The Betamax Diet
Of course, we're not necessarily recommending this crazy plan--we'd have to take the donut out of our mouth first--and we can't exactly vouch for the actual nutritional benefits of these dishes. But if you want to give the whole eating-well-balanced-meals-with-lots-of-fresh-veggies-and-protein-heavy-fish thing a go, here are some places that will make dieting feel decadent.
Whether you're a staunch vegan, a fan of veggie fare, or just trying to make up for that cheeseburger and fries you poisoned your body with yesterday, Liquid Earth (1626 Aliceanna St.,  276-6606) will make you feel like a model of healthy eating. It offers offer plenty of vegetarian treats like tofu salad, bean soup, and the gigantic stuffed-full-of-veggies Sacred Sub, along with juices to cure everything that ails you. Liquid Earth also gets bonus points for offering all their sandwiches with soy cheese that's so creamy you'll think they're pulling your leg.
It may be difficult to park around the One World Café (100 W. University Parkway,  235-5777), but it's worth the struggle. This cute little North Baltimore eatery is more hipster than hippy, but it has tons of vegetarian and vegan options to choose from--like vegan pancakes with soy margarine and an eggplant gyro with feta, spinach, olives, and fat slabs of eggplant and roasted red pepper on a pita. And if you're feeling a bit sinful, try the tempeh Reuben.
You'll feel decadent the second you step inside Mount Washington's GlasZ Café (6080 Falls Road,  377-9060). The seating area is cramped and a bit disarrayed, but the counter is pure gourmet, boasting everything from artistic pastries to fancy prepared dishes. Turkey salad with sun-dried tomato, perhaps? Asian coleslaw? Black Forest ham? Try the house specialty sandwiches, like the Athena Grill (grilled peppers and onions stacked high on sun-dried tomato bread with a touch of herbed feta-olive spread) and the Denmark (smoked salmon, dill havarti, red onion, cucumber, and sprouts on marble rye).
You don't have to read the stars to know why Zodiac (1726 N. Charles St.,  727-8815) is a dining experience worth checking out. It's got a great location, right next to the Club Charles and across the street from the Charles Theatre, and it peppers its ever-changing menu with plenty of vegetarian and vegan offerings. Vegan fare ranges from the usual (garden pasta) to the unfathomable (green peppercorn and mushroom pâté). Vegan goose liver: That must be a first. And the wild mushroom lasagna with gooey dairy-free mozzarella and tofu is so warm and satisfying that it feels more like comfort food than health food.
Eating healthy doesn't mean sticking to modified American fare. The Hook-Up Rastarant (5216 Park Heights Ave.,  367-6849) offers a variety of Jamaican dishes that are completely vegan and promise no MSG. What's available may vary depending on when you visit the small food counter, but with tons of hearty offerings to choose from, you won't mind if your usual isn't ready. Besides straight-up veggie fare, the Hook-Up offers unusual fake meats like veggie lobster and shrimp that raise the art of faux-flesh to a whole new level.
In the mood for Thai? Thairish (804 N. Charles St.,  752-5857) has plenty of vegetarian dishes to choose from. Sure, it's all stir-fried, but when you're munching the veggie masaman curry, with all those chunks of carrot, broccoli, and asparagus in a red curry sauce that has a perfect sinus-clearing kick, you'll feel like you're treating your body like a temple. And for lovers of all things truly spicy, the vegetable panang or the phrik pao bite back even harder.
Next we head to the Middle East with a bite at the Desert Café (1605-7 Sulgrave Ave.,  367-5808). It may be known for its desserts, but this Mount Washington spot's light Middle Eastern dishes are a treat. The split pea soup is wonderfully creamy despite being dairy-free, the hummus is tangy, the baba ghanouj is velvety smooth, the hand-rolled grape leaves are firm and flavorful, and the mango curry chicken ($5.95) is sweet and filling without being goopy. As for exercise, you might be able to learn a thing or two about shaking off the pounds from belly dancer Zahirah, who performs every Saturday night.
