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January 18-24, 2006

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Back in Flour

Atkins is dead, long live the carb

By Ella Lawrence


Last July 5, I suffered from a pork hangover. I had never known such a thing was possible, but after a celebratory Fourth of July that began with a standard breakfast of bacon and eggs, segued into an at-work barbecue of homemade bratwurst, launched from there to a happy-hour resplendent with sausage-y snacks and culminated with another barbecue and fireworks session laden with all sorts of grilled pig products--featuring a midnight snack of yet more bratwurst and sauerkraut--the day anticlimaxed with a traumatic event that shall not be related here to protect the privacy of those involved. (Suffice it to say that I wasn't able to get the smell out of my car for days.)

I woke up the next morning ruing not the alcohol imbibed but the meats chewed and swallowed. I swore off pork products for months, until just recently the smell of sizzling bacon brought the cat and I wandering curiously from the bedroom one Sunday morning. Indeed, this overindulgence of all things swine was an astounding first-time accomplishment that I have never repeated.

But for the thousands of Americans following the faddish Atkins diet, a day like this is the norm in their culinary routine. For example, the German-by-descent co-worker who spent hours chopping, stuffing and beer-soaking that delicious homemade bratwurst--step two in my destruction-by-pork--proudly touts his Atkins "lifestyle" at any given opportunity. The Atkins program, an extremely carbohydrate-restrictive diet, seems to have become popular because it offers Americans a magic pill: eat all the fatty foods you want, don't exercise and still lose weight.

In fact, one low-carb-lifestyle website claims, "Dieting deprives us. For those who love steaks, shrimp, fish, chicken, omelets, cheese, and pork chops, the low-carb alternative can easily become a life-long way of eating~especially since your cravings for the high-carbohydrate foods will go away after a couple of weeks."

Yeah, right. The Bratwurst Boy, though he'd lost over 50 pounds on the diet, was obsessed with the carbohydrates he wasn't allowed to have. If someone else in the room was eating a potato chip, he'd turn apoplectic and storm off. Plus, he rarely pooped.

Carbohydrates are the building blocks for our bodies and for sound nutrition. While this overly protein- and fat-rich diet works in cases where folks have been eating the wrong sorts of foods (processed foods, excessive amounts of white flour and sugar) for a long time, the Atkins diet as a "lifestyle" seems a sure road to colon cancer, to say the least. Heart disease and kidney stones are among just a few of the negative side effects that nutritionists fear may result from following the Atkins diet for an extended period of time.

Well, the Atkins craze is over, and you can stop feeling guilty about that après-ski macaroni and cheese.

In her 2002 book, Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, sports nutritionist Monique Ryan writes, "Inadequate intake of carbohydrates will lead to only partial replenishment of muscle glycogen stores." Muscle glycogen is what makes our bodies run, the fuel that we burn in daily activity. Restricting carbohydrate intake depletes muscle glycogen; leading to fatigue, irritability and general unhealthiness. While this does not mean you should run out right now and consume a gallon of hot chocolate, it is prudent to remember that any extreme diet can lead to extreme health conditions.

The boring truth is that moderation is the key to a healthy diet, and the only way to actually lose weight is to eat less and exercise more. Europeans figured this out long ago, but we Americans keep hoping for that magic pill that will make us young and beautiful without any actual work. The Atkins approach (sit on the couch, eat bacon, lose weight--sounds great!) seemed to be this magic pill, but the long-term ramifications of following this diet for an extended period of time are unknown and ominous.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of some of the North Bay's best carb-loving restaurants. Pastas, pizzas and delicious breads: enjoy them! But eat with common sense. If you savor it slowly and put it down when you're 80 percent full, it's not going to kill you to enjoy a plate of fettuccine Alfredo or a slice of Chicago-style pizza with bread sticks.

And please, leave the pork off my dish.

Full-Plate Club

Carbs, glorious carbs

Our highly subjective short list of restaurants guaranteed to give you some carb love:

Bovine Bakery Gigantic croissants au frangiapane, pain au chocolat and buttermilk scone wedges are too good to share but too big not to. Point Reyes' charm is easily shared just enjoying coffee and a treat on the sunshiny benches out front. House-made bread packs home nicely, and it's fairly priced. 11315 State Route 1, Pt. Reyes. 415.663.9420.

Butter Cream Bakery and Cafe A cheery, candystriped breakfast and lunch place with piles of yummy baked goods just dying to be liberated to your home. 2297 Jefferson St., Napa. 707.255.6700.

Foothill Cafe The place to go when Mama won't cook for you because she lives in another state and is working on her Ph.D. Pasta and potatoes in profusion, as well as other comfort foods. 2766 Old Sonoma Road, Napa. 707.252.6178.

Giorgio's Low-key, family-style, homey Italian cooking. Perfect for a first date because the food is excellent and this is not the seen-and-be-seen scene that the downtown restaurants are. 25 Grant Ave., Healdsburg. 707.433.1106.

The Girl and the Fig This French-inspired bistro satisfies with brunch, lunch, dinner and a late-night brasserie menu. 110 W. Spain St., Sonoma. 707.938.3634.

La Vera Pizza Mmmm. Traditional Italian pizzas and calzones, as well as homemade gelato. Delicioso! 629 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.575.1113.

Mama's Royal Cafe Apparently decorated by drag queens on acid, Mama's serves up traditional breakfast fare, heavy on the cooking-oil, the flavor and the love. 393 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. 415.388.3261.

PJ Steak Now much less formally named, this was Pere Jeanty but is now a steak house with a rousing a slate of appetizers, good pizza and excellent cuts of meat. 6725 Washington St., Yountville. 707.945.1000.

Russian River Brewing Co. Do these guys offer anything that's not a carb-lover's delight? Not really. A large selection of house-brewed, Belgian-style beers wash down crispy pizza pies and baskets of golden french fries. And oh my goodness, the beer bites. A great happy-hour meeting place. 725 Fourth St., Santa Rosa. 707.545.BEER.

Santi It's well worth the drive to sleepy Geyserville to dine at this fine establishment. Excellent cuisine, stellar service and a knowledgeable staff make Santi one of Sonoma County's best restaurants. 21047 Geyserville Ave., Geyserville. 707.857.1790.

Station House Cafe Local, organic and with an emphasis on fresh seafood from right around the corner. The organic beef Reuben is to die for, and the french fries are cut like potato chips; excellent with the feta salad dressing as a dipping side. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus live music and a "happy-hour-and-a-half." 11180 Route 1, Pt. Reyes. 415.663.1515.

Stella's Cafe An unobtrusive gem tucked between Forestville and Sebastopol on Highway 116, Stella's has it all: rustic yet not corny atmosphere, excellent food, friendly staff and a local, artisanal menu that reflects the seasons. 4550 Gravenstein Hwy. N., Sebastopol. 707.823.6637.

Zazu Beloved by restaurant reviewers, the Zagat guide, foodies and restaurant workers and this paper alike, Zazu is the North Bay's hottest roadside attraction. Tuscany meets Americana on its menu, and the "Pizza and Pinot" on Wednesday nights is not to be missed; a wide selection of local Pinot Noirs by the bottle or by the glass perfectly complement the original, wood-fired pizzas. 3535 Guerneville Road, Santa Rosa. 707.523.4814.


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