Dish: Maximum flavor, minimal calories

Food critic

MINDFUL MEALS: The biggest surprise about one of the top-selling dishes at Westend Bistro in the Ritz-Carlton is not how appealing crisp-skinned salmon on a bed of three kinds of lentils dressed with lemon-basil vinaigrette tastes.

Rather, the marvel is its modest 425-calorie count for a main course.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace. View Archive

The $28 presentation, which also pops with sun-dried tomato pesto and olive tapenade on the plate, is part of the dining room’s welcome Bistro Light menu, introduced this year by chef Devin Bozkaya with the aid of Ritz-Carlton executive chef Yves Samake, a former spa chef, and a nutritional analysis software program called MasterCook. Among the hotel restaurant’s other good-for-you selections are a grilled chicken breast “panzanella” (385 calories, per the menu) and several desserts, including a fetching ricotta cheesecake (270 calories).

Bozkaya says his biggest challenge was creating desserts with little or no added sugar or fat. That cheesecake gets its sweetness from orange juice in both the vanilla-spiked ricotta filling and the crust, which is made with crushed graham crackers and walnuts. Raspberry-flavored buttons of meringue garnish the creamy confection, which only pretends to be a diet-buster. Chocolate mousse is whipped up using dark chocolate, cocoa powder and nonfat yogurt; a “tuille” made from apricot puree (picture a fruit roll-up) completes the dessert.

To keep dishes light yet flavorful, Bozkaya turns to tomato juice for making vinaigrettes, uses pureed root vegetables to create the illusion of creaminess and eschews sugar for honey or agave nectar.

The sweeteners aren’t relegated to the Bistro Light menu, or to desserts. The chef adds a bit of agave nectar — do we detect a trend in the making? — to his beer-braised, herb-buttered, lime-brightened mussels to balance the bitterness of the suds.

Tom Sietsema

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