Good Food

Friday, December 18, 2009

Home for the holidays: Healthy restaurants your family will love

Rouge Tomate doesn't crowd diners

Tis the season for out-of-town guests. And these hordes of friends and family need to be fed, though not, if you can help it, at Carmine’s or Serendipity 3. Invariably, you’ll be called upon to serve as a one-person guidebook.

Here’s our cheat sheet to finding the right healthy yet glamorous restaurant for any family scenario.

Dirt Candy's crispy tofu

Your family has to be tricked into eating vegetarian cuisine, which is best accomplished if the menu items resemble those at TGIF or Olive Garden.
Try: DIRT CANDY
It’s not even fair to suggest that chef-owner Amanda Cohen’s cuisine evokes these chains: Her methods are refined and creative, her ingredients well sourced, and her reputation rock solid. (Michelin just gave Dirt Candy a Bib Gourmand award.) But the thing here is that your family won’t freak when they see the menu. (Getting them into the tiny 18-seat East Village dining room is something else.) They’ll crack it open and spot the Jalapeno Hush Puppies, along with other familiar terms: paella, fettucini, and grits. And you can appreciate their sophisticated presentations or order the crispy tofu and broccollini, which is three times better than the description. Though the burden will still be on you, dutiful dining daughter, to sidestep the carb-laden dishes offered at every course. But just imagine the joy you’ll feel in your heart when your brother says the happy, placated words: “Oh, look. They have hush puppies.”
430 E. 9th St., 212-228-7732, www.dirtcandynyc.com

The dining room at Hangawi

Your parents are self-proclaimed foodies, having been to Rome twice and watched Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel show at least that many times.
Try: HANGAWI
Because the waiters take your shoes and drop to their knees to serve you at your sunken table, this Korean restaurant delivers the exotic wow-factor. The pre-set menu is a bit mushroom-heavy, so you might get more variety by ordering a la carte (the menu online is only half of what’s actually offered.) Try the stuffed shiitake mushrooms anyway; their delicate sweetness is the perfect accompaniment to the spicy kimchi pancakes, one of the silky vegetable soups, and a stone bowl entrée that comes filled with exotic mountain vegetables, lotus root, greens, and rice. Your parents will be enthralled and you’ll be on 32nd street without a karoke mike in your hand. Everyone’s a winner.
12 E. 32nd St., 212-213-0077, www.hangawirestaurant.com

Pure Food and Wine owner Sarma Melngailis

You’re trying to rescue your parents from a lifetime of artery-clogging foods.
Try: PURE FOOD AND WINE
Although no one asked you to, you’ve decided to act as a self-appointed dietary Florence Nightingale by introducing your parents to the city’s premiere raw vegan restaurant. Be prepared for backlash. When your mom orders the cheese plate and realizes it’s made entirely from nut pulp, her surprised laugh may not be genuine. However, by the time she tries the lasagna made from thin ribbons of zucchini, sun dried tomato paste, and creamy pine nut “cheese sauce” she’ll be a convert. Your siblings will love the sexy, velvety surroundings. And everyone will agree that the Mint Sundae, made from Thai coconuts, raw nuts, and agave nectar, is to die for. And not from clogged arteries.
54 Irving Pl., 212-477-1010, www.purefoodandwine.com

Your parents are snobs from Darien/Mainline Philly/Insert Stuffy Area here and they’d be very happy rubbernecking at the Four Seasons.
Try: ROUGE TOMATE
Just across the street from Barney’s, this scene-y two story restaurant feels as airy and white as a Chelsea art gallery. And it’s pioneering its own restaurant genre: upscale healthy. Chef Jeremy Bearman (an alum of Boulud and Robuchon) worked with in-house nutritionist Natalia Rusin to achieve the impossible: earning a Michelin Star while eschewing butter and cream. Their “health through food” philosophy shines through in every preparation. The the celery root and almond panna cotta with grapefruit and peekytoe crab is a knock-out, as is the vegetarian cassoulet. And, yes, that is Donna Karan at the next table.
10 E. 60th St., 646-237-8977, www.rougetomatenyc.com

Know of a healthy restaurant that’s perfect for festive family gatherings? Tell us, here!

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