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Ed Levine's Serious Diet, Week 125: Restaurant Tactics for Serious Eaters

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

I'm probably stating the obvious here, but I eat out in restaurants. A lot. Not as many times as a restaurant critic at the New York Times like Sam Sifton (Sam and his predecessors eat out a minimum of ten meals a week), but I probably eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner in restaurants at least four or five times in the course of a week.

Please understand that I'm not complaining about this aspect of my life. Ever since I was a kid I have loved going out to restaurants. The most vivid memories I have of my childhood revolve around restaurant meals: Sunday night family dinners at China Jade in Hewlett, Long Island, where my Dad would order dinner for five (two dishes from column A, three dishes from column B) even though there were six of us; seriously delicious pizza from Cairo's or Ricci's; pastrami sandwiches and hot dogs from Wilshire's; and trips to Nathan's that featured hot dogs, french fries, lobster rolls, and chow mein sandwiches.

But now that I've embarked on a serious weight control effort (also known in some quarters as a diet) the number of meals I eat out weekly has become a real problem.

Why? Because when I read a menu I am a kid back in the candy store. I have a hard time deciding what to order, so I invariably order too much food. This makes it difficult to lose weight. So I realize I have to go back to the drawing board when it comes to ordering in restaurants. Which is just what I did this past week.

I went to restaurants and I intentionally ordered smaller-portioned dishes, which is exactly the opposite of what and how I've been ordering my whole life. That's not all. I also ordered salads even when the salad was just one of the options on a prix fixe menu.

At Maialino, the elementally delicious Roman-inspired trattoria in New York's Gramercy Park Hotel, I ordered the insanely delicious smoked swordfish, caper berry, and pickled red onion appetizer. I could have ordered a pasta as a starter, their pastas are almost uniformly incredible, but I didn't. There wasn't a whole lot of swordfish on the plate, but there was enough. We ordered two pastas and a sandwich for our main courses, and when our server asked if we wanted extra-large, secondi-sized pasta portions instead of the regular "primi-"sized ones, I shocked my dining companions and myself by saying no.

At my Father's Day Sunday brunch at Telepan with my son Will and wife Vicky, I surprised them by ordering a spring salad as a starter instead of the ricotta blintzes or the apple sausage with duck prosciutto. And you know what? That salad was crazy delicious. I may have trouble summoning the energy to make salads at home, but I am really happy when a talented chef like Bill Telepan makes one for me.

And when I went out to eat at a neighborhood pan-Asian restaurant, both Alaina and I ordered entree salads. Mine was Thai steak salad lightly dressed with a carb-less basil lime vinaigrette, and it was perfectly decent.

So maybe I'm getting it through my thick skull (and my less thick belly after 124 weeks of my serious diet) that three tactics will carry the day diet-wise:

1. Eat more salads and vegetables

2. Make ordering decisions based on serious deliciousness quotient instead of volume and/or quantity

3. Resign from the clean plate club (a lesson I had previously learned in week 111 of my Serious Diet.)

Or to summarize my new-found restaurant eating philosophy, think small and green and plates not so clean.

Sounds so logical and easy, doesn't it? Would that it were so.

What works for you, serious eaters?

Weigh-In

We'll see if these tenets are going to pay dividends right away. I was at 222 last week. I'd like to make some progress. Here we go: 221. PROGRESS!

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