When you go out to dinner, do you often feel like the couple in the following video? (This is hilarious; you fellow Real Foodie freaks will love it because it’s so US!)
These days when we’re planning a dinner out, I look over the menu and if I have any questions I’ll call or email the chef beforehand. Kent prefers that I handle it this way so his toes don’t have to curl under the table quite so much while I’m asking questions.
So recently when we made plans to go with our friends, David and Michelle, to a Grand Rapids restaurant that we’ve loved for years, Bistro Bella Vita, I took a good look at the menu ahead of time. The sweet potato fries caught my eye, so I called to ask what they’re fried in. When they told me it was soybean oil, I said, “OK, bummer. Thanks anyway.” Later I thought, “They’ve always been great about sourcing from sustainable, often organic, local farmers, maybe I should just email the chef about the soybean oil and see what he says…” (Check out my recent Facebook chat with Chipotle on the same topic.)
Here’s what I wrote:
“I love that you source many of your foods locally and serve REAL food in your restaurant, this is one of the many reasons Bistro Bella Vita is our favorite place to go out.
Only one request… Soybean oil is really bad nutritionally (and literally makes me sick if I eat that or any other vegetable oil – they are all highly processed, fake fats), have you ever thought about frying in duck fat, lard or beef tallow? These are traditional fats, taste great, and won't give people heart disease as many used to think.
I'd be happy to get you more information on any of this, but I can tell you, if you used these fats, you'd draw a whole new crowd of Real Foodies.
Thanks for listening!
Chef Pat’s response:
“Hello Kelly, I really enjoyed your feedback (I am a big fan of the traditional fats as well). I have never tried them in our fryer, however we use duck fat and pork fat on a fairly regular basis for side dishes in the restaurant. If you would like, just ask for duck fat fried items and ninety percent of the time we can make that happen. I would love for you to forward me any additional info on this topic that I can use to educate our guests and use more of these products in the restaurants. Thanks—Pat”
Isn’t he cool?! My reply:
It was great to hear from you, and I was excited to find out that you do use duck fat and pork fat! We're coming there with another couple Saturday night so I was wondering if you could let me know what some of your items on the menu are that are cooked in those traditional fats? I can't wait to try them.
There are a few restaurants that advertise their duck fat French fries in Chicago and I tried to go to one once, but when we got there they no longer offered them. 🙁
For more information on healthy fats, check out this great video:
There's a lot more info I could share on healthy fats, let me know. 🙂
One more from Chef Pat:
“We will have both fats on hand Saturday, we can sauté any side dish in either to order. Some of our sub recipes such as our duck leg are cooked in duck fat, but the Cassoulet going with it has a small amount of extra virgin olive oil/canola oil blend used in it’s sub recipe. Although, we can figure almost anything out for you. Please email me the time and name of your reservation and I will get with your server to help make your night perfect.”
And perfect it was!
We enjoyed a long, relaxing dinner and it was the most fun we’ve had in a long time. Yes it ended up being fairly pricy (they have West Michigan’s largest martini bar ya know!), but not when you consider that it lasted over five hours, and it wasn’t just dinner, it was entertainment, too. The four of us have been friends for over fifteen years, so it’s always a blast with them anyway, and we all loooooove our food, so each course that came out was like a new “show” that wowed us. We’d all try each other’s and ooh and ahh together, such fun!
Our appetizer surprises
We ordered some appetizers, but a couple dishes that we hadn’t ordered showed up! Pat was so sweet, he sent out a couple of the most amazingly delicious plates of food ever. I sent him an email thank you the next week and asked exactly what they were called so I could order them again.
“I'm so glad you liked the apps, I sent out confit of fingerling potatoes fried in duck fat with Parmesan cheese, crispy bacon, truffle oil and Dijon vinaigrette. The second plate was S&S Farm's duck fat fried chicken livers over chickpea salad with Michigan apple cider reduction and grilled onion relish.
Did I mention how much I love great chefs?!
