Worth the Weight
I've got an idea for a fail-proof, get-rich-quick scheme.
First, eat out. Do it a lot, and be sure to finish everything on your plate. Next, go home and park it on the couch, exercising only your fingers for the remote control. Soon, you'll turn into a blubbery tub, get sick and almost die. Then, it's payday! You get to sue the hell out of those horrible people who did such a near-fatal thing to you: restaurant owners.
In case you hadn't heard the news, this summer two teenage girls sued McDonald's for making them fat.
The suit, filed in August by 19-year-old Jazlyn Bradley, who hit nearly 300 pounds on her Big Mac binge, and 170-pound 14-year-old Ashley Pelman, is the brain child of a New York attorney and a George Washington University professor who, just weeks earlier, had launched a similar legal attack on McDonald's and other fast food purveyors on behalf of Ceasar Barber, a 270-pound, 56-year-old Bronx man who blamed his diabetes and two heart attacks on the restaurant chain's burgers, fries and shakes.
Both lawsuits have been met with derision from the media. Pundits predictably slammed the plump plaintiffs for not having the sense to know when to push back from the table.
But I'm having second thoughts about condemning Barber, Bradley, Pelman and their attorney. They may be on to something.
Depending on which source you believe, nearly 65 percent of Americans today are overweight, and 30 percent are considered clinically obese. How that's happened is obvious. We spend more than 41 percent of our average food dollar eating out (compared to just 19 percent in 1955). Two-thirds of us, one study shows, completely clean our plates when we eat in a restaurant. And that's at a time when individual meal portions have grown so huge, they can total three to four times our recommended daily allowance of calories.
Is it our fault we're so fat, the New York lawsuits ask, if restaurants are going to put so much delicious food in front of us?
I have only one problem with this logic: Why pick on the tasteless and puny portions at McDonald's? If you're going to sue over truly artery-thickening, girth-promoting helpings of food, I've got much better defendants in mind.
There's the Mastro Group, for example, which has just opened a new dining destination, Drinkwater's City Hall Steakhouse in central Scottsdale. This place is a menace. I'm helpless against the restaurant's charms, and I can't stop eating its food. City Hall serves massive steaks, veal and pork chops, entire racks of lamb and whole roasted chickens. Sides are of table-tilting proportions -- full-pound baked potatoes drenched in butter and sour cream, soup-plate-sized twice-baked spuds, buckets of broccoli swamped in oceans of melted cheese. There's no warning label anywhere, nothing to hint that indulging in these, my favorite foods, might lead to high cholesterol, skyrocketing blood pressure, clogged arteries, bloating. Even death.
But I'm ready with an airtight case against Mastro's, once I get that New York attorney to return my phone calls. You see, I've always been a sucker for a Mastro's meal -- whether it's the dependable Italian-Asian menu at the Marco Polo Supper Club, the casual Caribbean at Cocomo Joe's or the pub grub at Maloney's Tavern. Only guilt has kept me from going more often to the company's flagship, Mastro's Steakhouse, and enjoying a "chef's cut" 33-ounce rib eye chop, 22-ounce rack of lamb or 28-ounce prime rib. I try to convince myself that I need only six to nine ounces of protein for an entire day, but when I'm sitting at Mastro's and the smiling, white-jacketed server looks so pleased when I carve into a succulent, white-as-snow hunk of veal porterhouse, 16 ounces of gorgeous, firm flesh clinging to a slim ribbon of bone, I lose all sense of propriety. I nod helplessly when he recommends a side of what's easily a quart of creamed corn, swimming in paste-thick sweet half-and-half sauce.
