First-time spa-goers are often surprised at how delicious dieting can be . . . when the freshest ingredients are prepared by an artful chef at Canyon Ranch.
Then you fly back home to New York and your friends, beckoning you to boozy, decadent dinners at the city's restaurants, where a busy kitchen can go through 40 pounds of butter in an evening. What's changed lately is that many New York chefs offer healthy, beautiful dishes on their menus. We didn't count the calories of the following meals, but trust us: Order any of them on a night out and you'll be plenty gratified, and still feel good about yourself in the morning.
| Guilt-free: Nonfat tofu cheesecake at SX 137.
137 Essex Street
The reason to trek to this funky spot is the rye-crust cheesecake made with nonfat tofu cream cheese. It's seasoned with nutmeg, bound with agar, the vegan staple, splashed with maple syrup, and topped with berries and strawberry purée ($8).
239 East 5th Street
Tofu, made onsite, is so fresh that it has a custardy consistency. It's topped with tangy green mitsuba and steamed sea urchin, at once sweet and briny, and splashed with a soy-seafood broth ($8.50).
409 West 14th Street
It may not satisfy your carb cravings, but the "risotto," made of cauliflower, broccoli, and potato, is vastly more interesting than a plate of steamed vegetables. The ingredients are finely cubed, sautéed with shallots in a teaspoon of olive oil, and seasoned with salt, cayenne, and a caper-and-raisin sauce ($55 prix fixe).
| Health food: Wild-mushroom dumplings at Mi.
66 Madison Avenue
The dumpling concept enlightened: Wanton skins are filled with shiitakes, chanterelles, morels, and oyster mushrooms lightly marinated in garlic, thyme, and a touch of olive oil. Then they're chopped with shallots, ginger, Chinese mustard cabbage, and cellophane noodles, flavored with soy, and steamed ($9).
149 East 49th Street, in W Hotel
Sometimes there's nothing better than fresh vegetables prepared simply. The seasonal Greenmarket plate includes roasted asparagus, squash, parsnips, spinach, kale, and corn, with a sauce made from grilled red peppers and sherry vinegar ($18).
| Nothing fishy: Brick-oven-roasted pompano at Bella Blu.
967 Lexington Avenue
Whole pompano is brushed with rosemary, then brick-oven-roasted, leaving it charred on the outside but still moist inside. It's served with roasted artichokes and fingerling potatoes ($32).
Midtown Business Meal
141 East 48th Street
Octopus appetizer is oven-roasted first to tenderize it, then charred until slightly crisp and tossed with red-wine vinegar, olive oil, red onion, roasted peppers, dill, oregano, and capers ($13.95). Follow this with any of the Mediterranean fish offered daily, glistening on a bed of ice.
57 East 57th Street, in the Four Seasons Hotel
Part of the hotel's Alternative Cuisine menu, a large bell pepper is stuffed with textured vegetable protein, spinach, and mushrooms; topped with bread crumbs; seared, then baked in the oven; and served with chanterelles, arugula, and a roasted vegetable demi-glace ($26).
| Light on rice: Madame Butterfly roll at Japonica.
100 University Place
Most maki rolls contain mounds of sugary rice and only slivers of protein. But at Japonica, the fish far outweighs the rice. The Madame Butterfly roll is made with a thick cut of lean tuna, cucumber, and a touch of avocado, wrapped in seaweed, rolled in a modest layer of rice, and wrapped again in pansies ($12.50). Pair the roll with asparagus oshitashi in a virtually fat-free ponzu-mustard vinaigrette ($9).
155 West 51st Street
Le Bernardin offers that wonderful rarity, a guilt-free four-star meal. John Dory, a white fish native to New Zealand, is pan-roasted and topped with mango relish, then placed on a bed of jasmine-coriander rice. All of this floats on a lemongrass-ginger oxtail consommé ($79 prix fixe).
Surf and Turf
Blue Water Grill
31 Union Square West
Chilean sea bass is generally to be avoided because it's so fatty, but here it's lightly smoked, then ginger-soy "lacquered" and grilled to form a crisp outer layer. Once cooked, the fish is splashed with wasabi vinaigrette and served with chinese broccoli and sticky rice ($20.50).
Morton's of Chicago
551 Fifth Avenue
Your carnivore pals may actually envy you your char-broiled swordfish steak ($27.95). For a side, order the baked, hollowed-out potato skins ($5.50).
Upper East Side Bistro
160 East 64th Street
Jean Georges Vongerichten, famous for replacing butter- and cream-based sauces with juices and infused oils, serves an appetizer of shrimp dusted in dried orange zest and sautéed in olive oil. The shrimp is distributed around a salad of arugula and braised artichokes and then tossed in lemon juice and a dash of basil oil ($14).