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Boston Area

Sebastian’s Café at Harvard School of Public Health

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Sebastian’s Café at Harvard School of Public Health

IronStomach | Apr 21, 2006 11:26 PM

Allow me set the background: This hound is seriously remaking himself into a leaner, meaner hound; with less belly hanging over the belt and more muscles around those scrawny legs. Six months ago, I joined a program named Pounds Lost, a research program originating from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). All participants are divided into 4 groups, each having a different balance between fat and protein intake, and all participants are made aware of their food intake as a means to promote weight loss and better health.

I just had my 6-month progress appointment today. Since I was instructed not to eat before the check-up, I decided to go to Sebastian's Café to break my fast. Why Sebastian’s Café? Well, it is located in the main building that houses the HSPH on Huntington Avenue. Its menu is set with HSPH faculty input, and generally promotes the consumption of whole grains and other healthy food content.

Parking was a problem in that section of town. I drove up and down Huntington Avenue between Longwood Avenue and Brigham Circle many times looking for a space. I was glad that I finally found one on my sixth pass because if I had gone around one more time, I was afraid that the HSPH building might come tumbling down.

Even at 20 minutes after one o’clock on a Friday afternoon, the café was packed with customers. Most people, though, seem to go for a simple salad from the extensive salad bar, filled with at least 70 ingredients and all looking very fresh. Ordinarily, that would also have been my choice for lunch. But this afternoon, I had been fasting since 8 o’clock the previous evening, and I needed more substantial nourishment.

I ventured over to the hot food counter, looked at the overhead menu, and ordered a Grilled Chicken Sandwich. I told the server that I didn’t want the white pita wrap that comes standard with the sandwich; I just wanted the sandwich ingredients on a plate. The server was happy to oblige, but gave me a whole-wheat bun along with the chicken without being asked. I thought to myself: “Wow, they thought that I didn’t want the wrap because it was made with bleached white flour. And here’s the whole-wheat substitute; but I was thinking of lower carbohydrate intake altogether.” This café certainly vibrates with a new awareness.

I rounded out my lunch with a bowl of vegan Carrot Ginger Citrus Soup and an Odwalla Citrus C Monster Smoothie. The soup turned out to be the most memorable item: It was full bodied without being overly heavy, and had an exquisite balance between the sweetness of the carrots, the mild fieriness of the ginger, and the tartness of the citrus. The grilled chicken had sat too long on the steam table under the heat lamps; it became dry and dissociated from its otherwise excellent spices. Luckily, the onions and peppers that came with the chicken picked up all the tastes, and remained succulent enough to hold the flavors. The Odwalla was a good finish to the meal, which cost $10.50 in total, a little steep for cafeteria food even though it is called a café.

On reflection, although Sebastian’s Café has a healthy-eating focus, it is still up to the diner to be vigilant about choices. There is pizza made with whole-wheat dough, but there is still processed cheese in some of the toppings. And while the salad bar is excellent, if one strays from it and choose elsewhere, one could still wind up with a not-so-healthy meal. And the price could be more reasonable.

I feel that Sebastian’s Café is a precursor to that wholly healthy restaurant that has yet to materialize. There have been other attempts, just visit Fresh City or Not Your Average Joe’s to get a sense of what those establishments aspire to be. I think all these restaurants should provide nutritional information on the dishes that they serve. Throw in assistance for menu planning and we will substantially be there. I live in hope…

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