(A picture right about here would’ve been nice, huh? More about that later…)
Also David & Michelle ordered the best bruschetta (there’s where my no-grain/low-carb completely went out the window for the evening), it had such a perfect blend of flavors and with hunks of Parmesan…Mmmm, I’m a freak about Parmesan.
You can check out their menu for more details, but here’s what we ordered:
- David had the Braised Pork and Potato Gnochi with “roasted vegetables, braised greens and aromatic jus” – so tender and bursting with flavor!
- Michelle had the Harvest Ravioli: “Butternut squash ravioli with mushrooms, roasted vegetables, honey-truffle mushroom jus.” Such a perfect blend of sweet from the squash along with the mixture of flavors from the herbs.
- Kent had the “Boeuf Bourguignonne” (Beef Burgundy): “Slowly braised beef in red wine with baby potatoes and seasonal vegetables in natural herbed jus.” The beef was so tender and melted in your mouth!
- I had Pork Tenderloin: “Grilled to order over butternut squash, mushroom and braised green risotto with dried cherry demi glace.” Oh. my. gosh. Again, the pork was tender and full of flavor, and I love butternut squash and risotto. It was magic in my mouth I tell ya.
I also had a glass of late-harvest Riesling wine with dinner and loved it so much that we bought a bottle to bring home. It’s local, too, from Traverse City, just North of us a couple hours. Yes, it’s a sweet wine, my palate is still maturing!
Then…I was bad. I had Crème Brûlée for dessert, my favorite. At least if I was going to cheat, I chose something full of healthy fats, right? Right……?????
Beyond how mouth-watering and wonderful our food tasted, I love going here because of their food philosophy:
“We prepare every dish from scratch to your order, with the freshest, highest quality ingredients available, because fresher ingredients make the freshest cuisine. In-season, we use chemical-free produce purchased daily from local farmers. It's healthier, fresher and tastes best.”
They speak our language! But the story gets even better…
I met with them this week, and next month Bistro Bella Vita is doing a fundraiser for our local Weston A. Price chapter (Nourishing Ways of West Michigan). They’ll be offering menu items that are specifically Weston Price friendly, is that fun or what?!
Only one bummer…
It was too dark to get pictures with my iPhone (I reeeeally want an iPhone 4 with a flash!), and being the top-notch on-the-ball blogger that I am, I remembered to bring my camera with a flash instead. NOT. No worries, Michelle brought her camera. So since I am a blogger at heart, I took all sorts of pictures of the delicious food I just told you about, right? No again. Helloooo, Kel?! Is there anybody in there?! Apparently I’m a foodie more than I’m a blogger. We were oohing and ahhhing and scarfing down one course after another with nary a thought about blogging or pictures. I’ll try to get better, really I will.
(Michelle did take one of Kent & I and Chef Pat, but all three of us looked so bug-eyed and washed out that I couldn’t bear to post it, even after I pestered her to develop her pictures digitally for me, I’m sorry Michelle!)
Have you had a dreamy dinner experience? Tell us all about it in the comments, because we all know how much us Real Foodies love to go on and on about our food don't we? 🙂
- Want to watch a video tour around Bistro Bella Vita?
- Local readers, sign up for our Meetup group so you’ll know the Bistro Bella Vita dates in March as soon as they are confirmed!
- More local restaurant posts and reviews.
Commenter via Facebook says
Hahaha I used to live in Portland so Portlandia is just *that* much funnier to me. The satire is just SPOT. On. Hilarious! Love that you included that clip!
Commenter via Facebook says
Beef tallow (which used to be used in most restaurants) meets all those requirements, but unfortunately I don’t see that coming back very soon…
Commenter via Facebook says
*love* Portlandia, especially because my husband and I live close to Portland. My husband has been a professional chef for just shy of 20 years now. He doesn’t mind the questions and appreciates the interest in how the food is prepared. However, I could tell from your exchange with the chef that he was trying to avoid having to explain to you, a non-professional kitchen-type, why they are using soybean oil in their deep fryers. Soybean oil has a higher heat tolerance (for deep frying in deep fryer vats), it’s reusable and well, it’s cheaper. That’s not excusing it or advocating it, I’m just telling you what he didn’t tell you. You’re just not going to find duck fat in large quantities for vat fryers. It’s also expensive. Someday it will be different for those of us who appreciate the healthy fats. 🙂
Commenter via Facebook says
ohh my gosh…looks delicious! i’m so hungry!
