Dining out can be good for your heart — in more ways than one
Theresa Keegan For Living & Being
A romantic dinner should warm — not harm — the hearts of loving couples dining out. And there are many Hudson Valley hot spots where great taste and great health go hand in hand.
"As a chef you're a buyer, and concerned about doing what's right," said Ric Orlando, chef and owner of New World Home Cooking in Saugerties. "I think a restaurant's reputation creates a trust and a bond (for consumers.)"
New World prides itself on creating food that is not only healthy, but also good tasting, he explains, in keeping with the motto, "We like you to dance when you leave New World." The days of overstuffed folks falling asleep next to a fire after dinner are a thing of the past.
"We're using herbs, spices and ginger, so you feel vital after you eat," he said. "Little choices make the menu less intense on your system."
The restaurant also uses local produce, free-range meats and is gluten-free, an action Orlando embraced after seeing how his wife, who has Celiac disease, was so much healthier after eliminating wheat from her diet.
"The demand keeps growing and growing, as more and more people are learning the intolerance of all the gluten in their diet." He says his wife's asthma went away almost instantly when she stopped eating gluten, and other health benefits followed.
"We make a lot of choices in our cooking to not serve wheat," said Orlando, adding the choices, such as using rice flour on the fried calamari, are conscious, but don't compromise taste.
Health concerns spur many chefs to review their offerings. In fact, the personal experiences of Marcus Guiliano prompted the Ellenville chef to not only alter the fare he was serving, but to open his own restaurant.
"I was a traditional French chef," he said.
But when his health deteriorated, including high cholesterol and blood pressure as well as weight gain, he knew something had to give. He began a rigorous lifestyle change that included eating healthy, natural products as well as exercising. His health immediately turned around.
"But I wasn't eating what I was cooking," he said. "It was getting tough for me … as I developed my own style."
The answer came in 2003, when he and his wife opened Aroma Thyme Bistro, a green-certified restaurant. "This is my calling … I'd done this myself. I believe in it. I know it works."
Guiliano credits the quality of the food to his attention to detail, acknowledging that running a restaurant means not only knowing about the food served, but also catering to a variety of customers.
"Some people walk in here and could care less … others come in here and really start meditating over the food."
Menus — including steak, seafood and vegan options — are full of information about the Himalayan Crystal Salt and Young Living oils they use and the ionized, plasma-activated water they serve. Often, it prompts discussions with customers.
"Once they raise questions, that's my cue to go in and explain," Guiliano said.He said people understand what he's talking about 90 percent of the time, and 60-70 percent of the people want more information.
"The number of people who understand what we do is growing and growing," Guiliano said. "We convert a lot of people to eating healthfully."
The restaurant does not use corn syrup, trans fats, refined white flour, sugar, butter or heavy dairy products. Meat is free-range and seafood is sustainable.
"I'm in tune to what happens when you cook food," Guiliano said. "Once people start tasting the food they're like 'Wow — this is incredible. I leave the restaurant full, but not bloated — and I feel good.' "
Aroma Thyme also focuses on its alcohol offerings and has been recognized by Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. A new emphasis, including local Hudson Valley wines, beers and vodkas, includes listing the distance the product traveled to get to the restaurant. It's an attempt to get people to think about their carbon footprints.
"Everyone has different expectations when they walk in and eat," said Guiliano, but by the end of the meal, he said they're educated when they leave: "There actually is a difference."
For Josh Kroner, chef and owner of Terrapin Restaurant, dining healthy is dining delicious.
"To me, healthy food is food that's wholesome in itself," he said. "No added chemicals and that's not processed." The Rhinebeck restaurant has earned a reputation for making everything from scratch, a tradition Kroner learned as a child in his grandfather's restaurant.
"My basic take on healthy food isn't necessarily low-fat, low-calorie or low-starch," he said. "It's a matter of moderation. People modify their diets to however it's going to make sense to them."
He doesn't use any hydrogenated oil, and the menu always offers several vegetarian dishes, as well as options that have less fat. Wild, instead of farm-raised salmon is served because of the health and ecological benefits. All Terrapin's meat is free of hormones and antibiotics.
"I'll get the more expensive product because it's a better product," Kroner said. "There's an ongoing awareness about healthy dining, but lots of people come here because the food just tastes good."
His goals are direct: to serve "what's healthy for the consumer and for the environment."
Living in the Hudson Valley has given him access to fresh, organic produce and although 10 years ago the quality grass-fed meat had to be brought in from Colorado, now a local cattle company serves the restaurant.
"I'm not going to try and force the customers to understand," he said. "I just do what I do because I have integrity in what I do. I'm of the school that everybody has an individual taste."
The fact everything at Terrapin is served fresh means he can easily alter meals. "I don't pop anything out of a freezer bag, so it's easy to just make requests, we don't mind," he said. "If somebody has a concern because they have a specific requirement, I can make anything in my kitchen. We're very, very flexible."
He's passionate about making the dining experience not only healthy, but also personal and enjoyable.
"I want to do something I can be proud of," he said. "At the end of the day, for me, that's the most important thing."
New World Home Cooking 1411 Route 212 Saugerties Phone: 845-246-0900 Web: www.ricorlando.com
Aroma Thyme Bistro 165 Canal St. Ellenville Phone: 845-647-3000 Web: www.aromathymebistro.com
Terrapin Restaurant and Bistro 6426 Montgomery St. Rhinebeck Phone: 845-876-3330 Web: www.terrapinrestaurant.com