Destination Guide: New Orleans

Let the good times roll, without watching your healthy attitude roll right out the door. Yes, it can be easy to stay on Plan in the Big Easy.

The biggest question when contemplating a visit to the Big Easy: Can you stay on Plan (or even near it) when visiting a foodie Mecca that has a reputation for fried food, cream sauces and over-the-top cocktails?

The short answer: Yes. Despite the lingering reputation, many restaurants actually serve much healthier cuisine these days. Local, farm-to-table ingredients are the norm (unless you’re dining in local dives – and even there, it’s often better than expected). Take it from David Slater, Chef de Cuisine at Emeril’s “Some tourists do come to eat the rich, heavy foods, but we have many light dishes. We get the most amazing ingredients, and you want them to speak for themselves.”

Seafood Gumbo PoBoy Crawfish Etouff Beignets

So fear not – just dine wisely. And with gusto.All the workaday Weight Watchers tips apply: Have a “vacation eating” plan. Practice portion control. Drink water. Choose Power Foods. Order sauces on the side (and dip gingerly, lest you defeat the purpose). Select appetizers or small plates as your main dish (at places like Baru and Three Muses, they’re as enticing as any larger entree). And don’t be shy about mixing menu items, like requesting the protein from one dish with the sauce or sides from another.

Tell the restaurant (both when you reserve and when you arrive for your meal) that you’re on Weight Watchers, and ask for recommendations. Says virtuoso Chef Chris DeBarr of Green Goddess, “Be honest but positive: ‘What’s the best way for me to get the most out of your menu?’” Adds Slater, “We know how to lighten things up without compromising flavor. There’s no ego – we want you to get the experience and the food you want.”

And share, share, share. If you’re traveling with someone who won’t share his or her food, get a new travel partner. (Just kidding – it’s nothing to get a divorce over. But it is the best way to try more deliciousness without going overboard.)

Try new flavors
Explore preparations, seasonings, and produce that you can’t (or don’t) get at home, like mirliton (chayote squash), okra, greens, yams, and legumes. A creative chef can work wonders with these Power Foods.

Full of vim and veggies, gumbo is a no brainer. Some varieties are made with a butter base and andouille sausage; many others, like Emeril’s and Herbsaint’s, use vegetable oil and are pretty low fat. Coop’s and Liuzza’s by the Track also make a killer cup.

For a change of pace, local healthful eating guru Jodi Brown suggests venturing out for Vietnamese food. “It’s fresh, ultra healthy and just sparkling with bright flavors. Given the city’s large Vietnamese population, it still counts as ‘local’ cuisine!” Try the MagasinCafé.

Seafood – and eat it!
In New Orleans, the seafood is often served literally hours after being caught, and a perfect, simply prepared filet truly can be a revelation. Katy Kasbarian, Weight Watchers member and proprietor of the classic Creole restaurant Arnaud’s (est. 1918), suggests ordering Pompano David. “It’s delicately grilled with a little olive oil and herbs,” Kasbarian explains. “Absolutely delicious but very healthy.” Going more contemporary, try Lilette’s sautéed spiced drum with artichoke, roasted tomato, and lemon yogurt sauce, or GW Fins’ exquisite Louisiana Bluefin tuna with portabello in a veal jus.

The celebrated local oysters are sweet, briny, and two teeny PointsPlus® values for a dozen raw. Slurp them down at Acme or Bourbon House, maybe with a crisp white wine (and chat up the always-entertaining shuckers).

Likewise, a crawfish boil is a hands-on hoot (usually available February-May). The spicy lobster-like meat is just ten to a Point. Try Deanie’s in the French Quarter or Franky & Johnny’s uptown.

Barbeque shrimp, a scampi-like local specialty, typically come “in a lagoon of butter,” according to DeBarr. In the Green Goddess version, he roasts the shrimp in phyllo to coax out more flavor, drastically diminishing the butter quotient.

The timeless “blackened” fish is a widely-available, on-plan standby, and a great lunch when served atop salad greens. Other good salad spots include Somethin’ Else Café, Royal St. Deli (call 504-529-3777) and City Greens in the CBD.

Fed up with fish? The sweet tea brined duck at MiLA is a lean, luscious option, as are the charcuterie plate and marinated Brussels sprouts at Cochon Butcher.

Splurge-worthy options
To spend that Weekly PointsPlus Allowance in grand dessert style, go bananas Foster at Antoine’s or Arnaud’s. It’s fruity, fun and flaming (so is the lavish Baked Alaska, made even more memorable “with a glass of champagne and some chocolate sauce – worth every point!” says Arnaud’s Kasparian). Emeril’s legendary banana cream pie is to die for; while the signature bread pudding soufflé at Commander’s Palace won’t be found anywhere else. The famed Cafe du Monde beignets come three to an order. Shake off some of the excess sugar and stop after one. (Tomorrow, have a fresh fruit sorbet.)

Chef Chris DeBarr says Casamento’s has the best fried oysters in town, and he should know. At a PointsPlus value of 10 for six, share an order, or get them in a po’ boy sandwich at Mahony’s , further up Magazine Street. At the Royal House café, they sit atop a spinach salad drizzled with bleu cheese dressing.

Bread fiends (you know who you are) should try the renowned Leidenheimer french bread, served in all proper po’ boy shops and many bread baskets. Its crunchy crust belies the feather-light, sauce-sopping interior. An airy slice is hardly extravagant, and it’s utterly unreplicable elsewhere.

The cocktail was invented in New Orleans, so a refreshing, cucumber-laced Pimm’s Cup, a frothy Ramos Fizz (with egg white and just a touch of cream), or a whiskey-based Sazerac (the official state cocktail) are logical indulgences. If you must have that Bourbon Street experience, throw on a feather boa, skip the syrupy Hurricane, and opt for a Skinny Hand Grenade at Tropical Isle. It’s 1/3 fewer calories than their big gun, and you’ll still get “that” photo to post online.

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