After a weekend afternoon in the park with the family, there is nothing like ice cream. So it's just as well that Tasti D-Lite Café isn't open on weekends, because Tasti D-Lite "ice cream" is nothing like ice cream. Unlike its competitors in the field of low-fat desserts that attempt to simulate ice cream, it does not, at least, taste exactly like frozen sweetened wallpaper paste. Actually it bears about the same relationship to ice cream, tastewise, as Miracle Whip does to mayonnaise. Personally I'd rather eat one shamelessly rich serving of Häagen-Dazs than two, or twelve, of an over-sweetened creepily chemical frozen dessert, even if the latter is low-fat (though, according to New York Times lab tests, that should actually be "lower-fat," since samples had two to five times the 40 calories per four-ounce serving advertised).
Enough. Look around at what's on the tables of the hordes who've been packing tiny Tasti since it opened several months ago, and it's a cinch to see that ersatz junk food is not the main draw. The most popular plates seem to be salads -- and no wonder; the produce isn't wilted salad-bar stuff, but wonderfully fresh. Especially appealing is the Garden D-Lite, which comes in two sizes for $3.49 and $5.95. This signature salad features vine-ripe tomatoes (that were, for a change, truly ripe every time I've had this salad), alfalfa sprouts, red and green pepper strips, a big crescent of creamy avocado, and a sprinkling of pine nuts, plus "gourmet lettuce" indistinguishable from the mere "lettuce" listed in other Tasti salads; it's all tasty mesclun.
Salads come with a crusty mini-baguette and choice of three dressings: a hefty (though I'd guess eggless) caesar, subtly sweet Chinese sesame, and a not unappealing but quite odd Dijon vinaigrette, with an almost whipped texture and a curry taste that predominates over mustard.
Tasti D-Lite Caf
4041 Royal Palm Ave, Miami Beach
305-673-4688. Open Monday through Thursday 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Friday to 3:00 p.m.
For those seeking slightly more substantial fare, there are some salads that add fairly low-fat protein to the produce: a light though intensely herbed tuna; a binder-free egg. And some sandwiches are really just the café's salads on its very good bread; the reinterpreted buffalo mozzarella, tomato, and basil salad, for instance, works beautifully as a more stomach-satisfying snack in an olive oil/balsamic vinegar-drizzled wrap ($6.95). It's also possible, for only $2 extra, to add a "small house salad" -- in fact a $3.49 Garden D-Lite for $1.49 less -- to a sizable slice of Tasti's quiche of the day, a cup of hearty homemade soup, or one of three pastas. Sesame linguine, eaten room temperature like cold sesame noodles, has become a personal favorite after I got used to its al dente Italian pasta in place of Chinese noodles, and its much lighter, though sufficiently spicy, sauce.
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Finally there's a bakery counter in back, right in front of the frozen-diet-dessert dispenser, packed with goodies worth every gram of fat. The bagels are from H&H in New York -- enough said. And there's a positively sinful mile-high apple pie. To save calories, do not get it à la mode.