The New Year brings new food trends, and in '09 the drive to eat more healthfully continues. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), almost half of Americans' food budget will be used in restaurants; and we are "looking for healthier options and greener restaurants" while dining out.
Predictions say that diners will look for restaurants that serve fresh, locally grown produce and fruit, will ask for smaller dishes, eat more fish and be gluten free-allergy-conscious and look for nutritious choices on the kid's menu.
What does that mean for Tulsa diners? We cannot forget the economy plays into this equation in an important way; still, 45 percent of adults admit that eating out is an integral part of their lifestyle. However, one in three says they don't eat out as often now as they'd like.
In Tulsa, these same trends appear to be playing out, as Tulsans are downsizing meals and demanding healthy menu selections. Evidence to this is seen in many restaurants including Asian places such as Bali Fusion Café, A Sensu and Be Le Vegetarian Restaurant. Favorites known for having all things healthy are Big Al's Healthy Foods, Akin's Natural Foods Market, Whole Foods Market and FreshBerry Frozen Yogurt Café.
Restaurant owners and chefs are providing lighter options alongside heavier ones and working toward being good stewards to the environment. According to the NRA, the number one trend among chefs is supporting local folk by using locally produced items when possible. In fact, 89 percent of fine dining operators across the country serve locally-sourced items.
What's Your Beef?
Tulsans are not fully ready to forego meat, so what better way to do it than buying grass-fed animals without antibiotics or growth hormones? Harvard Meats, 3245 E. 15th St., offers the "best possible beef, pork, bison, lamb and poultry" in midtown Tulsa. They also have organic breads, locally produced cheeses, organic potatoes, onions, butter and spices.
Natural Farms, 420 S. Utica and 6560 E. 91st St., also offers natural products. From their low fat Italian Piedmontese beef that they raise themselves to the sausages they process in their own inspected processing plant, they provide chemical free, hormone free, and antibiotic free meats.
Mexican food is not often touted as healthy, but Libby Auld, owner of Eloté Café & Dining, 514 S. Boston Ave., has found a way around that. "Beans, rice and corn are healthy and nutritious," she said; and her mission was to prepare it in the healthiest way possible. "I want people to feel good about eating a burrito," she explained.
Eating healthfully and being 'green' often go hand in hand. "I was born 'green,'" said Auld. "I'm into this eco stuff. Growing up my dad hated to see us waste anything.
He would compost, and I continue to do it." Eloté's "to go" containers are eco-friendly, made from renewable resources and compostable; even the bags for carry out orders is a "BioBag," fully biodegradable and compostable. Libby is proud to use these containers made mostly of corn and sugar beets. "It does cost a little bit more, but," as she said, "it goes along with our desire to serve good, healthy, organic food" priced for customer value.
Another downtown restaurant for those seeking a healthful dining experience is Williams Center Restaurant, 7 E. First St. General Manager Tim Earley, part of Guckenheimer restaurants, is "totally committed to health, nutrition and the environment" for his customers. This cafeteria-like setting offers a variety of stations of healthy foods of various sorts.
"We use a lot of grains, such as the Health & Nutrition bar. People will find flax seed, wheatberry (in salads and mixed with fresh fruit), orzo (a type of pasta made in the shape of grain rice) which is used in many salads and barley. All these grains can be roasted if people want them that way," he explained.
In addition, they use a full selection of non-meat protein sources such as tofu, tempeh, nuts and legumes.
Committed to preserving the environment, carry-out containers and utensils come from nature and return easily to nature. For example, Earley said the to-go cups are made from corn and the spoons, knives and forks are made from potatoes.
Another Tulsa restaurant that caters to vegans and vegetarians is Be Le Vegetarian Restaurant, 6634 S. Lewis. Besides only a few items on the menu that have whey and milk, Be Le is the only restaurant in Tulsa that can claim true vegan status. "Our menu has no by-products of animals nor is anything made from animals, including the spices," said owner and manager Giang Nguyen, who together with his sister Chi and mother Be Le, the chef, operate this restaurant.
"While we find that our business seems to be seasonal, there are many vegetarians and vegans who come here regularly," said Nguyen. The menu offers dishes like Mock Peking Duck, Mock Chicken in Gravy Sauce, Lamb with Curry and Leon Grass and Mongolian Mock Beef. The menu is dedicated to providing healthy vegetarian fare that is low in fat and cholesterol with absolutely no MSG, alcohol, preservatives or eggs. "We use meat substitutes made from soybeans, seaweed, and yams. Also, we use spices that are similar in taste to the various meats," Nguyen said.
Mock chicken is made from soy and flour; spices are added for flavor and it looks like pieces of chicken. "Mock or imitation chicken, beef, pork and shrimp are all made in Taiwan," says Nguyen. He says these pieces are marinated for hours to build up the texture from the dried state and to absorb the spices.
Although the list of healthy eateries is modest, Tulsans can expect to see more restaurants that emphasize quality over quantity and that are good for the body as well as the planet.
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