Sunday, January 29, 2006

Trying to Diet Part 2 – Busting Out at Barnaby’s

“Now that fasting in Lent is nothing but a historical curiosity, cholesterol and cellulite have replaced our fear of the Last Judgment.”
-Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, History of Food

Barnaby’s is a perfectly good little chain of four cafes, each in the Montrose area. They serve generous portions of salads, grilled chicken dishes, burgers and sandwiches. This post is not about the taste of the food at Barnaby’s. This post is about how many restaurants give a false impression that food is wholesome and healthy, when it is not.

I had three lunches at Barnaby’s last week. Each time I thought, “surely I can get something healthy at Barnaby’s.” Everything about Barnaby’s suggests that the food is wholesome and healthy. First, Barnaby’s looks wholesome. Its marketing logo is a cartoon angel-dog with a halo. Second, it is not an evil corporate chain. Third, most diners at Barnaby’s look healthy – young, thin, singles, and gay or straight couples without kids. Fourth, most deceptively, the menu sends signals that the food is “California casual” – light healthy food.

I tried really hard to be good. On the first visit, I carefully read the menu. I wanted chicken, but all but two chicken dishes advertised a side of fries. One menu item – half of a smoked chicken – said nothing about any side. When the dish came, however, it had a side of fries – a giant plate of them. I tried to ignore the fries, but half way through lunch I decided to try just one. Half a plate of fries later, the diet was in serious danger.

On the second visit, I looked at the other chicken dish that did not advertise fries – Chicken La Jolla. I confirmed with the waiter that it came with a side of rice and black beans instead of fries. Unfortunately, I failed to ask what “La Jolla” meant. Apparently, it means, “covered with vast quantities of cheese.” Once again, the diet was sabotaged.

On the third visit, I decided on salad. One salad sounded particularly healthy -- “Lebanese fatoush salad with grilled chicken.” Fatoush usually is a salad of diced tomatoes and cucumbers tossed in olive oil, but I was not taking any chances. I asked the waiter, “does it come with a dressing?” “Yes.” “What kind?” “A vinaigrette.” “Can I get it on the side?” “No, it comes tossed in the salad.” When the salad came, the alleged “vinaigrette” turned out to be an incredibly rich and creamy cheese-based dressing that drenched the salad. Worse, it was not the tomato/cucumber-based salad I expected; over 80% of the salad was a whitish lettuce. And the salad was bigger than my head. Surely this oil and cheese laden salad had over 2,000 calories. The diet had taken a catastrophic hit.

I do not blame Barnaby’s. We get what we deserve. Perhaps Barnaby’s is so popular because diners think of it as healthy and wholesome, when they are really driven by a subconscious impulse to get all the fat and calories their bodies crave. Restaurants like this are very popular because they help us deceive ourselves. If Barnaby’s truthfully advertised, “enormous portions with lots of cheese and fried items,” would anyone go?


Anonymous said...

Order a half salad as we always do.
The chicken caesar is delicious with a kind of mustard based dressing.

The chicken mediterranean is very good too and served with a vinegarette and not a lot of cheese.

We go to the original Barnaby's on Fairview at least once a week and always order a half salad which is still huge!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about Barnaby's not being very diet friendly. They also won't do things such as toss the cobb salad if asked. However, that may have been more due to our server's mood. My main beef with them is that they don't describe their entrees on their menu. I usually only order a dish that I can understand by its name, i.e. caesar salad with grilled chicken. Otherwise, the server for my table would probably need to sit down for the time it would take to ask him/her what each of the entrees actually are. I don't think I'm ignorant, however I have no clue as to what half of the chicken entrees are by their name alone. Luckily, the turkey burger is awesome.

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Anonymous said...

There is a difference between signaling that it is 'healthy' and signaling that it is natural and local. You're eating at a burger restaurant, and they never try to lie to you about that. Making assumptions based on the decor and the font of the menu? Ask your waiter questions about portions sizes, and you can always replace fries with a vegetable there.

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Lifofrly said...

I frequent our neighbor Barnabys quite often. I get the chicken fattoush salad. I ask them to go ahead and box up half and bring the other half out for me to eat. They never have a problem doing that. And I always get the dressing on the side. To cut calories, I leave out the pita chips (even though I think it really gives an added kick to the salad!) You can also reduce or cut out the feta cheese to cut out even more calories.