Right Bites: Healthier festival fare

I spent a few hours yesterday tasting and testing my way through The Bite of Seattle. I was asked by the Bellevue-based Hope Heart Institute to be a judge in the Hope Heart Right Bites competition. The idea behind Right Bites was to encourage restaurants to include a healthier food option on their menus. The idea of the competition was to decide which of these Right Bites was tops. As we tasted, we ranked each entry based on appearance, aroma, flavor and nutrition.
My fellow judges were Mrs. Washington Jessica Riggs, Marie LeBaron of the parenting website Make and TakesKOMO News anchor Mary Nam, and radio and TV personality Mark Christopher (one of his gigs is as a host of KCTS Cooks). It was a fun group, although we took our responsibility as judges seriously! And wow…we tasted a lot of food. We figured out pretty fast that we had to pace ourselves, asking restaurants to please give us one dish to share…not one dish per person. Still, it was hard to come across a dish I really liked, knowing that if I didn’t limit myself to a single bite (or maybe two) that I’d never make it to the end! There were 38 restaurants on our score sheet, and we missed a few due to logistical issues, but we did hit most of them.
Me, Jessica Riggs, Marie LeBaron, Mary Nam, Mark Christopher.
I’m 100 percent behind cultivating healthier festival fare, and it was interesting to see what the restaurants came up with. In some cases, the menu item wasn’t what I would call healthy in an objective sense, but it was healthier than other items on that restaurant’s menu. For example, one booth that did a brisk trade in deep-fried candy bars and whatnot offered a peanut butter and pickle sandwich as their Right Bite. While it sent me headlong into waves of nostalgia (growing up, I always ate a dill pickle with my peanut butter sandwiches), there was no way it was going to win, given that it was served on doughy white bread. Still, it was healthier than a deep-fried candy bar.
Our ultimate winner was the shrimp and poached pear salad from Hard Rock Cafe Seattle. It was one of the few entries that involved dark leafy greens (we saw quite a bit of iceberg lettuce elsewhere), and it had just enough bacon, goat cheese and spicy pecans to add texture and flavor without packing on the calories. Each of the judges picked it as either their first or second place finisher. (Here’s a bit of trivia I learned from Mark Christopher: The reason the Seattle Hard Rock’s guitar sign is upside down is because that’s how Kurt Cobain carried his guitar when he slung it across his back.)
Other dishes that I would happily eat again included the red beans and rice from New Orleans Cookery, the veggie crepe from Crepe Tyme, the pita and Tuscan hummus from California Pizza Kitchen, the Red Cossack Potatoes with Dill Sauce from Kaleenka Piroshky, the coleslaw from Famous Dave’s BBQ and the Dungeness crab cake from Half Moon Bay Bar & Grill. Actually, Jeff and I went back to the Bite to get those last two today. Tasty! 
Does a crab cake count as “healthy”? Again, perhaps not objectively, but the portion size was small, and accompanied by vegetables, would make for a suitably healthy meal. That’s why it’s important to look at the bigger picture sometimes…it’s not just a single food that makes or breaks a healthy diet. It’s most important to look at entire meals, entire days, even your eating pattern over an entire week, month or year!