New Again: The Hunger

Once upon a time, Interview had a montly food column helmed by frequent contributor Hal Rubenstein. Every month, the writer focused on a specific theme (think: ice cream), city, restuarant or restauranteur, and even produced think pieces, like “The Life of a Waiter.” For one such piece, Rubenstein attempted to give advice on how to eat as much as you wanted, without showing it physically. In honor of New York Fashion Week, which officially begins tomorrow, we decided to revisit Rubenstein’s advice. Take it with (or without) a grain of salt.

How to Eat like a Horse without Looking like a Horse
The Hunger, by Hal Rubenstein

What a surprise. Nutritionists are telling us that we’ve been eating the wrong way again. Now, when I say us, I don’t mean all of us, because most of you have been eating wrong from the get-go. No, I mean the us who carefully watch the Toledo, take vitamins, exercise, buy Naya by the six-pack, pretend that waiters in Italian restaurants never offer cheese, scrape sour cream off burritos like dental technicians battling plaque, and regularly achieve zen on the stationary bicycle. In other words, the ones who’ve spend the last few years loading up on carbs, plus lots of other stuff we thought we needed, only to find out that, in fact, we didn’t.

You want to look good, or even great, but can you do it without eating by study guide, begging off those dinner invitations because you once caught sight of a butter stick in a friend’s refrigerator door, adhering to solitary repasts of roots and boiled chicken, alone, on a stool, by the butcher block—or worse, sitting eternally on a “spinning” bike (you may not know what it is yet, but get ready, you’ll be sick of it by fall)? Or is it possible to laugh and drink and order family style wherever and whenever you want and still achieve anything near your goals?

You can, but no matter what your therapist may tell you, sometimes it pays to be in denial (like when a waiter asks, “May I take your order, please?”). Here, however, are a few guidelines that may make you feel less like Oliver begging for more:

1. Led us not into gastration. Avoid places where unhealthy fare is the calling card. It’s an involuntary reflex to stare at Sammy’s Famous Roumanian’s menu and clutch your heart. If those hot, sticky, spicy, sinewy ribs at Sylvia’s are what you want, eat them with joy and without apology. Just don’t come home crying after a weekend in South Beach leaves you feeling horny and inadequate.

2. Small portions are not the answer. We’re not talking about dieting here, we’re talking about being healthy, getting stronger, eating good and plenty. Consuming less fuel than you need will lead you straight to the Snickers to satisfy you. The answer: Consume better. You should eat three real meals a day, and, no, MET-Rx shakes, two bowls of Total, and frozen no-fat yogurts with extra sprinkles do not constitute meals.

3. Stay away from high-thicket items like butter and oil (including olive oil), large quantities of bread, and avoid fried everything, creamed anything, cheese, sugar, white flour, soda, carbohydrates at night (pasta di note can do to Abflex endeavors what hog lard can do to your windshield), and cheap cuts of meat any time of the day. Even bits and snips of these items are likely to show up (on you) where you least want them to.

4. Ask questions. The menu doesn’t explain everything, but the waiter should be able to (and if he can’t, tell him you’ll be happy to wait until he can). The words grilled chicken breast, for example, imply that half a poitrine will come to you with lots of protein and less than 14 grams of fat. But chicken is often basted with a tablespoon of oil before charring. Fat content in a tablespoon of oil? Roughly 14 grams. So that little birdie you thought was so healthy now has the potential to stuff you with almost 30 grams of the very thing you thought you were avoiding. Pot roast, anyone?

5. Ask for changes. And, no, that doesn’t meaning turning the menu inside out. But if items are made to order, you can leave out the salt, have a sauce on the side, and beg off the oil. Just be polite and be sure to thank the waiter and the chef in advance. If it comes out cool, show it on the tip. If it’s dry and dull, think happier thoughts, like how much better you’ll feel next time you look in the mirror.

To show you how easy this can be, I put these lessons to the test at a few New York restaurants where the pitfalls are plenty, but the rewards for careful ordering are equally as profound.

