By Molly Newman
Like any other holiday, Valentine’s Day invites indulgences: a box of chocolates, a steak and lobster dinner, a luscious, creamy dessert. But on a day that’s all about hearts, doesn’t it make sense to do something nice for your own—or your loved one’s—instead?
If the idea of “heart-healthy eating” summons up grim visions of plain poached chicken and steamed broccoli, some of Utah’s finest and most creative chefs may be able to change your mind. Restaurants in the Salt Lake area and beyond offer options to satisfy both the health-conscious athlete and the most discriminating gourmet. Or, if your idea of the perfect Valentine’s Day involves an intimate dinner at home, check out our tips for healthful, delicious “house specialties.”
Low-fat? Low-carb? Paleo diet? Though nutrition advice can be confusing and even contradictory, nearly all experts agree: Loading up on produce is the single best thing you can do to improve your overall diet. According to the USDA’s new My Plate program, a good guideline is to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, then the other half with lean proteins and whole grains.
Plant-based dishes elevate fruits and vegetables to the starring role in a heart-healthy dinner. Whether wholly vegan or seasoned with moderate amounts of meat, they’re a great way to pack more produce into your diet. Meatless doesn’t need to mean drab, though, as offerings from chefs around Utah make clear.
Salt Lake City’s Sage’s Cafe serves up delectable vegetarian meals ranging from light buckwheat noodle salads to hearty basil-walnut pesto crepes. It’s been named one of the 20 best vegetarian restaurants in the country by VegNews Magazine.
Plant-sourced foods rule the roost at Frisch Compassionate Eatery in Salt Lake City. This all-vegan restaurant “avoids ingredients that require a Ph.D. to pronounce,” focusing instead on nutritious, yet satisfying, dishes like tempeh kale salad and spicy mac-n-cheez. Don’t miss Saturday’s sumptuous vegan brunch.
Typical restaurant fare is rich and heavy, often slathered with butter or cream sauces. No matter where you choose to dine, a little menu savvy can help you make solid nutritional choices.
Terms such as “deep-fried” or “Alfredo” are obvious red flags, but be on the lookout for words like “sauteed” and “breaded” as well. Choose roasted, baked, or braised dishes instead to limit calories and fat. Even “primavera,” an innocuous-sounding word, often refers to pasta drenched in cream sauce and loaded with cheese.
Be wary of oversalted food too. One serving of chain-restaurant spaghetti with sausage has an eye-popping 3020 milligrams of sodium: that’s nearly 150% of the maximum an adult should consume in an entire day. Look for restaurants that rely on healthy flavor-boosters such as fresh herbs, citrus fruits, and toasted nuts instead.
Nutrition experts advise eating foods in their whole, unprocessed state whenever possible, and you won’t find foods closer to the source than those served at Omar’s Rawtopia. Chef Omar Abou-Ismail combines 100% organic sprouted nuts and seeds, sea vegetables, and garden-fresh produce to create refreshing dishes in a gorgeous rainbow of colors.
Craving favorites like grilled New York steak, butter-drizzled salmon, or Chicken Marsala? With the right combination of carefully chosen ingredients and reasonable portion sizes, even decadent dishes like these can fit into your heart-healthy eating plan. La Jolla Groves, with locations in Orem, Provo, and Salt Lake City, boasts “insanely good” food made with fresh, nutritious ingredients.
At Communal Restaurant, the chefs’ philosophy is a simple one: Use seasonal, locally-sourced foods as the building blocks for a constantly changing menu of bold, distinctive flavors.
“We rely on local products and local farmers for everything we can,” says general manager Chris Neidiger. “We’ll even bring our restaurant staff out to the farm to have them see exactly where our ingredients are coming from.”
This reliance on top-quality, absolutely fresh foods mean that subpar ingredients have nowhere to hide. “Physically, you can only taste three or four flavors at one time,” Neidiger says. “We make sure there’s a reason to include each specific ingredient. If the butter, oil, or anything else isn’t needed to make the dish work, it’s OK to leave it out.”
Asked to choose a favorite dish, Neidiger doesn’t hesitate: “It’s got to be our rotating pork special. We buy our pigs whole from the farm and cut them up on-site. Combined with whatever produce is the freshest and best-tasting, it’s unlike any other pork dish out there.”
Think for yourself
Dining in this Valentine’s Day? Make a heart-smart choice when cooking at home with these guidelines.
- Consider “sole” food… or any other type of fish. Low in saturated fat and typically rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, a seafood dinner is a perfect at-home Valentine splurge.
- The brighter the color, the better the food. Fruits and veggies in deep shades of green, blue, purple, and red have higher levels of vitamins and health-protecting phytochemicals than their paler cousins.
- Skip packaged seasoning mixes in favor of your own combinations of herbs and spices. The stuff in the envelopes is typically loaded with sodium and chemical preservatives.
- Raise a glass of champagne or sparkling water instead of fruit juice. Though it has all the sugar of whole fruit, juice lacks the fiber that makes fruit such a healthful choice.
- Pick whole-grain breads, pastas, and baked goods… or take a tip from your Paleo friends and skip the grains altogether. Fill up on baked sweet potatoes or other roasted root vegetables instead.
Whether you’re planning an evening out with your sweetheart or a movie night with single friends, this Valentine’s Day is a great time to sample flavor-packed dishes that will inspire you to make heart-healthy food choices all year long.
Where to Find It
100% vegetarian, organic fare.
473 East 300 South, Salt Lake City
Communal Restaurant Upscale dining with a focus on local, seasonal ingredients. 102 N. University Avenue, Provo communalrestaurant.com
Creatively prepared, raw whole foods.
2148 Highland Drive, Salt Lake City
Frisch Compassionate Eatery
Friendly, hearty vegan dishes.
779 South 500 East, Salt Lake City
La Jolla Groves
Right-sized portions of seasonal favorites.
Locations in Provo, Orem, and Salt Lake
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries and Almonds
Inspired by a dish from Communal Restaurant.
Wash, trim, and halve 1 pound Brussels sprouts. Toss with 2 Tbsp olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt. Arrange, cut sides down, on a sheet pan and roast at 400 degrees until tender and slightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove and let cool.
In a large, nonstick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add Brussels sprouts, 1/2 cup dried cranberries, and 1/2 cup blanched slivered almonds. Cook, stirring, until heated through. Stir in 1 Tbsp maple syrup if desired. Taste, correct seasoning, and serve.
Molly Newman lives in Portland, Oregon, where she hikes, walks, and runs whenever it isn’t raining—and often when it is. A contributor to Outdoor Sports Guide since 2009, she also hosts regular trivia nights and homeschools her two sons.