Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Paleo For Dummies: Part III - The Restaurant Survival Guide

Today I'm going to teach you everything you need to know about eating out.

..No, this isn't a post about how to please a woman. Get your mind out the gutter.

Instead, what you'll find here is a compilation of Paleo-Eating strategies that will help you put together healthy, tasty meals when dining out.

- The Paleo Restaurant Survival Guide - 

Here are Some of the Basics: 

1. First, keep in mind that even if you are able to put together a Paleo-"ish" meal, odds are, it's not going to be 100%. It's unlikely you'll be finding grass-fed beef or free-range chickens or organic anything on a menu (unless maybe you're from the West Coast. I hear they are more hip to that there), and a lot of restaurants use canola or vegetable oil for most of their cooking/dressings. You can never really be too sure WHAT you're actually getting, so I suppose the first tip is to avoid eating out if you can--you'll do less damage to your wallet (prime example in my previous post) and your health by just cooking at home.

2. Choose restaurants judiciously. Once you become a more seasoned Paleo eater, you will find that you can go into almost any restaurant and custom-tailor a meal to your eating specifications with ease. If you're not in the mood to turn your meal into a choose-your-own-adventure story, save yourself the trouble and try and find a steakhouse (even if it's not steak you're after, they usually have grilled shrimp, seafood, and chicken, too), a seafood place (lots of options there), or any place with "Grill" in the name--Those places will require the least amount of menu modification. Or, if you don't mind the extra cost (totally worth it) and can find one, a Brazilian Steakhouse and its meat glorification is about as Paleo as Paleo gets.

     If you want to narrow it down from there, a lot of chain restaurants now offer gluten-free menus. Longhorn Steakhouse, Lone Star, Chili's, Eat n' Park, Olive Garden, and even P.F Chang's do, and I'm sure there are more popping up all the time as the gluten-free movement builds steam (this link has some additional resources). Be sure to skip the special gluten-free bread and pasta though--these aren't much better for you than their gluten-riddled counterparts. 
If you go somewhere and you aren't sure if they offer gluten/dairy/soy-free options, all you have to do is ASK..they are usually happy to accommodate you.

    You may want to check out the menu before you go in and sit down--most places post their menus outside, or you can take advantage of the fact that a lot of places now post their menu online--especially if you have a phone with high-speed internets. Checking out the offerings before you get seated can help you decide how broad (or limited) your choices will be. Plus you won't have to waste time over dinner trying to map out your strategy: Your seemingly spontaneous Paleo entree selection will make you seem super cool to all of your friends.

3. If you have no say in where you're eating (limited choices or out with friends), you can still put together a decent meal with ease. First of all, steer clear of soda (even diet soda)/soft drinks/and juices when you order your drink with your meal. Water is good, or, occasionally maybe even a glass of red wine. This should be the easiest part of the meal for you--don't get derailed right from the start.

4. Say no to bread. Most places will bring breadsticks, bread, or biscuits of some sort fresh-baked carbage to start off the meal. Express that you don't want them right from the get-go, as they are much easier to say no to when you don't have to see, smell, or touch them (I myself am rendered powerless once I touch warm, fresh bread).

5. Forgo the deep-fried appetizers and scan the appetizer list for Paleo delights like like shrimp cocktail, peel-and-eat shrimp, meat skewers, or a bowl of gazpacho or broth-based vegetable soup if they have it. If all else fails, opt for a salad with an oil and vinegar dressing. Beware of most restaurant dressings--a lot of them are loaded with sugar and not-so-desirable oils, and DO make sure you mention "No Cheese," as they usually dump a liberal amount of the stuff on top, burying all of the green goodness beneath. You'll also want to skip the croutons, candied nuts, potato straws, french fries, or whatever other unhealthy toppings they sprinkle onto what would be an otherwise decent Paleo starter.

6. Substitute, substitute, substitute. There is a method to this madness, and once you get used to ordering this way, it becomes second nature. Avoid starch--nix the baked potato, the hash browns, the rice pilaf, the pasta.
Reject anything that says: Fried, battered, crispy, breaded, or anything that suggest it's been dipped in a steaming vat of oxidized oil.
Look for words like: broiled, grilled, roasted, pan-seared, poached, and steamed. Sauteed and stir-fried could be ok, depending on the oil/fat used. Generally speaking, your best bet is to stick with butter (I'll discuss this further in a future post), or, possibly olive oil.

Little Details, Tips, and Tricks..

In the mood for...