Commenter via Facebook says
No, most are pretty cool and I think they are totally getting on the local food/real food bandwagon, the movement truly is growing! Even compared to 4 years ago or so when I began blogging, things have come around so much! Now, maybe they grumble about me afterward, though! 🙂 Did you see my other recent restaurant review? Our server there was awesome, he talked to us for quite a while and seemed to actually enjoy it! (https://kellythekitchenkop.com/2011/08/local-restaurant-review-brewery-vivant.html)
Commenter via Facebook says
=) i love that one too– my husband died when he saw it bc it is so me! read your restaurant review too– how wonderful to have found such a wonderful chef with the ability to change menu items to best suit your needs!! i am still searching for that. emailing them is a great idea. have you had many grumpy responses when approaching chefs?
It makes my mouth water just to hear the description of the menu. Wow!
The only time I’m able to get a menu like that is at the Niman Ranch Farmer Appreciation dinners in Des Moines where several Chefs from around the country come to prepare a meal in appreciation to Niman Hog farmers for raising pork with flavor. I savory every bite and try not to miss it each year. mmmm so good. I can almost taste the food in my mind now. Ha!
My taste buds will never be the same.
Any of you who have mentioned good Real Food restaurants in your city, I wanted to remind you about this post from a while back that I still keep updated when I hear of new ones: https://kellythekitchenkop.com/2009/03/finding-healthy-restaurants-in-your-city.html
Comment there with all the info about your fav restaurant (look at the post to see which info I need), but be patient with me as it may take me a bit to get the post updated, I will do it eventually though!
What an amazing find of a restaurant! Down here in “podunk” it is hard to get that level of attention. Although I do have better inside scoop than some being that I work in the wine industry (BTW: no shame in a nice semi-dry Riesling! It’s a favorite of this red wine gal during our mercilessly hot/humid S. Texas summers).
But that video was HILARIOUS!!!! I’m never going to eat chicken again without thinking of Colin 😉
I work in a restaurant in NE Ohio that seems to have a similar philosophy. It is *slightly* less upscale, but we regionally source much of our food and we do use duck and bacon fat often. However, we still fry in canola oil! It is really frustrating. We offer sweet potato fries that are tossed in olive oil, s&p and baked, though. I’ve mentioned it to the chef before, but I think the biggest issue of using duck fat to fry is the cost. Those fryers require a *lot* of oil, and there are 2 in the restaurant. They also need changed regularly.
I love working at a restaurant that is so accommodating to various diets, though. We literally have a protocol for allergies and dietary requests. And the chefs will literally do whatever it takes. Now I don’t feel so bad being a picky diner when I’m out, because I spend most evenings at work making sure all my diners’ requests are fulfilled 🙂
What a wonderful experience for you! Five hours at a restaurant table sounds like a HOOT to me!
It’s interesting, here in the Denver metro area, that there are so many “real food” restaurants that will turn around and get something so critical so wrong. There is a new “foodie” craze in the area it seems, but it also seems that many seem to still think the low fat, unsaturated stuff is better. Rice bran oil seems to be the new canola, and since I had never heard of it before, I decided to research how it was extracted. You guessed it: solvents and bleaching agents.
Hubby and I decided to check out, at the suggestion of several semi-real-foodie friends, a place called Root Down. Of course, they are so proud that they fry things in this rice bran oil… now, why didn’t I think to call and ask them if I could bring some grass-fed beef fat for my fries!?!? Thanks for inspiring me to try harder when I eat out to genuinely be eating real food, rather than just considering it “just another cheat.”