Just wait until the court gets to hear how City Hall took advantage of me when I wandered in seeking a nice, comfy dinner of meat-'n-potatoes. The restaurant forced me to ingest a meal I calculated to contain 6,285 calories. There was the crusty French bread, and a long, salty, soft pretzel roll slathered with butter -- 480 calories. An appetizer platter of fried calamari -- 650 cals. A few tablespoons of cocktail sauce -- 105 cals. A giant caesar with croutons, soft fresh cheese and creamy dressing -- 350 cals. A luscious hulk of prime rib, full-flavored from the bone -- 34 ounces and 3,740 cals. And a pound of baked potato with butter and sour cream -- 800 cals. I had to have wine, since I read somewhere that it's good for my heart, and it's thoughtful that City Hall takes care of me with super-size standard pours of eight to nine ounces per glass -- 160 cals. Dessert, I know, is fattening, so I've skipped that, proud of my will power to turn down superb flourless chocolate cake and Key lime pie. (Okay, I stole a bite or two from my dining companions' plates.)
And who, I'll ask the jury, could resist adding an appetizer of shrimp cocktail to every meal? The dish can be pretty mundane, but City Hall makes it irresistible, with a dramatic presentation of three enormous, meaty critters tucked in a parsley-lined tureen cradled with dry ice spitting fog.
The thought of a big court settlement in my future lessens the pain of spending 30 bucks on just a piece of meat (no salad, no potato, no vegetable -- nothing but the plate). But at City Hall, I'm also paying for stunning, big-city atmosphere, 13,000 square feet of ruby-red carpeting, slump glass doors, Brazilian cherry millwork, glittering glass partitions separating the bar and the dining room, heavy silver tableware, and a full wall of temperature-controlled wines, plus live jazz piano and dancing. The menu is the same as at Mastro's Steakhouse, but this is a fresher ambience. "Mastro's with uptown sex appeal, a restaurant for the new millennium," the on-hold phone message gushes. And the place is co-owned by Mark Drinkwater, the high-style Valley restaurateur and son of late former Scottsdale Mayor Herb Drinkwater, so that's got to be worth something.
This isn't just any $30 slab of meat, either, but the best USDA Prime, Midwest corn-fed steer, cut in the in-house butcher shop, wet-aged for 21 to 28 days, seasoned, broiled at 1800 degrees, slicked with clarified butter and presented on a sizzling, 400-degree plate. Not only is the 22-ounce, Danielle Steele novel-thick bone-in rib eye one of the most flavorful cuts of beef I've ever savored, its cost will be mere pittance after I collect my damages from restaurant management. Go ahead, add on the sharp, rich Gorgonzola crust, I tell my server (an extra 100 cals).
I watched in awe a petite lady at the table next to me -- she waved away an offered takeout container and gnawed every speck of flesh left on her almost 1-1/2-pound chicken. The sight was a little shocking, until I tasted it myself later -- the free-range bird is flooded with juices, roasted golden brown and crispy-skinned. She eats all of hers; I eat all of mine. It's way, way over our suggested daily intake of 2,000 calories, but it's not our fault.
I better get my lawsuit filed soon, though. I'm thinking Mastro's is wise to my plan, so eager are they sometimes to help me curb my appetite. It's a constant challenge to hold on to plates -- overly efficient bussers have to be slapped repeatedly to stop them from removing big white bread platters, silver breadbaskets, or half-finished appetizers and entrees when we pause to draw breath and check our heart rates.
And now and then, management sends out food to slam our feasting to a stop. One evening's oysters Rockefeller are nasty -- six huge but harsh mollusks not fully cleaned of grit under their wet blanket of spinach and cheese. Escargot mushrooms aren't as interesting as they sound, either, just giant domestic buttons stuffed with minced snail (the aftertaste the only telltale sign that it's mollusk), herbed breadcrumbs and too much crunchy garlic. One night's rib eye falls from spectacular to just so-so (it's a Sunday, though, and the meat may not have been the freshest). And I can pass on a creative but irritating "mambo" salad, a crouton-less caesar done up with a violent horseradish-wasabi dressing.
No doubt Mastro will point to these less-than-perfect helpings when it defends itself against my legal onslaught. But I'll win the day and a big pot of money. No jury will disagree that I was coerced to eat heartily after tasting a meal at Mastro's.
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