Goodness and Light

Andiamo’s healthful ‘Lean’ menu is just what the doctor ordered.
Chef Jim Oppat in the kitchen. Photograph by Marvin Shaouni

In 2004, Men’s Fitness magazine ranked Detroit as the No. 1 fattest city in the United States. While strides have been made toward being “fitter” rather than “fatter” in the Motor City, too many metro Detroiters still struggle to stay healthy when dining out.

That ongoing theme has prompted the Andiamo restaurant group to lighten up — its menu, that is. Since early last year, Joe Vicari, Andiamo CEO and president, and his corporate chef, Jim Oppat, have been collaborating with Tom Rifai, a dual board-certified M.D. and nutrition specialist, in an effort to provide healthful alternatives to the rich fare we’ve come to expect from the local gourmet chain. The unusual partnership of entrepreneur, chef, and doctor led to the development of the Andiamo Lean menu, a healthful offering of starters, entrées, and desserts that, when taken together, contain 600 calories or fewer. The “Lean” meals are also low in sodium and free of trans fats, gluten, soy, and nuts. Calorie count aside, Oppat says, “There’s truly something for everyone.”

But this is Italian food. What happened to the pasta, the cream sauces, the vino? These menu favorites remain available, of course, and may be combined with items from the Lean roster. The lighter options balance ethnic authenticity with nutritious, hand-selected vegetables and indigenous Mediterranean fish. Offerings include grilled salmon filet with sweet basil corn broth and oyster mushrooms, and creamy panna cotta with fruit.

Rifai, Oppat, and Vicari all agree that dieters face serious challenges when dining out. Healthful options often can be disappointingly lacking in the inspiration of their more sumptuous counterparts. That’s why calorie-conscious patrons have grown accustomed to asking: “Can I get the sauce on the side?” or “No thanks — I’ll just have a salad.” The Lean concept tries to address issues of weight or food allergies while also satisfying patrons who simply seek a healthier choice when dining out with a meal that balances gourmet quality and taste with nutrition.

“Restaurants play an underrated role in health care,” Rifai says, adding that the science of nutrition and the craft of cooking are an inevitable union. Recently appointed Medical Director of Metabolic Nutrition and Weight Management at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, the Michigan-born, bred, and educated doctor knows that lifestyle changes are necessary to combat lifestyle-driven illness.

That means not letting a pleasant dinner date derail a day that began with oatmeal and exercise.