Breakfast -  
This should be relatively easy if you've been paying attention thus far. Stick with breakfast basics: Eggs, omelettes, bacon, and maybe even sausage. Request veggies or a fruit cup on the side and you're left with a pretty balanced meal. 
Avoid: French toast, pancakes, waffles, bagels, fritters of any sort, oatmeal, grits, hash browns, or other breakfast potatoes. Also, if you take the omelette route, be sure to specify that they make it without cheese. 
Local Favorites: Freddies on Library Road is my favorite breakfast spot around. They have a "No Carb Breakfast," which is not featured on the menu (and pretty sure they just made it for people from Crossfit South Hills), but they will serve it to you if you ask for it by name: 3 eggs, 1 sweet sausage, 1 hot sausage, bacon, 1 slice of breakfast ham, and 1 sausage patty.  No toast. No potatoes. Just meat. There is also the other gym-favorite, The Beachhouse, with it's famous burger scrambler (we omit the potatos and cream cheese). Ahh..good stuff!

Ditch the cheese and you have a tasty breakfast gem right here.
Italian - 
It may seem impossible to eat Paleo at an Italian place, since all of the bread and pasta flying around makes you feel like you're being chased by an inflammation tornado driving down the Lectin Highway..but it doesn't have to be that way.
Many Italian places offer grilled, non-pasta selections on their menu, and a decent selection of salads to choose from (just remember to specify the things mentioned above).
Still craving saucy goodness?  Whole9 suggested ordering a pasta dish without the pasta--and asking for it over wilted spinach instead. Sure, your server might look at you like you're kinda nuts, but they will usually oblige your request. For something more substantial, most places will let you add extra meatballs or sausage to your dish, or could even ask if they could put the sauce over grilled eggplant or zucchini.
Avoid: Pasta (duh.), bread, ravioli, and buttery, cheesy (hint: formaggio means 'cheese' in Italian), or creamy sauces. Also keep in mind that chicken and veal scallopini are both usually dredged in flour before they are cooked. 
Local Favorite: I know it may sound pointless to go to an Italian place and not get pasta, but Franco's Trattoria has some of the best steak I've ever had, and their menu is sprinkled with other Paleo choices (shrimp cocktail, good selection of salads/seafood). I hear their meat sauces are pretty good, too.

Mediterranean/Middle Eastern - These cuisines are big on flavor and healthy oils. Fattoush Salad (minus the pita bread) is a good start to a meal, as are most Mediterranean salads--many are tossed with olive oil, such as Aladdin's Eatery's "Lebanese Salad", or most salads that feature Lemon Oil or other olive oil-based dressings. Baba ghanoush is good too, although you might feel like something is missing if you don't have anything (like pita) to dip in it. Loubie Bzeit is green beans sauteed with olive oil, garlic, herbs, and tomato, and also fits the Paleo bill. Most places like this also feature Kabobs, Lamb and other meats, and seafood--Making it almost effortless to stay on track. 
Avoid: Hummus (lectins, boo), tabbouleh (wheat=lectins, boo), pita bread (wheat=lectins, booo), falaffel (lectins, booooo), yogurt sauces, and grape leaves (rice=lectins, boooooo). 
Local Favorites: Aladdin's Eatery and Amel's Restaurant are two top picks. If you go to either of these places, you can order their pita pockets or rolls without the wrap. And for even more Paleo options, definitely check out Amel's (my absolute favorite place to eat) - All (or most) of their seafood is wild-caught, their chickens are free-range, and they choose local, seasonal produce for all of their dishes. Right now they have a grilled beet, zucchini, and artichoke salad that is off-the-charts good, and their Salmon Mediterranean (minus the feta) is orgasmic.

Chinese - Egg Drop or Hot and Sour Soup are generally pretty harmless ways to start off a meal, as long as they don't have added cornstarch (as some do). For your entree, your safest bet is try and stick with steamed selections, or request that your entree be served without sauce. Ask for low-sodium soy sauce or wheat-free tamari if it's available. Tread lightly here.
Avoid:  Wontons, crab rangoon, egg rolls, Lo mein and other noodle dishes, and rice. Also say No to General Tso's, Kung Pao, Sesame, Orange, Teriyaki, or anything that alludes to "sweet and sour." These all usually featured deep-fried chicken/shrimp, and they usually use a hefty dose of brown sugar to sweeten. Actually, steer clear of most sauces--Most non-authentic Asian sauces found in American Chinese restaurants are loaded with sodium and MSG, and contain sugar, cornstarch, flour, or other thickening agents..No Good.
Local Favorite:  Sesame Inn in Mt. Lebanon offers a "Lighter Fare" menu, with selections that use less oil, are steamed, contain no MSG, and have the sauces on the side.

