No-Guilt Dining

Six metro chefs prepare menus that prove you can eat luxuriously and indulgently—but still love yourself in the morning

Fugaise

FRENCH FOOD IS THE OPPOSITE of healthy food, right? Not when it’s being cooked by Don Saunders, Minnesota’s most passionate advocate of new French haute cuisine. “I haven’t done a nutritional analysis of my food since cooking school,” Saunders says. “I was a little nervous, but we’ve always kept some lighter options on the menu. When you have a small menu like we do it’s really important that you keep something on it for every kind of customer: Some of our dishes are made for our wine connoisseurs, while others are designed for the health-conscious. We’re pretty likely to see both on any given night.” The salmon and wine cake here both draw from Provençal traditions, such as favoring olive oil over cream, presented in Saunders’s unique high-French style.

  1. Fugaise’s wine list is a love song to France and, surprisingly, in these days of the soaring euro, fairly affordable.
  2. Marcona-almond-crusted diver scallops, celeraic rémoulade, celeriac purée, bacon vinaigrette, and cider-vinegar gastrique. 138 calories
  3. Wild salmon, niçoise olive tapenade, white anchovy, fennel purée, and roasted-garlic foam.
  4. Sweet-wine-and-olive-oil cake, blue cheese, Anjou pear, extra-virgin olive oil, and spiced poached-pear syrup. 383 calories
  5. Beneath the salmon, beluga lentils, julienned sun-dried tomatoes, and parsley. This plate: 433 calories.

The Count

3 Courses, 954 Calories

Fugaise

308 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

612-436-0777 | www.fugaise.com

Right: Chef and owner Don Saunders

Nutrition Notes
This meal has plenty of vitamin B6, B12, D, and selenium, but from a diner’s standpoint what really stands out is that it’s phenomenally rich. Best of all, the portion sizes are in control, so you won’t be ruined by too much of a good thing.


Heartland

Everything we do is from scratch, and that makes all the difference,” explains Heartland chef and owner Lenny Russo. “People would be surprised at how much junk gets thrown into restaurant food, not just calories or fat, but packaged food labeled ‘hydrolyzed vegetable protein’ when they really mean MSG.” There are no such shortcuts at Heartland: Russo and his cooks break down whole geese, pigs, and elk in their effort to know exactly what they’re feeding their customers, and they can tell you the lifestyle of every chicken who lays the restaurant’s eggs. “A chef should take nutrition seriously,” Russo says. “You’re giving someone sustenance. If you think, ‘I don’t care if my customers live or die, so what shortcuts can I take?’ then just go do something else.”

  1. Whitefish mousse with cisco roe, dill crème fraîche, and parsley oil. 97 calories
  2. Game-bird consommé with meatballs made from local free-range chicken, spring onions, and organic Wisconsin button mushrooms. 197 calories
  3. Door County cherry tart with Hope Creamery hand-rolled puff pastry, and aquavit-mint sorbet. 238 calories
  4. Roasted elk, stone-fruit ketchup, and risotto made with organic Minnesota barley and Door County cherries. 420 calories
  5. Heartland’s wine list is primarily sourced from winemakers who treat their vineyards like small family farms. Figure an extra 90 to 140 calories per glass of wine, less for low-alcohol choices like Prosecco, but more for most California big boys.

The Count

4 Courses, 952 Calories

Heartland

1806 St. Clair Ave., St. Paul

651-699-3536 | www.heartlandrestaurant.com

Right: Chef and owner Lenny Russo

Nutrition Notes

A good nutritional goal is to eat a wide variety of whole foods, and the variety here couldn’t be any wider: We counted more than 30 whole foods that went into this meal, from white peaches in the stone-fruit ketchup and pheas­ant in the game-bird consommé, to obvious ingredients like barley. Omnivores, rejoice!


JP American Bistro

A big part of what you do when you run a neighborhood restaurant is cook healthy,” notes J. P. Samuelson, the chef and owner of south Minneapolis’s JP American Bistro. “We’ve got lots of people that come in three or four times a week, and what do they want? The vegetable of the day, and then something casual and healthy, like our tuna burger, which is held together with nothing but a little egg and Sriracha hot sauce.” Speaking of regulars, Samuelson regularly features Star Prairie trout. “It’s one of those things I caught as a little kid,” he says. “So it’s really special to me personally. It also reminds me of the symbiotic relationship between water and all of us: Trout can’t live in dirty streams. These trout are so sweet—I just think someone’s doing something right.”

  1. Wild salmon, roasted avocado, preserved-lemon vinaigrette, fennel fronds, and Japanese pickled cucumber with coriander seed. 329 calories
  2. Clean, crisp whites are a hallmark of the wine list at JP’s. A Spanish Albariño would be perfect here.
  3. Spring-pickled vegetable salad, with sweet, lightly pickled onions, fennel, thinly shaved carrots, and arugula.
  4. Pan-seared Star Prairie rainbow trout fillet stuffed with local asparagus. This plate: 340 calories.
  5. Fresh pineapple sorbet with blood oranges and blackberries, on strawberry slices. 119 calories

The Count

3 Courses, 788 Calories

JP American Bistro

2937 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis

612-824-9300 | www.jpamericanbistro.com

Right: Chef and owner J. P. Samuelson

Nutrition Notes

Vitamin D is critical for healthy muscles, bones, nerves, and teeth, but it’s lacking in most Americans’ diets. Not yours if you eat this meal: It packs a whopping 224 percent of your recommended daily allowance.


