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DAVID NELSON ON RESTAURANTS

Good For You--But Not Always Good

May 31, 1990|David Nelson

Slender folk hardly seem to need a refuge--they claimed the high ground years ago and have been applauded ever since by the fashion press and the medical profession.

Even so, a chain of restaurants called Skinny Haven has been around for 20 years, although these places do not seem to exist exclusively for the slim. A quick glance around during a recent visit to the Oceanside Skinny Haven turned up some thin people, but also a number of chunky ones; the majority, like most of us, were simply kind of lumpy.

Skinny Haven calls itself "The Healthy Place" and offers several items prepared according to the guidelines of the American Heart Assn.'s "Eating Away From Home" program. The restaurant says that all of these dishes--indeed, the entire menu--are low in sodium, cholesterol, fat and sugar. The selection of AHA approved plates includes a baked potato stuffed with cheese and veal chili with beans; stir-fries of vegetables or chicken; fettuccine "Alfredo" (this sauce might set Rome's long-deceased Alfredo spinning) and boneless short ribs in barbecue sauce. A calorie count follows each and every listing, and most items on the dinner menu weigh in under 400.

A menu note says that Skinny Haven recipes are "good for you" and that may be true, but, upon reading the menu for the first time, diners accustomed to eateries where beef, butter and French fries are bywords may regard "good for you" in the same way that Victorian children did when mama proffered a spoon of castor oil. The restaurant's coral and turquoise color scheme is bright and cheerful, but a sort of monastic quiet reigned one recent evening and underscored the mood of ascetic self-denial that seems part and parcel of the place.

Some would find the Skinny Haven habit easier to acquire than others, since the cooking and quality can be uneven. For example, the salad bar recently displayed a good selection of vegetables and garnishes, but the mixed greens offered as the base were tired and in many cases brown. A forkful of the rice pilaf served with one dish made the point that a second taste was not necessary. The steamed vegetables that accompanied another entree included not only decent, if thoroughly unseasoned, carrots and zucchini, but broccoli so past its prime that a guest put down her fork and exclaimed, "This is awful !" And, at a place like this, it would seem that lettuce and broccoli would get priority treatment.

On the plus side, the teriyaki chicken breasts were surprisingly tender and the dark-amber sauce smooth and sweet. A plate of veal knackwurst with sauerkraut similarly was a happy experience, the sausage nicely spiced and the kraut puckery and tart, just as it should have been. Like many entrees, these were available in 4-, 6- and 8-ounce portions, with $1 added to the base price for each two-ounce increment. Chicken entrees generally cost $7.75; the knackwurst, the vegetable quiche and the simpler pastas cost $5.95.

Among other entree offerings are spinach-cheese manicotti; seafood or ham fettuccine; taco salad; chile relleno ; chicken and tuna salad croissant sandwiches, and fish filets seasoned with lemon pepper or Cajun spices.

Wine is not available but desserts, oddly enough, get much play; there is even a Skinny Haven Dessert Club that rewards the purchaser of 12 desserts in one month with a free sundae. Desserts are based on Skinny Delicious Soft Serve, a low-fat milk frozen confection that is offered by itself, in sundaes and a banana split and with cakes. This and other products are available for takeout purchase in the restaurant's lobby.

SKINNY HAVEN

2657 Vista Way, Oceanside

Calls: 721-1033

When: Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily

Price: A meal for two with beverage, tax and tip should cost $15 to $30.

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