Japanese Steakhouse/Sushi Bar - There's a lot to choose from here. A lot of places offer seaweed (packed with nutrients) and other salads--If the oils used are legit (no peanut, canola, vegetable), then these could be decent options. Seared Ahi Tuna, and skewers of grilled steak, chicken, or shrimp are usually on the appetizer menu somewhere, as are lettuce wraps--just specify that they make them without the 'special sauce' (usually teriyaki), and you'll be good.
With sushi, any type of sashimi is game--it's just pieces of raw fish. Nigiri is sushi formed with rice, so you'll want to avoid that--and most maki rolls, too, unless you want to ask the sushi chef to prepare yours without rice (I'm really not sure how well this would go over--it may be frowned upon in a cultural sense--but I've heard that they usually do it, no questions asked). Get adventurous and try octopus or broiled eel (unagi). When prepared right, it's good stuff!
If all else fails, nearly everything from the Hibachi menu is good , as long as no sauces are involved.
Avoid: As mentioned above, stay away from nigiri and most maki rolls, as well as gyoza, pot-stickers, wontons, or dumplings, noodles, and "special sauces". Also avoid tempura anything--it's just a fancy way of saying 'deep-fried.'
Local Favorites: I'm not a huge sushi buff, but around here, Nakama is the cool place to go. A personal favorite is Little Tokyo in Mt. Lebanon--Both have an impressive selection of Hibachi items to choose from.
Thai - Usually you'll find a list of soups offered--start your meal off with Tom Kha (coconut broth with chicken or shrimp, lemongrass, and ginger) or Tom Yum (hot and sour soup with shrimp or chicken)--these are both good choices, and full of flavor. Chicken Satay is a very tasty option--it's skewers of chicken marinated in curry and coconut milk--often served with peanut sauce, which you'll probably want to skip (once again: Damn you, lectins! Damn yoouuu!).
The best route to go entree-wise in a Thai place is with curry--a delicious coconut milk-based sauce that appears on the menu as Red, Green, Panang, Mussaman--just ask for no rice, extra vegetables, and make sure they leave out the corn and potatoes (which occassionally show up on the menu).
Avoid: Spring rolls, Pad Thai, most sauces, and any dish that features noodles, rice, peanuts, or tofu.
Local Favorite: Thai Me Up or Thai Cuisine are my top picks. Both places have Salmon with Red Curry  on their menus, and this is pretty much my most favorite thing ever. I've never been disappointed by either. 

Chicken Satay, baby.
Misc and Etc:

Fajitas (or even tacos) are a great Paleo meal to get--just order without the cheese, without the sour cream, and without the tortillas. Ask for extra guacamole (yum!), pico de gallo, and salsa, and eat it atop lettuce like a salad. There's nothing quite like having your way with some sizzling skillets of meat and peppers.

Focus on what's important. The cheese, sour cram, and tortillas are just background static.
 Or, another suggestion from Whole9 was to take the contents of a sandwich and have it served over lettuce. A great way to get all the good stuff...without all the bad stuff.

In summary:

You should notice the theme here: take out the bad carbs and replace them good ones. Avoid most sauces, deep-fried crap, sugary sodas (sugary anything, really), and dishes with questionable ingredients--there are usually several decent options to choose from no matter where you go, so don't wing it with 'mystery' menu items if you can find more innocuous things (like grilled meat, seafood) on the menu.

And remember to take your Omega-3's..they will help to balance out whatever damage you may have done in the Omega-6 department.

Still hungry for more? Check out Mark Sisson's 10 Ways to Forage in a Fast Food Nation for some quick tips that can help you out when your only options are that of the Fast Food variety.

That's all for now--this post will probably be an ongoing project. Have any tips, tricks, or suggestions of your own? Post them here!


Dan said...

Hey great site and great post!!! I found your site via primal toad's. Have added you to my links.

libidiny said...

Thanks! Glad you like it.

More good stuff on the way soon. :)

Head Coach said...

Have you ever tried any of the vegetarian restaurants? As a lifetime carnivore that has recently converted to vegan (as much as possible) I was pleasantly surprised at how I cannot tell the difference between veggie meat and real meat in most cases. Not all of the dishes are perfect from these places since some of them use MSG. If anything covering various ways to fool your friends with veggie meat to surprise them later has been a fun exercise of mine. Thanks for your thorough blog as you have given me plenty of ideas for our local foodie establishments here in the Philippines.

ibyang@Online Games said...

thank you for the tips. sometimes it is hard to refuse exotic foods especially if going in different places because the adventurous nature will always prevail but knowing all this information truly helps so that it will be enjoyable to eat without stressing too much about the weight gain.

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