Oh, and creme brulee? Honey, that’s the PERFECT “cheat!”
Oh, they are good too, Kelly! Try out Black Star Farms’ wine if you see it, though. 🙂
We currently live in WV’s northern panhandle, outside of Pittsburgh (an hour away). Applebee’s IS the nicest restaurant here, I kid you not. Everything else is fast food, save a couple of rather unsavoury diners (and one very good Italian restaurant in Steubenville, but I adore their pasta sauce and they haven’t GF pasta). Thank the Lord I am a good cook! ‘Tis very depressing after living in & taking such advantage of the great dining opportunities in Detroit all my life. I know some of the restaurants in Pittsburgh proper are likely to accommodate me, but sometimes (especially this time of year, when it’s so cold!) we just don’t want to drive out there, find parking, walk to the restaurant…You know, I’m sure. (Plus I’m very likely to fall asleep in the car on the way back, ha!)
Like I said…it’s good I inherited my grandmother’s cooking chops, so to speak!
Kelly, how great to read about a chef so willing to work with you! Since my doctor told me to avoid gluten, eating out has become even more impossible. Family or neighborhood dinners mean I eat nothing: too much sugar, too much soy, too much canola (any soy or canola is too much!), and of course gluten. My explanations draw stares and complete disbelief.
Anyhow, we live in a part of the country where…well. The nicest restaurant in town is APPLEBEE’S! Gah! I miss living in Detroit, where I COULD talk to the chefs and cooks and they’d work with me. Here the cooks could not care less.
I just made a trip to the fridge downstairs to check for you and nope, this one is from Chateau Grand Traverse. 🙂
So where do you live? Have you tried calling the nicer restaurants to ask them specifically if they can accommodate you?
susan v. says
just want to say thanks for speaking up and trying to get restaurants to change their ways! maybe some day they will put that info on the menu! (i know i’m dreaming!)
That sounds so good! Next week when my mom comes to visit, we are going to Olivia in Austin TX, check out this menu:
should I have the bison heart or the steak tartare???
Tim Huntley says
Would it be inappropriate to order both? 🙂
Tim Huntley says
Good stuff. I was just talking with a friend who works in a restaurant about duck fat. He said that if they have Duck Confit on the menu, they will like have a surplus of duck fat in the kitchen.
Wardeh @ GNOWFGLINS says
Man, Kelly, that sounds like an awesome night. 🙂
That restaurant sounds wonderful! I wish there was something similar around here. There might be (it is DFW 🙂 ), I need to look harder.
I didn’t know that about Chipotle. It’s in their chips and hard tacos, which we don’t eat anyway because of the corn. But soy is also in the veggies. And on their site it says that the cheese is vegan and “Our cheese is made from a vegetable-based rennet.” I’m assuming that means that the cheese isn’t cheese, right? Yuck! Chipotle is the one remaining fast food place we still eat at. Or was.
Thanks for the info. Glad you got an awesome meal!
[email protected] Ponderings says
No, the cheese is still dairy. Rennet comes from the lining of cow stomachs, and vegetarian rennet comes from a variety of sources, including nettle and thistle. I’m okay with it, though others might not be.
Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama says
Sounds amazing! Wish I could find something like that around here. I live in a major city with tons of farms nearby and Amish too, you would think it wouldn’t be that hard!!
jenna Food WIth Kid Appeal says
hilarious. could have written the “restaurant with camera but too busy stuffing my face to snap any” story myself! i’m so glad you gave me the courage to ask for certain oils to be used in the prep of my food. will do that next time i’m at one of the few real food restaurants in houston, tx.
Nikki @ NAO Nutrition says
Kelly – you are such an inspiration to all.
My practice is in NYC and most of my clients eat out all the time and I always encourage them to call ahead of time, etc… Your blog reaches thousands and thousands of individuals daily and you are really making a big change in our world. THANK YOU!!
What cool experience! I’ve tried talking to Chipotle about their soybean oil too… they didn’t budge! But they did forward the email to SEVERAL other departments.. that I know 🙂