Sofia Fabulous Pizza
1022 Madison Avenue, 212-734-2676

Let’s start at a place with some visual incentive (more like shock treatment). Women who lunch at Sofia are so skinny it’s a wonder their legs carried them up the steps to the second floor. Surely, they are drawn here by the aroma of Sofia’s fine thinner-than-they-are crusted pizza, even if they don’t deign to have one. The two English birds next to us are having Caesar salads. Good ones they are, too, but a Caesar salad is comprised of cheese, oil, and lettuce. This is not a meal. This is a filler.

Instead we order wild mushrooms, which come with lots of garlic, herbs, and just a touch of oil (as requested), mashed potatoes with homemade tomato sauce, and baked artichoke hearts served with tiny balls of fresh mozzarella. Except for the agony of limiting ourselves to one delish mozzarella ball apiece, we are enlivened more by freshness than deprivation. Nixing all pastas with cream, we choose a super pile of linguine with baby clams along with a proud-to-be-simple pomodoro, light on the you-know-what. And the women next to us think we’re feasting.

At night we return to find boisterous, hipper, fuller-bodied folk and a smashing-looking hostess who could make you wait for hours gladly. The tuna carpaccio is clean, cheeseless, and in greens. The pizza margherita is a concession, but worth the extra minutes of sweat spinning on the bike. I special-ordered baked striped bass, which came unfussy, meaty, gleaming, and afloat in more lemon than oil, as requested. The moist grilled chicken breast is graciously made to order and ringed with a daily dose of greens. Dessert is out of the question. Instead, a spectacularly foamy iced cappuccino does the trick.

Kelley and Ping
127 Greene Street, 212-228-1212

Take-out Chinese food. You might as well eat a big bag of Fritos and add an extra tablespoon of salt. Don’t let the neat white containers fool you—it’s garbage with a handle: table-scrappy, greasy, sub-gummy, and almost subhuman in what it offers in terms of nutrition. It wasn’t always this way. Neighborhood Chinese cooking used to taste like the food they serve at Kelley and Ping.

The menu at K&P, however, isn’t strictly Chinese. Instead it hopscotches around Asia. But the spices are kept distinct and uncluttered, as they should be, the meats (except for beef) are rarely cooked to dehydration, salt is a spice not a celebration, and because each dish has a finite, undiced-to-oblivion number of vegetables and meats, you can actually tell them apart—by taste even. Try the hot-and-sour soup, the deceptively plain garlic chicken, the steamed whole snapper with ginger and leeks, the Vietnamese ravioli. Cross your chopsticks against sautés, coconut milk, beef, or scallion pancakes. And ask for the tofu (are you still fighting this stuff?) with half the black-bean sauce. If it makes you feel any better, you can take the leftovers in those little white cartons. No, they don’t give free Cokes with big orders. But then, you don’t be dying of thirst when you leave, either.

Global 33
93 Second Avenue, 212-477-8427

The best thing about Global 33 is that the place is so rambunctious, the spirits are so high, the music so loud, the food so eclectic, the space so dizzyingly perforated, and the portions so small (don’t bitch—it’s tapas, and it’s cheap), that no one will even notice you trying to eat healthy. Can you make a meal out of sweet potatoes with chili-onion marmalade, chilled beets with yogurt, lentils with mint, and a spray of feta (relax, I said a spray, not a chunch), lean lamb chops with a ragout of white beans and tomato, tuna with watercress, octopus braised in red wine with ratatouille, and festival baccalao with peppers? We had no problem. The crowd at the bar can get a bit feisty late in the evening, so instead of desert, we opted for one guilty pleasure—a cosmopolitan—just to catch up to the speed at which the rest of Global 33 was turning. Though I’m sure you’ll pedal rings around them once your healthy tapas-fueled body discovers the benefits of “spinning.” Today Global 33, tomorrow Planet Reebok.


New Again runs every Wednesday. For more, click here.