Mediterranean fare is the order of the day at Cypriana (120 E. Baltimore St.,  837-7482), home of quite possibly the best falafel in Baltimore. This downtown lunch spot's falafel sandwich is enormous: The thick-but-not-heavy pita is filled to the brim with lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, onions, and some of the softest, tangiest falafel imaginable. The restaurant also offers a variety of Mediterranean salads and pita sandwiches. Of course, once you try the falafel, you'll have trouble ordering anything else.
It's hard to eat right when you're going out to a fancy dinner. Even if you get the least calorie-laden thing on the menu, you'll probably end up pining for your dining companion's cream sauce-covered entrée. Not so at the Black Olive (814 S. Bond St.,  276-7141), especially if you're not one of those culinary heathens who complains about fish being too fishy. At this Fells Point Greek restaurant, you can sample a variety of surprisingly light fare, like the delicious grilled octopus salad or mussels in ouzo. For your main course, choose from the eye-popping display case full of fresh whole fish, which will be grilled and served with a sauce so light and inconspicuous you might not even notice it, or the grilled jumbo lobster, which offers all the decadence of that crustacean without being dunked in buttery goo.
You can also dine in lite fair splendor at the neighboring Kali's Court (1606 Thames St.,  276-4700). You'll feel like a mermaid while sampling such appetizers as grilled calamari and tuna tartare in a miso vinaigrette. And the fine fishy flavor of the whole Mediterranean bronzini and royal daurade are never marred by overpowering sauces. Add some crunchy asparagus or sautéed spinach on the side and treat yourself without falling into the fine-dining-means-fattening-dining trap.
Chinese food isn't generally considered the healthiest of culinary options, but Café Zen's (438 E. Belvedere Ave.,  532-0022) Asian fare feels surprisingly light. It's never greasy, chock-full of fresh vegetables, and pleasantly affordable. The spinach sautéed in garlic sauce with tofu delivers fresh spinach that's firm, not wilted, and generous chunks of tofu in a sweet brown sauce. And Zen's fan and ts'ai promises "the 'balance' of Chinese Food where a right proportion of meats and vegetables are prepared to give a healthy balanced meal." That oath, as well as a menu that also includes sushi and the usual Chinese-food suspects, makes Café Zen one of our dietary staples.
Just a block away, Saigon Remembered (5857 York Road,  435-1300) brings the fresh and zesty aromatics and delicious spices of Vietnamese cuisine to plate in a relatively healthy fashion. True, you can load up on caloric noodle dishes or marinated beef in grape leaves (even as a appetizer, a filling mini-meal in itself), but Saigon Remembered's bounty of seafood dishes are good for you, and its meal-in-a-bowl soups are just the thing for a cold.
Sushi isn't just delicious but also filled with fresh veggies and even fresher fish, so it has a lot of the stuff that does a body good. Niwana's (3 E. 33 St.,  366-4115) sushi bar has a wide range of offerings, from the usual tuna and salmon to stunt rolls that will keep even the most experienced sushi eater from getting bored. It's c0hefs even snazz up the boring old California roll. And when we're feeling stuffy, we swear by the Spicy Mindy roll, which clears our sinuses with its delicious kick.
If that isn't enough raw fish, head to Sushi Hana (6 E. Pennsylvania Ave., Towson,  823-0372), a restaurant that stands out not just for its great food but for its amazingly efficient service. It serves a variety of sushi, sashimi, and maki, all teeming with generous portions of fresh fish. Even the tempura, which at most restaurants is so greasy that it feels like the fried chicken of Japanese cuisine, is amazingly light here.
Now that you've filled your body with all that healthy food, treat yourself. After all, a healthy diet isn't deprivation; it's about moderation. So when you're ready to splurge, do it right with Sushi Hana's tempura ice cream. This culinary miracle--how do they keep the ice cream cold and the tempura coating warm?--tastes just like funnel cake. In a good way.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201