oven. Go for tandoori fish, chicken or vegetables. Chana masala, a chickpea stew, is somewhat dense but gives you a lot of nutrition and is really good with raita, a yogurt sauce.
Smart strategies: Skip the samosas; request dishes prepared with less oil; limit the naan and curries.
As delicious as they are, samosas are fried pastries. Instead of samosas, start with something from the tandoor or just cut to the chase and go straight to the entrees. A number of Indian dishes are made with a fair amount of oil. You can ask for things to be prepared with a little less oil. Naan is very dense, although not fatty, and a lot of white flour. I would limit the naan. Order one curry dish and have it in moderate proportions; get the lamb grilled rather than getting the rogan josh, a rich lamb curry.
Red-flag foods: Korma and pakora
Avoid the korma dishes because they’re made with cream. Lamb korma has a nut and cream sauce, and it just adds up. The other thing you probably want to avoid is the pakora, which are deep-fried vegetables or vegetable fritters—often made with chickpeas, onions and spinach. Instead, try papadum, a baked lentil crisp that’s more of a cracker with seasonings.

Cuisine: Continental (including French and Italian)
Good choices:
Salads and grilled or steamed fish
A lot of the more upscale Bay Area restaurants will have Caesar salad or roasted beet and arugula with pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. You may not want to eat all the cheese and nuts. Keep the dressing on the side, or ask to have the Caesar lightly dressed.
Smart strategies: Have pasta in moderation; be discriminating about bread.
Pasta can be good—you just have to moderate the portion and take into account its preparation. Avoid dishes with a lot of cream, bacon, red meat or cheese. I let someone else taste the bread first; if it’s not that great, I’ll skip it.
Red flag foods: Pizza, confit, rich desserts
When you see the word ‘bisque’ on the menu, it basically means a heck of a lot of cream, so steer clear of it. Pizza, even at a nicer place topped with leeks and goat cheese, is still pizza and very dense, with a lot of carbs. If pizza is happening, make sure it’s shared and that you have just a sliver. A confit is meat cooked in its own fat. It’s rich and fatty, and I’d cut back on it. The desserts can be so delicious, but they have as many calories as the meal itself in many cases. Instead, think about ordering a plate of fruit, a sorbet or a fruit compote.

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Added: 2012-08-02

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