Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Weight Watch: During this pre-New Year's week, masses of people will be making resolutions to go on a diet in 1996. Yes, it's important not to be grossly overweight. But the mania for counting calories and fat grams is getting out of hand. Especially when we're eating out. In response to demand, more and more restaurants are adding hard numbers to their menu descriptions, providing precise nutritional breakdowns of calories, fat, fiber, sodium, protein and vitamins.

I'm alarmed by this trend, which, to me, seems pernicious. That's because there's an insidious subconscious message behind this assault of apparently neutral, scientific "information." Continually pounded into our heads is the perverse idea that we ought to be nutritionally obsessed. And if we're not, we should be.

Recently, I've seen how this notion operates in an even more subtle way. My wife ordered a chicken amandine salad. She asked the waiter how it was dressed--the menu didn't say. With an herb vinaigrette, he responded. Then he made an unsolicited point of assuring her that it wasn't fattening, and that he'd serve it on the side. I guess we've reached the point where servers just naturally assume diners (especially female diners) are neurotically hung up about every morsel that passes between their lips.

If restaurant owners really want to do their customers a service, I suggest they forgo informing us about how many milligrams of sodium are in the roast chicken or how many fat grams are in the linguini with clam sauce. (After all, if you are watching your weight, do you really need a lab report to confirm that steamed vegetables are a better option than, say, mashed potatoes with gravy?) Instead, maybe the proprietors could help out us non-calorie counters by indicating which dishes actually taste good.

Card Sharks: Are you one of the half-million people who've recently gotten something called the Value Card in the mail? Or maybe you've seen the commercial for it, the one where the poodle is pushing a lawn mower.

The Value Card is put out by U S West Communications, which just rolled out the concept here after successful trials in Omaha and Denver.

It works like the Entertainment Book. Along with a card, you get a thick catalogue listing the businesses that have signed on. It's divided into 17 sections: home furnishing stores, pet services, retail shopping, entertainment, etc. Each business provides a discount to cardholders.

I was particularly interested in the restaurant section. Some good places have signed up. Malee's, for example, gives you 25 percent off the bill on your first visit, 10 percent off on visits two through nine, and 15 percent thereafter. Cafe Terra Cotta takes off 25 percent on the first visit, 15 percent on all others. Blue Burrito Grille takes off 10 percent every time.

The card is free--U S West makes its money by charging businesses to sign up. (But beware if you're concerned about privacy. Naturally, your purchases are tracked.) If you'd like one, call 1-800-577-8258, and the company will get one to you in about two weeks.--Howard Seftel

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