The Most Michael Pollan-ish Plate of Food in New York

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I’ve been meaning to do this post for a while, because I really believe in it.

Like many of you, I’m a fan of Michael Pollan, his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” (which I wrote about here) and his useful and helpful food rules. I’m also a big fan of Maury Rubin’s City Bakery on 18th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. How are these two things related? Let me explain.

Michael Pollan’s food rules (also a book) are best summed up by Pollan himself: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

At the end of this New York Times article from 2007, Pollan offers a bit more:

* Avoid food products that come bearing health claims.

* Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number — or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.

* Pay more, eat less.

* Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.

* Eat like an omnivore. Try to add new species, not just new foods, to your diet. The greater the diversity of species you eat, the more likely you are to cover all your nutritional bases.

As you can see from my lead photo, it’s easy to follow these rules when you lunch at City Bakery.

City Bakery–which is, in many ways, the city’s best bakery (I’m still grieving over the closing of the West Village outpost)–seems, at first, just like any ordinary bakery. In the glass case in the front, there are stacks of chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, chocolate chocolate chip cookies; there are bars and brownies and tarts and muffins. There’s a hot chocolate so thick you need a spoon to imbibe it.

But it’s in the back where things really get interesting: there, at 1 o’clock on a weekday, you’ll see fashionable people jostling for a position at the City Bakery salad bar. And it’s the City Bakery salad bar that I’m here to praise: it offers just the kind of food Pollan describes in his writing.

Note the diversity on the plate I made for myself last week: starting at 12 o’clock there’s a raw kale salad, there’s marinated & grilled chicken, there’s a radicchio salad, roasted Brussels sprouts, lemon-coated string beans, roasted broccoli, penne with pesto and, at 6 o’clock, three lychees.

Almost all of the ingredients come from the farmer’s market, just a few blocks away. They’re all freshly prepared and, even though many of them are good for you, they don’t make health claims. There’s still enough olive oil and salt to make them flavorful.

As you can see, my plate is filled with plants, mostly leaves. (Radicchio, kale, Brussels sprout leaves.) There’s meat on my plate, but not too much (the City Bakery salad bar also has several fish options.)

And, of course, when you bring this up to the register: you pay more and eat less. It’s not cheap (usually $11 or so for this sized plate.) (Fun fact: I once took my grandmother to the City Bakery salad bar and when she saw the prices she made me leave!)

I’m happy, though, to pay $11 for a salad that’s as nourishing and good for me and the earth as the salad at the City Bakery salad bar is. I don’t do it often–once every few weeks–and sometimes, when I leave, I buy a cookie (one of the best chocolate chip cookies in New York. I bought one from the SoHo outpost yesterday.)

If you’re a Pollan fan and looking to eat something Pollan-ish for lunch, check out City Bakery. You will do very well.

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