Wholesome, Not Horrifying

Is there any scarier word on a restaurant menu than healthy?

Okay, maybe vegan.

"Fat is flavor," chefs say, which is why a well-marbled steak cuts like butter and tastes like heaven, why a half-pound of butter suspended in an emulsion of acid and herbs is as natural an accompaniment to fish as water, why foie gras is insanely and indescribably delicious, and why tofu is, well ... tofu.


Zone Eatery

12313 S Dixie Hwy, Pinecrest; 305-232-9663

Open Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., daily 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.

It is possible to cook healthfully — with less fat, sodium, sugar, and the like — and still have something worth eating. But it's not for the amateur or inexpert; it takes some real culinary chops. The problem with most health-conscious (and vegetarian and vegan) restaurants is they are more about gastronomic correctness than flavor. Not only are you expected to wear a hair shirt — they want you to eat it too.

You don't have to eat any fuzzy button-downs at Zone Eatery, a newish restaurant almost lost amid the profusion of strip malls, independent businesses, and other restaurants on South Dixie Highway in Pinecrest. Zone advertises, "We make healthy taste great!" And though that motto might be a slight exaggeration, they do make healthy taste very good.

Will it satisfy the hard-core? Those who will let neither globule of fat nor grain of sugar, neither slice of fork-tender beef nor chunk of real, honest-to-goodness cheese pass their lips?

Probably not. But for the rest of us, it will do just fine.

Take a starter of Cajun salmon cakes with corn relish. Actually you can't, because I want them all for myself. I will be taking at least one home for lunch, though, because the three plump, salmon-packed discs could easily be a substantial entrée or filling appetizer for two. They come with a crunchy corn relish spiked with lots of coriander seed and a sneakily spicy ancho chili-chipotle dip.

The same chili-fired concoction accompanies a trio of egg rolls, given a "Southwestern" touch by a savory filling of chicken, feta cheese, and cilantro. Only slightly smaller than duffel bags, they are plenty filling on their own. Perhaps a touch greasy too, but remember what chefs say about flavor.

Entrées were so well cooked they rendered their accompaniments unnecessary. A day's special of balsamic-glazed sea bass emerged from the kitchen as a rather diminutive (at least given the size of appetizer portions) fillet of snowy-white fish that flaked when merely accosted with a fork. Thankfully most of the glaze was on the plate rather than on the fish, so you could fully enjoy its subtle, ocean-fresh flavor.

Big chunks of sirloin steak threaded on skewers with chunks of onion, red pepper, and mushrooms were enjoyable in their own right, as hearty as the sea bass was delicate. They were even better if you ignored the cloying sweet-sour relish served alongside. All entrées come with your choice of two sides, from a house salad (standard greens but a tangy Dijon vinaigrette) and roasted sweet potato wedges (yawn) to roasted mixed vegetables (yeah!) and fat pearls of Israeli couscous (a nice change from the tiny, grainy variety).

Dessert is where you begin to taste the hirsute blouse. Creating truly luscious, decadent desserts with little or no fat or sugar or other bad-for-you stuff might be possible, but you couldn't tell it from Zone's berry crisp. Undersweetened berries, granola topping, scoop of vanilla yogurt ... I don't think so. Give me ripe berries sweetened just so, crust of waistline-threatening butter and brown sugar, scoop of rich, eggy ice cream. For some things there really are no substitutes.

Even so, Zone Eatery does precisely what it sets out to do — dish up (relatively) healthful food that tastes (pretty damn) good. You can wear your hair shirt, but you don't have to eat it.


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