October 2, 2006

Las Vegas and Diets

When Morgen and I were on vacation in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, we knew it would wreak havoc with our ongoing attempt to follow the South Beach Diet. Of course, we already make exceptions for things like parties, testing Thanksgiving dinner recipes, and whatnot—and then, as necessary, go back to the stricter Phase 1 for a bit to reverse the damage. It’s no big deal. So we knew the trip would involve some digressions from the preferred list of foods, but we still wanted to keep with the program as much as we reasonably could.

No surprise: Vegas is an astonishingly difficult place to be on just about any sort of diet, but especially so when the diet restricts starches and sugars. South Beach isn’t completely carb-averse like Atkins (thank heavens!), but when you do eat carbs, you’re definitely looking for whole grains and foods with a low glycemic index (i.e., they raise your blood glucose level as slowly as possible). But everywhere we went the menus were full of pasta, potatoes, and white breads—not to mention excessively fatty foods and very fruity drinks.

We finally stumbled on a fantastic restaurant called Pampas in an obscure corner of the Aladdin’s (soon-to-be Planet Hollywood’s) Desert Passage mall. It’s a Brazilian Grille, and it works like this. Your waiter brings you a basket of appetizers (fried banana, falafel, and pão de queijo—really too good to pass up), and then you start with a visit to the cold bar. They had plenty of healthy, high-fiber/low-fat salad-type things there, as well as hard-boiled eggs, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and other common South Beach ingredients that pleased us mightily.

When you’re ready to move on to the meat, you flip over a little card on your table, and then waiters start appearing at your elbow every few minutes bearing long skewers of freshly grilled meats; you can choose any or all, and they just keep coming back until you decide to call it quits. We had several kinds of steak, chicken, and turkey—all of which were outstanding. We passed on the pork, sausage, and duck (though I’m sure they would have been delicious too) because of the higher fat content. I lost track of how many different meat varieties we were offered, but it was a lot, and the quality was outstanding.

The price was quite reasonable to start with, and we found a coupon in the back of one of our in-room magazines that gave us, I think, $5 or $10 off per person. (We did pay for drinks and an irresistible dessert—the Chocolate Eruption Cake—but they were worth it.) We left feeling very satisfied, but having consumed only a tiny amount of starches overall. I couldn’t believe how few people were there: this place deserves to be packed every night.

I should mention, by the way, that most of the buffets in Vegas can be quite diet-friendly, as long as you’re able to exercise self-control. We saw roasted turkey, all the good fresh vegetables and salad stuff, and even a selection of sugar-free desserts. As long as you don’t eat all you can, you can do pretty well.

We also walked by the empty lot that was once the site of the Westward Ho Hotel and Casino—and home of the Mega Dog. We observed a moment of silence in its memory.

4 Responses to “Las Vegas and Diets”

  1. Cris said:

    Joe –

    The word is rodizio….

  2. Joe Kissell said:

    Cris: Ah, excellent. I should have known there’d be a word for that type of restaurant, and that you’d know what it was!

  3. Cris said:

    Best food memory from a visit to Iguazu… We found a hole in the wall rodizio place in foz du iguazu. The four of us had way too much food for around us$20. Even Patrick couldn’t eat any more. Carne + guarana… mmmmm.

  4. Joe Kissell said:

    Cris: Dang, another reason to regret having missed Iguazu. We thought about going there at the end of our trip to Patagonia, but it seemed like more money and bother than we wanted to deal with. We’ve heard a number of people say it was fabulous, though the meat isn’t a reason I’d heard before!