Meritage

Russell Klein opened Meritage, his downtown St. Paul French brasserie, just this past winter, but his French-restaurant roots go much deeper. Back in his native New York City, he cooked at such legendary French restaurants as Picholine, La Caravelle, and Fleur de Sel. That’s where Klein first fell in love with cheese: “It fits right in with everything else I love about food: the small producers, the farmers, the craftsmanship,” he says. On weekends, Meritage even boasts a maître d’ fromage. “People think cheese is not healthy, but, like everything else, it’s actually pretty great stuff in moderation,” Klein says. He suggests about a half-ounce of each cheese per person, yielding a menu high in sensuality, flavor, and chic French style, not to mention calcium, copper, selenium, and zinc.

  1. Roquefort, dried cherries, fig molasses, Marcona almonds, Pont-l’Evêque, Morbier, vegetable-ash-dusted Valencay goat cheese, and red grapes. 362 calories
  2. Blue Point oysters with classic shallot mignonette and brandy-touched cocktail sauce. This plate: 107 calories.
  3. Meritage’s springtime-only “Composition of Peas” begins with a short stack of pancakes made with English and sugar snaps peas. The salad features fresh pea shoots. This plate: 343 calories.
  4. Meritage’s 200-bottle wine list offers French and domestic delights at every price point. Figure an additional 100 calories or so per glass of champagne.
  5. Mint gives an extra kick to this fresh spring-pea flan. Mousse made with spring peas, sheep’s milk ricotta, pignoli nuts, and champagne vinegar.

The Count

3 Courses, 752 Calories

Meritage

410 St. Peter St., St. Paul

651-222-5670 | www.meritage-stpaul.com

Right: Chef and owner Russell Klein

Nutrition Notes

Peas are legumes, so you could technically call this a particularly glamorous presentation of beans. But if you did, you’d be missing the point: Eating low on the food chain doesn’t have to be uninspiring. In the hands of the right chef, even humble garden peas can be a feast.


Pazzaluna

Pazzaluna, long known for its atmosphere, quickly became a restaurant respected for its authentic Italian cooking after Rino Baglio took over the kitchen. Still, few people know that Baglio, authentically Italian as he is, also has a background in nutrition. This menu showcases how he uses cooking skill, not mere fat and sugar, to create flavor: Braising adds flavor mostly by blending herbs, heat, and time. Start with a lean meat like rabbit and you’ve got something that’s lush but not too rich. Pazzaluna’s beef carpaccio is particularly deep-tasting because it’s flash-poached in a wine and herb bath. The sorbetti is little more than fresh grapefruit juice. Mix all the elements together and you’ve got a meal that is as decadent and sensual as it is healthy.

  1. Rabbit braised with red wine, rosemary, sage, and thyme, served with garlic-roasted potatoes and spaghetti-cut yellow squash, zucchini, and red bell peppers. 627 calories
  2. Pazzaluna is famous for its wine list. It’s loaded with exclusive, intense Italian reds: Splurge on an Amarone, but figure an extra 125 or so calories per glass.
  3. Beef carpaccio with shaved Parmesan, capers, extra-virgin olive oil, micro-arugula, sea salt, and pepper. This plate: 214 calories.
  4. Fresh pink-grapefruit sorbetti is intensely flavored, but light as snow on a sunny day. 143 calories

The Count

3 Courses, 984 Calories

Pazzaluna

360 St. Peter St., St. Paul

651-223-7000 | www.pazzaluna.com

Right: Chef Rino Baglio

Nutrition Notes
Both the rabbit and beef in Pazzaluna’s feast are low in fat but high in zinc, managese, iron, and other minerals.


Spoonriver

NO CHEF in Minnesota is more closely identified with healthy eating than Brenda Langton, the force behind cozy Cafe Brenda, the jewel-toned newcomer Spoonriver, and the Mill City Farmer’s Market. But can a four-course steak dinner ever be healthy? Yes, as long as it’s filled out with healthy fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. “If you’re going to eat meat, eat good meat,” Langton says. “I refused to serve beef at Cafe Brenda for decades and decades. But I love this Thousand Hills beef. I literally hadn’t had a steak for 35 years before I ate this one. But I feel so good about it, with the omega-3s. I love being able to add beef to the things we already do well. It just opens up the restaurant to people who were maybe tentative about going somewhere known for vegetables.”

  1. Terrine of wild slippery jack mushrooms and pistachios with mustard, cranberry-fig chutney, toasted baguette, and a cornichon. 130 calories
  2. Spoonriver also boasts Minnesota’s most comprehensive list of organic, local, and biodynamic wines. Try Alexis Bailly’s potent new Voyageur, a wine so good you’ll swear it’s from France, not Hastings.
  3. A poached Wild Acres duck egg lends lush indulgence to this hydroponic watercress salad with shaved celery, carrots, and radishes in citrus vinaigrette. 265 calories
  4. An eight-ounce New York strip steak with roasted-millet-and-cauliflower mash, pressed Japanese vegetable salad, and Spoonriver’s own tamarind-and-maple-syrup-infused version of A.1. 399 calories
  5. Raspberry sorbet with rosewater-dressed raspberries, kumquats, and green grapes, plus an organic sugar cookie. 92 calories

The Count

4 Courses, 886 Calories

Spoonriver

750 S. Second St., Minneapolis

612-436-2236 | www.spoonriver.com

Right, left to right: chefs Lisa Carlson, Brenda Langton, and Liz Benser

Nutrition Notes

An iron-and-zinc-rich steak, whole-grain millet, and lots of lightly dressed fresh fruits and vegetables make this meal a whole-food powerhouse.

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