Cheesecake Factory’s Skinnylicious Menu

February 28, 2012

While many people who read Northwest Notes regularly might not believe it, Spencer and I are aficionados of The Cheesecake Factory in downtown Seattle and often enjoy Saturday or Sunday lunches there while we are downtown running errands or going to the nearby Meridian or Pacific Place movie theaters.

A few Saturdays ago, we were pleased to discover the popular chain restaurant now offers a Skinnylicious menu, described as “a collection of fresh and delicious menu options with lower calories and signature rich taste. Skinnylicious redefines low-calorie flavor in The Cheesecake Factory tradition.”

Intrigued, especially since we have recently adopted “la vida low-carb” (the low-carb lifestyle), we were pleased to find not only Skinnylicious Small Plates & Appetizers (all under 490 calories), Salads (590), Specialties (590), Fresh-Baked Flatbreads (490), and even Skinny Cocktails (150 calories or less).

Here is the Beets with Goat Cheese small plate I enjoyed, although I turned it into a main-dish salad by adding a piece of grilled salmon.

Spencer adored his B.B.Q. Chicken–charbroiled chicken breast (three of them pounded thinly) served with green beans and corn succotash. (While the corn succotash is probably not the most low-carb item, a guy has to splurge every now and then!)

We’ll be back to try the Chicken Lettuce Wrap Tacos (butter lettuce leaves filled with grilled chicken and your choice of Asian, Mexican, or Mediterranean accompaniments) or the Skinnylicious Asian Chicken or Herb-Crusted Salmon Salads, perhaps even accompanied by a Skinny Margarita or Red Sangria.

Now, if they could just figure out how to make the cheesecakes and tortes Skinnylicious, too!


A Pound of Flesh

February 21, 2012

Have you ever wondered what five pounds of fat looks like?

Since we began living the low-carb lifestyle, we are reminded about once a month when we meet with our diet doctor.

The five fat pounds are the yellow ones on the left-hand side in the photo above.

The red blob is lean muscle mass; interestingly it weighs about six ounces more than the fat does, just as trainers and weight-management articles have been preaching to us for years.

You can imagine what losing even one five-pound blob of fat must feel like, not to mention two or three (or more!).

It’s such a boost to the cardiovascular system, not to mention major joints such as the knees and hips.


Vito’s Two-Martini Lunch

February 17, 2012

We’ve long been fans of Vito’s restaurant on Seattle’s First Hill (Ninth and Madison) and I’ve blogged about it several times. It’s our go-to dinner place when we have concerts or lectures at nearby Town Hall or St. James Cathedral.

On a recent Saturday-night visit (Miss Ruby Bishop was at the piano and the place was hoppin!) I found out that Chef Michael Bruno and company are now offering a special Two-Martini Lunch the first Friday of every month from 11:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

Menu items include a Gin or Vodka Martini for $7, Caesar Salad (($8), Bruno’s Grinder ($9), Cannelloni ($10), and even Braised Lamb Shank ($15).

Best Dishes from Carmel

February 14, 2012

Over Christmas week, we spent four days in the Napa Valley and four days in Carmel. Carmel is our spiritual home, a place we often dream of living in, but sadly, could never afford.

Anyway, it is so fun to visit. And whenever we are there, we have our favorite restos we frequent time and again.

One of those is Grasing’s, chef-owned and operated and a favorite among locals and visitors alike with a great menu. We always begin with Kurt’s Crab-Stuffed Artichoke with Lemon Aïoli. It’s a taste of California that can’t be beat!

Next comes the chef’s signature California Red Abalone Doré. It’s served in the beautiful shells with a generous amount of both shellfish and salad. YUM!

This year marked our 30th wedding anniversary, so once our server found out, she gifted us with an Eggnog Crème Brülée. Since eggnog is one of my favorite flavors, and pudding is one of Spencer’s favorite foods, we were both in dessert heaven!

Another Carmel restaurant we’re always drawn to is La Bicyclette. You get a three-course meal ranging in price from 29 to 45 dollars and each dinner includes the same first and second course (Persimmon Tart Tatin with Midnight Moon Fondue and Chicken-Orzo Soup the evening we were there), plus the diner’s choice among four entrées (Pan-Roasted Filet Mignon with Foie Gras Wellington and Asparagus, Slow-Roasted Lamb Roulade, Smoked Serrano Honey-Lacquered Bobwhite Quail, or Pan-Seared Scallops, for example). You can also order à la carte items from the regular menu; dessert is extra, and worth it (more on that below).

