Ed Levine

The first day of a diet is always the hardest, especially if you eat for a living.

After all, not too many dieters are trying to lose weight while producing the following food stories weekly: two three-minute pieces on MetroGuide, a regional cable channel; a review for WNYC, the NPR affiliate in New York; a column for my New York Eats Web site on AOL; a half-hour show on food on another nascent cable channel, MetroLearning, with Vogue food critic Jeff Steingarten. Jeff and I cook something yummy like this week’s rotisseried duck (sometimes we have famous chefs such as Daniel Boulud or Alfred Portale cook something yummy instead), review a restaurant Siskel and Ebert style (this week we are reviewing Chez Louis, former cookie man David Liederman’s homage to the famous Paris bistro L’Ami Louis), and conduct a blind consumer taste test (this week, mail-order bacon).

Not to mention the occasional food pieces I write for Gourmet and Business Week, and the twice-monthly eating orgies I participate in for Northwest Airlines, which sometimes require me to sample 35 coach- or business-class entrées in a single two-hour period. What would Richard Simmons or the Zone man, Barry Sears, or the Eat More, Weigh Less man, Dean Ornish, say about this Herculean task I have before me?

I am embarking on the Atkins diet, also known sometimes as the Protein Power Diet. This diet allows you to eat all the protein and fat you want as long as you limit your carbohydrate intake to 15 to 30 grams a day. What this means is I can eat virtually unlimited quantities of meat and fish, eggs, cheese, salad dressing, most vegetables, and even rich sauces as long as they don’t contain a lot of sugar or flour. What is verboten on this diet is bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, fruit and fruit juices, and sweets. The only sweet I can have is diet Jell-O with as much whipped cream sweetened with NutraSweet as I want.

Last night I ate my first diet meal out at Chez Louis. The amuse-gueule given away by the restaurant as we sat down was a tiny bite of foie gras wrapped in puff pastry. The puff pastry probably represented three grams of carbohydrates. The bread was awful, so that was no temptation. I merely took one bite of it so that I could talk about it on television the next day. Jeff Steingarten being Jeff Steingarten of course ordered the duck liver and goose liver foie gras combination plate. I ordered the roast mushrooms, and our dining companion Ron Fried, our boss and the executive producer of MetroLearning, ordered the beet and Roquefort salad. The thin slabs of foie gras were delicious, and Jeffrey didn’t even complain much when I took three bites of his. I ate it straight up rather than on the sourdough toast supplied. The mushrooms were very low on carbohydrates, as was the salad (I had only one slice of roast beet).

We ordered three main courses; the famous wood-roasted chicken (absolutely the best roast chicken I’ve had in New York) served with garlic potato pie (soggy and reheated, but that’s OK since I could only take a tiny bite of it anyway); a gorgeous dry-aged sirloin steak that had that deliciously funky, minerally taste well-aged meat has (served with French fries I ate one of before pushing the plate toward Ron Fried, who is unspeakably skinny); and a veritable mountain of roast suckling pig that was perfect for my diet (except for the creamy sweet-potato purée that came with it). I successfully navigated my way through the meal, though I found myself nervously mashing French fries the way a smoker might mash cigarettes when he’s trying to stop smoking. Dessert was an assortment that was a veritable carbohydrate festival: lemon tart, apple tart, flourless chocolate cake, layer cake, crème brûlée, ice cream and sorbets, fruit salad, and the coup de grâce, a plate of David’s delicious chocolate chip cookies. I tried, and I think I succeeded in having one tiny forkful of each dessert. We’ll know more when I get on the scale tomorrow.

The taping of the show should be OK. Bacon is allowed on the diet, so is the rotisseried duck Jeffrey is making, and Chez Louis is sending over foie gras and roast chicken for us to dress the table with for our restaurant review. Instead of the Atkins, perhaps it should be called the Foie Gras, Bacon, and Steak Diet.