Lose Weight Like the French

The Sofitel Philadelphia's low-calorie menu has arrived

Every dish on the Sofitel Philadelphia's new low-calorie menu, including the iced nougatine with confit fruit, shown, is exquisitely prepared.

Imagine spending seven days and six nights at an elite French spa with nothing more to do than schedule massages, take yoga and Pilates classes, and dine on meticulously prepared, exquisitely presented food—all while dropping six to eight pounds per week. A fabulous idea, but the chance of finding the time or money to fly across the pond anytime soon is probably slim to none. But now, thanks to the Sofitel Philadelphia, you can get a bit of the experience right here at home.

The hotel has partnered with Thalassa Sea & Spa, a French spa known for its weeklong well-being programs that allow guests to dine like foodies without eating more than 1,200 calories per day, to create three-course meals that taste and look as good as they are for you—all for under 500 calories. Monday marked the beginning of the Sofitel’s French De-Light Cuisine Week at its on-site restaurant, Liberte, and, through Sunday, diners have the chance to enjoy the new array of low-cal appetizers, entrees and desserts that will eventually make rotating appearances on the restaurant’s daily menu. “A lot of people try to eat healthy, but it’s hard when your only option seems to be salad with grilled chicken,” says Vincent Vienne, general manager for the Sofitel Philadelphia. “We wanted our guests to have better options. With this menu you feel satisfied, but you also feel like you did something good for yourself.”

I had the chance to slip out of the office yesterday afternoon to sample the nine dishes, as well as meet the adorable Cecile Clavel, one of Thalassa’s dietitians, who is in from France for the week to oversee the launch of the menu. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there isn’t a single salad to be found. What I did find were smartly crafted dishes in generous amounts, including appetizers like  lobster raviolis (92 calories, $16) and white pollock terrine with avocado mousse (128 calories, $11). The entrees were even more impressive, including filet mignon topped with Béarnaise sauce (272 calories, $32) and free-range chicken breast with savory cabbage and wild mushroom fricassee (92 calories, $24. Ninety-two. For the entire plate).  “Instead of using butter or oil, we steam all of the vegetables and season them with just a hint of spice, so the vegetable side dishes have almost zero calories,” Clavel told me. Other smart swaps include crafting “pasta” from celery root, and using Fromage Blanc, a low-fat white cheese that resembles a creamy, low-fat yogurt, to replace the oil in mayonnaise or the heavy cream commonly found in sauces.

To round out the meal, you have your choice of three desserts, all of which are naturally sweetened with fresh fruit instead of sugar. My absolute favorite was the iced nougatine with confit fruit and meringue. It had a crunchy hint of pistachios and reminded me of a less-creamy, butter-pecan ice cream. I ate every bite. All 85 calories of it.

All in all, it was a delightful meal that in no way resembled what one would think of as “diet food.” I was also pleased to hear that  each dish will be meticulously measured to ensure calorie counts remain accurate.

“Low-calorie” and “gastronomy” are rarely used in the same sentence, and it’s refreshing to see local chefs experimenting with ways to make high-end food flavorful without making it fattening. I hope more local chefs begin to do the same. In the meantime, health-conscious foodies: grab a date or a friend and get yourself to the Sofitel. Your taste buds (and that soon-to-be-here swimsuit) will thank you.

The Sofitel Philadelphia, 120 South 17th Street, 215-569-8300.