Here are La Bicyclette’s amazing Escargots (ordered à la carte so we could stay somewhat on our low-carb lifestyle). What set these apart was the addition of chopped hazelnuts and bread crumbs along with the garlic-y good drawn butter. Ooh-la-la!

Scallops were fresh-off-the-boat, large, and perfectly cooked to still rare in the middle. Root veggies and asparagus, plus a parsnip purée and Chimay Beer sauce rounded out an extraordinary dish.

Dessert is a Chocolate Mousse made for sharing. Not only is it the perfect consistency but there is a generous sprinkling of chopped white, milk, and dark chocolate atop. Talk about gilding the lily!

At Pèpe’s Little Napoli, an Italian restaurant right across the street from La Bicyclette, Spencer and I enjoyed a unique appetizer–Meatballs on a Stick!

For lunch, we make a point to go to Forge in the Forest because (even in late December) we can often sit outside (if it isn’t rainy or windy) and stay warm (thanks to numerous heat lamps that stud the patio).

I always opt for the Balsamic-Grilled Castroville Artichoke with a Wholegrain Mustard Dip (not unlike a very rich aïoli). Artichoke heart is one of my favorite things in the world, that interesting cross between potato and asparagus.

Other places we like to eat in Carmel include A.W. Shucks Cocktail & Oyster Bar, Christopher’s, and Andre’s Bouchée. So many restos, so little time, alas.

From the sublime food in Carmel, here’s the Jack Daniel’s Chicken we had at the San Francisco Airport at TGI Friday’s. It was the best option for people such as us trying to live the low-carb lifestyle (especially after enjoying several desserts, as outlined above!). And actually, it wasn’t too bad, especially since we got to choose our own sides (two veggies). But I always wonder why a food city such as SF doesn’t have better restaurants at its international airport?

Thumbs Up: Top Movies of 2011

February 7, 2012

Spencer and I see at least one movie each week at a movie theater, NOT on DVD. It’s one of the things we really enjoy in life, especially since we usually dine at a favorite restaurant either before or after the show.

In fact, if I weren’t a food-and-wine professional, I may well have been a movie critic.

So here are out top movies of 2011. We rate each movie from 0 to 5 stars. Zero is a movie without a plot or a really bad (unsatisfying) ending. Five is a world-class, totally unique, unexpected experience.

We’ve given only a handful of five-star ratings since we started cataloging and rating our movies in 1986 (!).

Each of the movies below garnered a four-star rating. Nothing won five stars in 2011.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Empire of Silver

Jane Eyre

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Beginning of the New Revolution

Page One

Midnight in Paris

Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival

February 3, 2012

It’s that time of year again. . .for the Vancouver Hot Chocolate Festival, which kicked off last month, and runs until Valentine’s Day.

According to a press release passed along by my friend and colleague, Rhonda May, who’s also the editor of CityFood magazine (online and print) and the Festival’s organizer:

<<This is the second year of the festival, and this time there are double the cafes, shops and food artisans participating — including some amazing newcomers such as Chef David Hawksworth’s Bel Cafe; Chief Thierry Busset’s Thierry Chocolaterie, Patisserie and Cafe; as well as young entrepreneurs like Beta5Chocolates (who are teaming up with The Juice Truck in Gastown).

With 13 venues and 15 chocolate artists offering a range of over 50 off-beat flavours, there will be a hot chocolate style for everyone–from the classic (milk chocolate orange at Gem Chocolates) to the edgy (“The Surprise Flower” at Chocolaterie de la Nouvelle France), to the health-conscious (Vegan Black Sesame at CocoaNymph). Each venue will be offering drinks that were especially created for the Festival, along with edible treats from their regular menus. For example: A Sparkle Cookie at Thomas Haas, a slice of Erin Ireland’s “It’s To Die For” Banana Bread at Bella Gelateria.

New this year is a Photo Tweet-up Contest where Festival goers may post photos of their hot chocolate drinks for a chance to win a $300 value gift basket!

You’ll find information about participants, flavours, the complete calendar, and this year’s charity recipient, The Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, on the Festival’s official information page.>>

Thanks for the heads up, Rhonda!